In the schools where all demographic groups of students achieve at high levels, principals design what we refer to as a coherent educational improvement system. This system is comprised of a set of interdependent structures that work together to support the development of a positive transformational school culture and to ensure that all students have access to rigorous, challenging curricula and effective instruction that leads to mastery.
In high-performing schools, educators specify what mastery should “look like”
even before they begin instruction of the targeted standard. Leaders establish and refine systems for determining the extent to which students are progressing toward mastery. By helping educators concretely define performances that represent mastery, cycles of instruction are focused not simply on “covering” the standard, but on getting all students to demonstrate mastery of the standard.
Educators develop workable schedules for administering common formative assessments as pre-tests (so they can better gauge students’ instructional strengths and needs), as post-tests (so they can determine which students demonstrated/did not demonstrate mastery subsequent to instruction and the appropriate interventions), and as post-intervention assessments (so they can determine the effectiveness of intervention).
High-performing urban schools succeed, in large part, because of the quality of the first instruction provided to all students. Relatively few students need remediation because the initial instruction is thoughtfully planned and carried out to ensure that students achieve mastery. Consequently, teacher collaboration and shared instructional planning lie at the center of this work.
Leaders build teacher collaboration systems that help educators plan high-quality first instruction that is likely to generate mastery and help educators answer questions such as, “What content/skills do students need to acquire in order to master this standard?” “What makes mastery of this standard difficult for many children?” “What are common errors or misconceptions related to this standard that we find among our students? “What critical vocabulary must students master in order to achieve proficiency with this standard?” “What learning experiences and materials are most likely to ensure that students acquire the intended content/skills the first time the lesson is taught?” “What type of instruction will be important to ensure that English learners master this standard?”
In high-performing urban schools, administrators and teacher leaders spend considerable time in classrooms observing and providing constructive feedback related to the teaching of the targeted standards. In spite of all of the many demands they face, leaders structure their time so that they can help ensure that their students master the targeted standards. Administrators and instructional leaders plan daily and weekly schedules that ensure that they spend at least 10 hours a week in classrooms observing instruction, particularly instruction related to the targeted standards. As well, leaders develop workable systems for providing useful feedback based upon observations and responding to questions such as, “Is the lesson leading students to the level of rigor demanded by the targeted standard?” “Which students are providing clear evidence that they understand what the teacher is teaching?” “Which students are not?” “Are there specific student groups that are not demonstrating evidence of mastery?” “What could the teacher do to increase the likelihood that more students demonstrate evidence of mastery?” Leaders know how to align their observations and feedback in ways that help teachers better implement the teaching practices most associated with high-performing urban schools. As well, administrators and teacher leaders deliver feedback in a manner that is more likely to be received as supportive and useful.
In high-performing urban schools, professional development is more than a series of random events: it is a culture of
continuous learning that deepens as educators get better and better at ensuring that all students master important standards. This culture of professional development is linked to real and current classroom instructional needs through ongoing classroom observations. It is rooted in teacher collaboration, as educators examine data together, plan together, learn together, and solve problems pedagogical challenges together. Administrators and teacher leaders use classroom observations, teacher collaboration meetings, as well as their ongoing examination of student achievement data to identify, plan, implement, and evaluate systems of professional development Educators answer questions such as: “Did classroom instruction change as a result of the professional development?” “What additional professional development is needed in order to ensure that changes in instruction occur?” “Did common formative assessment results improve as a result of professional development?” “What additional professional development is needed in order to ensure that improvements in learning results occur?”
In high-performing urban schools, high-quality first instruction minimizes the need for intervention. Nonetheless, there are typically some students who need intervention to help them achieve academic mastery of targeted standards. In these schools, intervention is focused and timely, based on specific student needs. When students demonstrate a lack of understanding, immediately teachers design and implement intervention strategies to correct misconceptions and deepen understanding of the specific academic issues. Furthermore, in high-performing urban schools, educators do not assume that intervention strategies are effective. Instead, they continuously evaluate the effectiveness of intervention efforts and refine strategies so that students progress toward proficient and advanced levels of performance.
Generally, the need to provide intervention for some students creates opportunities to provide enrichment for others. In high-performing schools, educators give at least as much attention to the provision of quality enrichment strategies as they give to intervention services. Educators plan enrichment activities in ways that deepen understanding of critical standards while fostering a love of learning and an appreciation of the discipline.