Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Mapping a Pathway to Schoolwide Highly Effective Teaching: Raising Achievement Is the By-Product of a Comprehensive Plan Linking Strong Principal Leadership, Higher Teacher Expectations, and a Focus on Literacy-All Held Together by Trusting Relationships

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Mapping a Pathway to Schoolwide Highly Effective Teaching: Raising Achievement Is the By-Product of a Comprehensive Plan Linking Strong Principal Leadership, Higher Teacher Expectations, and a Focus on Literacy-All Held Together by Trusting Relationships

Article excerpt

Research on raising achievement consistently points to an effective teacher as the most crucial element in a student's success. My 40-plus years of teaching and coaching in schools across the country confirm that the most effective teachers are laser-focused on high achievement and more. Highly effective teachers challenge and engage all students and adapt required curriculum, resources, and standards to meet student needs and interests; they also counteract the effects of poverty.

Since 1997, I've been conducting residencies in diverse elementary schools to advance and sustain more effective teaching, learning, and leadership practices (Routman, 2008, 2009). Based on the school's greatest need--according to an examination of their data and teacher and principal feedback--we focus on the reading or writing connection across the curriculum. The weeklong residency includes daily demonstration teaching and coaching in one primary grade classroom and in one intermediate grade classroom with other teachers at corresponding grade levels released to observe the lessons. Throughout the week and following the residency, the teachers and principal participate in whole-school and small-group professional conversations in vertical and grade-level teams. Several principles, practices, and ideals have proven to be most critical for highly effective teaching and high achievement to take hold and be sustained schoolwide in the schools where we have worked.

1. Rely on strong principal leadership.

The effective teacher depends foremost on an effective principal. Without strong principal leadership, whole school achievement is rarely possible or sustainable. I used to think that if a school had a strong teacher leadership team, that would be enough to propel achievement forward. But, during a decade of residencies, I observed that while a number of teachers would move forward and raise student achievement, others would languish and even resist the changes.

Now, I spend the entire afternoon with the principal, and most of that time involves instructional walks--demonstrating what to look for, what to say, and what to teach when visiting a classroom, and coaching the principal to take on that key leadership role in classrooms for at least an hour every day. While much has been written on the importance of learning walks, walkthroughs, and instructional rounds (City, Elmore, Fiarman, & Teitel, 2009), I choose "instructional walks" to denote that the principal is not just quietly observing during these classroom visitations or checking off "look fors." The principal is actively engaged, interacting with the teacher and students. The principal:

* Notices what's going well in the classroom--environment, management, engagement, level of student independence, lesson content, grouping arrangements, quality of student work;

* Takes brief, nonjudgmental notes on what's going well and what needs attention;

* Comments verbally on what's going well, making at least several positive comments to the teacher and/or students;

* Suggests a strategy or idea on the spot, if appropriate;

* Does not leave the classroom without letting the teacher know what he/she has observed;

* Revisits notes for whole-school patterns of strengths and needs;

* Uses those observations to determine and share schoolwide strengths and weaknesses; and

* Leads the staff to determine next steps and actions.

When the principal has built a solid foundation of trust and is highly knowledgeable, teachers welcome principals into their classrooms as an extra pair of eyes and hands to strengthen their teaching, not to mention having a principal who can and does serve as a co-teacher and coach.

2. Raise expectations for what's possible.

No matter where I teach, I'm confronted with a poverty of low expectations. Even when adults in the school say they hold high expectations, their actions often show that they don't really believe that their students are capable of higher achievement, especially at low-performing schools. …

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