Many school improvement plans are built using templates provided by the state or from the school district. These traditional plans look and feel very bureaucratic and they primarily serve the purpose of fulfilling a state or district requirement. They often include a plethora of actions that are often disconnected from each other. They generally do not have a theory of action that brings coherence to the school improvement system. They are often written in educational jargon that is not easy for educators to interpret let alone parents and community members.
I propose that we rethink the idea of School Improvement Plans. We should approach them from the perspective of truly aligned action plans that link the improvement of student outcomes through the improvement of professional practices. By identifying and aligning teaching, principal, and District administrator practices, we will be able to act in concert to improve student outcomes.
The process begins with the identification of student goals. Traditional school improvement plans often conflate means and ends. For example, these plans will often include goals linked to parent engagement. Yet parent engagement is a just a means to ultimately improve student outcomes. The core business of schools is to improve student outcomes so all School Improvement goals should always address improvement in student performance.
The process of identifying student goals begins with a comprehensive review of student outcome data. Teams who are building the school improvement plan Big Picture should not have to wade through reams of tables and graphs to identify those trends in student performance that should be celebrated and those that should be addressed. Most state web sites do a poor job of comprehensively visualizing multiple years of student data for multiple subgroups so that trends can be easily seen. We are beginning to build a repository of data visualization templates that you may find useful in identifying trends in student performance. Please see a link to a sample visualization of student data from my home district – San Jose Unified School District.
A second key element of the establishing the big picture for the School Improvement Plan is to identify specific practices that will support the achievement of student goals. These practices begin with teaching practices. Traditional school improvement plans will often times only offer a general improvement in overall teaching practices or will relegate improvement in student outcomes to such things as after school support. I suggest that it is better to identify specific teaching practices many of which can be found in the book Visible Learning by John Hattie. The systematic use of research-based teaching practices is the most important element in improving student outcomes.
Often times teaching practices can be found embedded within educational strategies that are currently underway within a school or school district. For example, the teaching practice of formative assessment with descriptive feedback can often times be embedded within a strategies such as those promoted by the Assessment Training Institute or similar organizations. It is important to call out these strategies within the SIP Big Picture in order to demonstrate an alignment between programs and strategies with specific teaching practices. We intend to include data bases of research-based professional practices soon.
Professional development and collaboration is another essential element to the Big Picture for School Improvement. Professional development and coaching need to be clearly identified and aligned with both the strategies as well as the professional practices. The opportunity for teacher teams to collaborate is also an essential element of the SIP Big Picture.
What gets measured gets done. School teams should identify those metrics that will let them know that student outcomes are being achieved. Often times these metrics already exist but need to be identified within the big picture. If there is a goal to ensure that students are reading by the end of 3rd grade, it might be good to include a metric in the Big Picture that measures student on track fluency in grades 1-3. Additionally, it is important to measure the actual implementation of professional practices.
Once, the big picture is completed, it will provide a wonderful opportunity for teacher teams to discuss both vertical and horizontal alignment amongst all of the key elements. The Big Picture should be able to tell a coherent story about school improvement aligned to specific student goals. The Big Picture can also provide a beautiful and comprehensible communication resource for parents and the community as an addition to the web site or as large posters placed within the school.
Of course, the Big Picture of the School Improvement plan will require monitoring and continuous improvement. Identifying specific tasks aligned to the educational strategies, professional development and collaboration, as well as the metrics is essential. We will provide tools to help develop and monitor these key tasks.
I have developed a template and a sample of the Big Picture for School Improvement. We look forward to working with you on making your school improvement come alive through the Big Picture approach. I would love your feedback about this post. Also, feel free to contact me for more information and support.