Researchers who have studied effective schools have found that such schools possess the following characteristics: (1) a clear sense of purpose, (2) core standards within a rigorous curriculum, (3) high expectations, (4) commitment to educate all students, (5) a safe and orderly learning environment, (6) strong partnerships with parents, and (7) a problem solving attitude (The Trouble with Black Boys, Noguera pg. 36).
For many educational leaders, from the superintendent to the principal, today's current challenges are much like navigating an enormous ship through the rough seas of the north Atlantic. Annual Yearly Progress and achievement gaps pose serious threats to the success of the journey. The first characteristic of successful schools is a clear sense of purpose, or in other words, a well planned course navigated by the leaders.
John Maxwell writes in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership ,"...but leaders who navigate do even more than control the direction in which they and their people travel. They see the whole trip in their minds before they leave the dock. They have vision for getting to their destination, they understand what it will take to get there, they know who they'll need on the team to be successful, and they recognize the obstacles long before they appear on the horizon" (38). The best businesses recognize that change begins with the leader. And that leader must provide a clear purpose and vision for the organization.
Many schools and districts rely on the universal goal of educating our students in a safe and positive environment. But, we have failed to differentiate this purpose to address the community specific obstacles which exist in those communities.
More specifically, districts which face greater challenges need leaders who can recognize all of the obstacles and not just the obvious ones. Here are two examples of obstacles that I don't believe my district leaders recognize:
1. This week, our students are required to complete a CAPT like test in each of their core classes as part of graduation requirements in our school. Multiple teachers have shared common experiences in trying to get this requirement accomplished. One teacher told of a student who informed her that he wasn't going to take "this fucking piece of shit test" because he didn't want to.
2. During a math class, another student refused to move seats when the teacher asked him to move because he was talking. He threw his papers on the floor and also went into a tirade full of expletives.
Both examples indicate the level of maturity and life skills many of our students lack. I can attest to all of the ways in which we as teachers need to improve, a point our administrators and central office readily make. I agree with them on most areas. What our adminstrators and central office don't readily point out is that too many of our high school students disrupt and distract from the good teaching that is happening throughout the building. Ultimately, we feel that the real obstacles are being minimalized.
The end result is that we don't buy into their vision or purpose. Because our voices, our realities are not being heard, we as a staff find it difficult to buy into the purpose of our district. And, to be honest, I couldn't articulate our focused purpose because it hasn't been a shared or repeated purpose.
Like any organization or community, schools will find success when members work together and recognize the importance of each part. Effective schools begin with a clearly defined purpose in which the various parts of the system recognize and want to participate in.