Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Track Down Great Practice. Then Share It: Comment

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Track Down Great Practice. Then Share It: Comment

Article excerpt

Go the whole hog and collaborate so everyone can benefit from the best ideas, David Moran writes.

Ray Swoffard, an educator with nearly 40 years' experience in schools in Hamilton County, Tennessee, US, has worked as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent of urban education and associate superintendent.

When talking about the tension between teaching and the demands of testing, Swoffard tells a story about his father and uncle, both pig farmers. Every year, they would have a competition to see who could raise the fattest hog. His uncle became obsessed, spending his time weighing the hogs and charting their progress. Every year, Swoffard's father would win. When asked his secret, he said it was simple: "I spend my time feeding the hogs; he spends his time weighing the hogs."

I worked with Swoffard in Nashville, Tennessee, for two years, supporting the turnaround of 34 high-priority schools as part of a programme delivered by private provider Tribal Education. All the schools shared common characteristics - poor performance, low expectations, high teacher turnover, fragile cultures, a lack of autonomy and accountability - and all served communities with high levels of deprivation. These challenges are similar to those encountered by schools in urban settings across the globe. And the solutions to these problems are equally applicable to all schools that are dealing with difficult circumstances.

The starting point was a belief that there are more great parts of schools than there are great schools. Also, that "disciplined collaboration" within and between schools stands the greatest chance of improving outcomes for all students.

Our work focused on a simple cyclical model that included: rigorous analyses of student outcome data, school self-evaluation, external review, improvement planning and collaborative networking. All this was underpinned by challenge, celebration and an invitational approach to the engagement of school leaders on the programme.

Central to the project's success was the creation of a positive climate for change within the schools and the district. At school level, this was epitomised by the leadership of Ronald Powe, principal of Napier Elementary School. Napier was the lowest-performing elementary school in the state. It displayed all the characteristics of a failing school serving one of the most challenging and deprived communities in Nashville. But Powe focused relentlessly on results. He combined this with a passion for developing the culture and the attitudes of students, staff and parents. …

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