Leadership Moves… Opening the Door of a Model Classroom in a High Performing Urban School

Opening the Door of a Model Classroom in a High Performing Urban School
Whether it’s inside a brand new building with modern architecture, or an older school with lots of character, opening the door of a classroom in a high performing school has common characteristics that make it educationally magical. In regards to physical design, activity, and culture, it’s amazing how clear it is when a school is intentional about what they expect to see (and feel, and hear) across all classrooms on a campus, and how these same coherent practices are mirrored in all of the high performing schools we observe and award. It’s not to say that all classrooms look exactly the same, as teacher individuality and unique personality are definitely honored and evident, but common elements that feed student learning is indeed purposeful. Just as common as what a model classroom looks like is the glaring clarity of what a model classroom does not look like.

A significant contributor to the success of students is the design of the classroom in which they learn. Whether it is the arrangement of the room, to what’s hung on the walls, or the organization of the desks or tables, everything in a classroom where students are thriving is strategic. The design is aligned with the teacher’s intentional goal of helping student learners to experience positive outcomes. Some of the things we see in these classrooms are:

Opening the Door of a Model Classroom in a High Performing Urban School

• Seating arrangements that are conducive to students participating in projects, discourse, and activities with each other.
• Current anchor charts that are used as a summary of original content and a resource for continued reference to learning and mastery.
• Active references to learning objectives.
• Evidence of academic vocabulary and active word walls.
• Posted and current data where students and classes are part of their own progress monitoring.
• Classroom libraries and reading areas, current, displayed student writing that supports literacy goals.
• Use of technology
• Organization, color, cleanliness… there is a place for everything and students know where everything belongs.

Planning for strong first instruction is excellent insurance for a teacher’s goal of getting as many students as possible to get to mastery. Those lessons include many elements that we see in high performing classrooms where proficiency levels are high for all groups of students. Some of those common activities and strategies include:

• Clarity of focus, where students can articulate what the teacher wants them to know and understand by the end of the lesson, and why.
• Teachers are focused on mastery instead of worried about getting through content on a pacing guide. They are clear about evidence they will take for determining mastery.
• Formative assessments. A check for understanding occurs in multiple ways and happens throughout the lesson to determine where re-teaching or immediate intervention and possible enrichment may be necessary.
• A gradual release of instruction, with opportunities for student discourse, relevant application, and high level guided discussion and questioning.
• Expectations are high and so is the rigor for all students.
• Active student involvement makes classroom management problems rare.

A significant contributor to the success of students is the design of the classroom in which they learn. Whether it is the arrangement of the room, to what’s hung on the walls, or the organization of the desks or tables, everything in a classroom where students are thriving is strategic.

In high performing classrooms, the culture is clearly that of a caring, respectful and hopeful community of successful learners. The teacher is the lead that models in energy, tone, and respect, how all members of the class function as individuals and with each other. The classroom is absent of any chaos, as procedures and routines are so clear and consistent; Students know how to transition from one activity to the next, get the attention of their teacher, work in groups with roles, and how to respond to teacher’s method of getting student attention back to her.
Opening the Door of a Model Classroom in a High Performing Urban School

• Classroom core values are posted and expected by all.
• Activities are fun, focused, timed and relevant.
• Teacher avoids power struggles and models respect with a calm tone.
• Restorative approaches to discipline are used vs. one those that are punitive.
• Expectations are high for academic performance and follow through.
• Kindness and care for each other are felt by all.
• Celebration of success is evident.

Equity and excellence are seen in design, activity, and culture in classrooms across the campus of high performing schools and are excellent examples for those schools seeking transformation. An inventory of the elements and practices described is a good place to start when working to create classrooms of excellence and improve teaching and learning. Often times, the work begins with honest self- reflection. That personal inventory can result in purging old practices and clutter, and replacing them with a focused, more intentional approach to organizing one’s classroom. Often times, our colleagues down the hall are teachers in model classrooms and welcoming of observation and input. The great news is, this particular work toward improving student achievement can be done and done rather quickly with significant results and outstanding outcomes.

Cara Riggs
NCUST Executive Coach

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