Sunday, November 16, 2008

Effective Schools Part VII

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).

The final installment of Effective Schools addresses the integral component of effective schools. Without a problem solving attitude, all school reform fails. What does a problem solving attitude look like?
Eyes: Problem solvers have 20/20 vision from the start. They are able to identify all of the most important problems, recognize the connections between the various problems, and identify which problems need attention first.
The best problem solvers also possess a sixth sense for seeing beyond the face of the problem and into the heart of the problem.
Ears: Problem solvers have their ears open and attuned to the potential solutions. The best problem solvers listen to all ideas, recognizing that the more information available, the better the decision will be.
Mouth: When solving a problem, the best use dialogue throughout the process. They do not limit themselves to only identifying the problem and then listening to ideas. Instead, once a possible solution is identified as the best choice, the best problem solvers clearly explain the chosen path and maintain the dialogue as the attempt is put in place.

Defining success can often prove tricky. Some of our most deeply entrenched problems cannot be solved quickly, a stumbling block for our instant message culture. Some problems require signifanct time and resources.
I will use W.G.A.S.H. as my example. We have many problems. My top three are (1) Student attitudes, (2) Teacher effectiveness, (3) Parental involvement. I recognize that these are three broad categories. Solving the student attitude problem will not happen overnight or even in a school year. For this to happen, our school district must begin influencing students at the younger grade levels. Additionally, we must work with parents to influence their perceptions of education and our schools. But at the building level, we must commit to influencing attitudes despite the regular set-backs we experience.
Though teachers continue to balk at the many trainings we've been attending (and it's hard not to sometimes), administration and central office must hear our voices and recognize our concerns. My guess is that most our contentiousness derives from the central office and adminstrations failure to properly communicate with the teachers. Whenever people are asked to make major philosophical shifts, leaders cannot foist that philosophy onto the followers. I would also add that while our central office has made efforts to appear more transparent and open to ideas, their actions have yet to confirm that perception.
And lastly, though our parents continue to ignore our school, as evidenced by the small number of parents attending last week's voluntary parent-teacher conferences, we must continue to seek a solution. We must consider solutions that address the reasons our parents ignore education, and we must work towards real solutions--not computer generated phone calls to district parents inviting them to participate.
In the end, we can only succeed at effectiveness if we are willing to get our hands a little dirty, limit egos, and open our minds.


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