Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Towards an Understanding of Excellence in Urban Pedagogy: A Portrait of a High School

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Towards an Understanding of Excellence in Urban Pedagogy: A Portrait of a High School

Article excerpt

This case study describes processes in an urban high school, which contribute to excellence in urban pedagogy, and investigates teachers' and educational leaders' perceptions of the factors influencing their commitment to school success. Six themes related to excellence in urban pedagogy were identified. Data in the form of semi-structured interviews, observations, and document review describe a school in which the leadership strives to develop human capability at all levels through empowerment and shared decision-making. The study indicates that students' achievement is a collective responsibility and strong instructional leadership is a key for success in urban schools. More studies may be needed to show how contextual experience of teachers and teacher's self-efficacy are related. Key Words: Case Study, Leadership, Collective Efficacy, Excellence, School Effectiveness, and Urban

Background Information

"This school is cool. Teachers here make you really work hard. They do care. I have learned more in the past three months than I learned in probably in the last three years of schooling."

This case study of New Horizons School was born out of my interest in what goes on in successful urban schools. The study is based partly on my own experience of working in a school serving urban communities and partly from my perspective as a mathematics teacher in a local urban school, which recognizes that raising students' achievement has to be the main priority of the teachers and the leadership in the school. It is worth mentioning here that I was born and raised in India. I taught mathematics courses from Algebra I through Calculus to urban high school students for about twelve years before moving to the United States (US). After moving to the US, I took a number of graduate courses from the local universities in Maryland. Having been educated in two different countries has made me strive towards understanding the importance of cultural and educational background of students and their impact on students' achievement. Since my goal was to gain an in-depth understanding of the processes and practices that make New Horizons School (pseudonym) an excellent school, I used the naturalistic paradigm to guide the study. Within naturalistic inquiry, one seeks to understand the meaning constructed from the reality of the participants' framework rather than from the experiences of the investigator (Bogdan & Bilken, 2003). Eisner (1998) noted that "qualitative studies of classrooms, teachers, and schools are usually expressed in stories." (p.189) Lawrence-Lightfoot and Hoffman Davis (1997) called such studies "portraits." In this study, I present the findings in the form of a social science portrait, "a genre of inquiry and representation that seeks to join science and art" (Lightfoot-Lawrence & Hoffman Davis, p. 15).

Teachers are the foundation of our educational system. We must take a closer look at the relationship between the school as an organization and the attitudes and the behaviors of the teachers. For many students in urban settings, schools provide the strongest, stable, and most organized part of their educational world. Given that urban schools educate 40% of this country's minority children, and 35% of its poor children (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 2003; Zakariya, 1998), important lessons can be learned from a few urban schools that are beating the odds. In the era of high-stakes accountability and the increasing pressure on school leaders to create schools that assist all students to learn and succeed, this study is very valuable.

   One hopes that one's case will touch others. But how to connect?
   Not by calculation, I think, not by assumption that ... I have
   discovered a "universal condition of consciousness." One may merely
   know that no one is alone and hope that a singular story, as every
   true story is singular, will in the magic way of some things apply,
   connect, resonate, touch a major cord. … 
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