When developing and evaluating school improvement plans, a meaningful question to ponder is, “Why do some schools achieve their school improvement plan goals, while others fail to make gains?” The outcome depends greatly on how the school focuses on improvement initiatives: does the school attempt to tackle many initiatives or does it focus in on a few key issues?
Educators have noble intentions and high hopes when drafting their school improvement plans. They identify challenges and set goals and strategies to meet those challenges. They, in good faith, attempt to tackle numerous initiatives to increase student achievement with the hope that, by spending time on many improvement efforts, they will get the results they seek. However, schools that follow this path often become overwhelmed by competing priorities and end up with less-than-desired results. They are attempting too many things to do any one of them well.
On the other hand, when schools focus on select, manageable change initiatives, they increase the probability of achieving successful implementation of those initiatives.
For example, a school team takes stock of their situation by looking at student achievement data, and they determine that their students need vocabulary development. The staff decides to collectively focus on building students’ vocabulary and a plan is made. All staff members agree to take collective action by posting and explicitly teaching key vocabulary words in each content area. Throughout four to six weeks of focused implementation of this initiative, the degree and quality of the implementation and the effect on student achievement are monitored. This focused approach usually results in a quick win, increasing the staff’s collective efficacy and satisfaction, engendering the belief that “we can do together what we cannot do alone.” The feeling of “we have too much to do” dissipates.
As schools repeatedly apply this improvement process, concentrating on a few important initiatives at a time, they increase their capacity to change. Ultimately, they develop the collective beliefs, capacity, and experience to sustain improvement efforts that ultimately lead to long-term, positive student outcomes.
Here’s a diagram that illustrates this approach.
Concentrating the focus and effort of a school improvement plan on a few key initiatives is a manageable, effective approach for school improvement that, unfortunately, still too few schools use. Why do you think some schools and districts are hesitant to use this strategy? Share your ideas in the comments section, below.
Dr. Kay L. Frunzi is a systems transformation consultant at McREL, providing strategic improvement services to schools and districts across the country. Before joining McREL, she served as a school principal in four districts and taught graduate-level courses at various universities.