Regular readers here know of my appreciation for Tony Wagner’s book, The Global Achievement Gap. Here at St. Gregory this year, we are having all teachers and administrators read it for their summer reading, and soon we will embark upon a year-long consideration of its implications and applications for our teaching here. Wagner’s book concludes with a summary overview of the qualities of “Schools that Work:” those schools, such as High Tech High, that do work in successfully closing the global achievement gap, and it is certainly my intent to ensure that our school, St. Gregory, continue to be, and ever more, a School that Works.
In describing them, he provides several different lists of their attributes, but here right now, I want to discuss and reflect upon the last such listing: the qualities of their schools that are “strikingly different from what we see in most schools today.”
1. They have a learning and assessment focus. This is something we are putting at the center of our attention here; we are using the slogan “Focus on Teaching and Learning, with Kids at the Center,” and we are discontinuing any use of precious all-faculty time for “business as usual meetings.” Instead, all such time is to be focused upon enhancing student learning. As for assessment, the highest priority for our Academic Committee’s agenda this year is a wholesale revamping of our report cards and “reporting of student learning” in order to bring us up to 21st century standards of assessment and reporting (to guide us in this work, we are employing Guskey and Bailey’s Developing Grading and Reporting Systems for Student Learning.” (More to come about this book, and this work, in future posts).
2. Motivation: “Students are motivated to learn through a combination of three distinct, interrelated incentives. First, the adults in their lives…have close relationships to students. Students in all three schools are not only well known by their teachers, but are in advisory groups with a teacher… Second, opportunities for students to explore their questions and interests are a driving force for learning. Third, learning is a hands-on in these schools.” Motivation cannot be an afterthought, we have to raise it up to an essential focal point. At St. Gregory we already feel quite good about our teachers’ close relationships with students, but we are determined to do better: our Academic Committee’s second main charge for the year is to develop a new advisory program in the way Wagner describes and calls for. I think we will also continue to help students “explore their questions and interests,” using new inventory tools and techniques pioneered last year by a dynamic parent who worked to develop a more personalized approach to student learning.
3. School Accountability : “These schools hold themselves accountable for quality student work and student success in college and beyond.. They look to measures of what students can achieve in the real world as the ultimate assessment of their school’s effectiveness. They seek regular feedback [from a wide variety of sources] and they use this information to refine their academic programs.” The third priority for our Academic Committee this year will be to design and implement a new “dashboard” for our school, identify the 5-25 key measurements we want to employ for measuring and reporting our success as a school. We are very serious about this work.
4. Teacher Development: “Teachers have significantly more planning and professional development times built into their schedules” at Schools that Work, and the work of these teachers is “more publicly visible. Not only are they in and out of one another’s classrooms regularly, they also analyze the quality of work that students are producing.” To this end, this form of teacher development, we are advancing vigorously: we now have late-start Thursdays weekly rather than monthly to provide that additional time, and as the immediately previous blog post articulates, we are using the Critical Friends professional learning community model to promote more collaboration and transparency among our teachers.