If I Were Going to Improve a High School……

I would begin by hiring good teachers and then trust that they will be the ultimate professionals. They would be present each day, prepared for class and work hard for their students. I would not hound them about writing lesson plans that look like “War and Peace”. I would not put unrealistic expectations such as “you may not have more than a 20 percent failure rate”.

The next step will be holding the students accountable for the choices that they make.

  • If they chose not to come to school, then there will be a consequence for poor attendance. The consequences could include truancy court, a parental escort at school for 2 or 3 days, or a boot camp to make up attendance.
  • If they chose not to complete their class work and homework, then they will receive a zero and not be allowed to make it up. They will then not pass the course.
  • If they fail a test because they didn’t study, then they will not automatically be given a make-up test.
  • If they chose not to act appropriately in class, then they will be removed to a more appropriate setting. If necessary, their parent will be called to sit with them through each class to insure proper behavior.
  • If a student is out of dress code then the parents will bring them appropriate clothes the first time. Every time after that they will be sent to In-School-Suspension. If the violation of the dress code continues then the parents will be required to attend school with the student to insure that they remain in dress code throughout the day.
  • If a student is habitually tardy then his parents will be required to escort him to class each day until he decides that he can get to class on time.

Consistency is the key to all improvement. The consistent enforcement of attendance laws, tardy policies, dress code policies and consequences for inappropriate behavior is the only way that improvement will occur.

The initial response is that if schools hold students to this level of responsibility then there will be a huge failure rate. In the beginning there might be an increase in the failure rate to a level that is higher than desired, but as students adapt to the higher standard the failure rate will decrease.

There are people that believe that “failing” a class is the end of the world. In fact it may be the best motivation for improving. Some of the greatest inventions were created because of failure. Thomas Edison failed over 1000 times before creating a functioning light bulb. Each time he “failed” he learned what did not work so that he could eliminate those things. Abraham Lincoln failed to be elected to Congress several times before eventually being elected as President of the United States.

Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all was quoted “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” Most students that are not being successful fall into this category, “NOT TRYING”. If students would try, even if they don’t understand or aren’t the best then they would be surprised at the number of teachers that are willing to help them. The idea of not trying begins at home. If the parents allow them to “not try” or quit easily then that will become their pattern of behavior, it will be part of that student’s personality.

After establishing the standards for the students, then I would begin with improving classroom instruction. In a collaborative effort with the staff we would develop a short list of non-negotiable behaviors/expectations for both staff and students that must meet. Because the staff had a part in the development of the expected behaviors, they will have a higher level of “buy-in” than a group of staff members that just had a list put in their hand and told “here”!

The next step I would take with the staff would be to develop a short list of “System Wide Guidelines”. These guidelines will consist of simple day to day procedures that will be consistent from one class/teacher to the next.

Examples:

  1. Paper Heading– The standard heading for all papers will be as follows from this point forward. In the upper right hand corner of the student’s paper. The title of the assignment should be on the top line, center.

Name

Class Name

Period

Date

Title of Assignment

2.Writing- All assignments will be written in pencil, black or blue ink. Red may be used for “grading” only.

3.SpellingOn all tests and written assessments spelling will be a graded component. If a student has a particular word on a science test, then that word will be spelled correctly when used as an answer. Beginning with the sixth grade this should be a consistent standard. In the lower grades we should work towards this and make it part of our school wide routine.

4. Answering Questions- When answering any questions for an assignment, it is required that those answers be in the form of a complete sentence.

The above are just examples of items that could be included in a school’s system wide guidelines. Anything the staff believes that will develop consistency and improve learning for its students is appropriate.

 The third thing I would do is develop a staff recognition program, a program to build the self-esteem and confidence of the staff. Sam Walton once said “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish”. Too much time is focused on the negative, what are teachers doing wrong. It is time to reverse the focus and see the positives.

I wrote a paper a couple years ago that called Gotcha that talks about the school culture of looking for the negative. We have reached the point where it is time to move away from the “Gotcha Model” and towards a model of praise and encouragement. If there is not a drastic change in the near future, then we will be in trouble in a few years, when we truly do have a nationwide teacher shortage. Most new teachers last less than 5 years and the ones with more experience are nearing retirement age and will be gone soon without anyone to replace them.

As a final thought to remember: “a person who feels appreciated will always do more than is expected”.

David R. Taylor

27-Year Teacher, Coach and Principal

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