The coolest thing about teaching is that there is no one right way to do it. There are some essential components of the craft that we know work, but the innovative strategies teachers use to incorporate those essentials can vary in beautiful, creative, stylistic ways. When teachers have the opportunities to learn from each other what works for them, teacher expertise expands and student learning improves.
The same can be argued for school improvement and district policies. The GO Teacher Policy Fellows had the opportunity recently to sit down with Superintendent Antwan Wilson to discuss the state and future of Oakland schools. While we had many questions for him, he had only one for us: What is working at your school site? I appreciated the focus on our successes and decided to document some of the responses.
Here is what some of our teacher policy fellows have to say about what is working at their district and charter schools:
“The most impressive efforts at my school include daily collaboration time for teachers that is built into the schedule and expected by the administration, peer observations and evaluations, student evaluations of teachers twice a year, a professional development plan informed by teacher input, college and career pathways, full time college and career counselors (who also teach classes), a flexible and accessible administrative team, block scheduling, active student leadership, and a commitment to relevant and engaging curriculum that is all open-sourced…just to name a few!” —Rachel Friedman, Instructional Lead, Civicorps
“The freedom to hire people who fit the school culture and agree with the school’s approach is one major policy that works at my school site. In conjunction with this, the school leadership has established a culture of kindness where teachers are given the benefit of the doubt. For example, if a student pushes a desk over, the school leadership helps the teacher respond appropriately and doesn’t blame the teacher for the incident. In general, if I make a mistake (which inevitably I will), I don’t feel worried that I’m going to be yelled at or punished. I know I will receive help and support instead. Teachers are also supported in several specific ways: with release time for planning and collaboration; with professional development time that allows for structured work time that aligns with the school’s goals; with administrators who offer help and ask, “What do you need?”; and with good curriculum resources paired with professional development that helps me use the resources more effectively.” –Jennie Herriot-Hatfield, Think College Now Elementary School
“This year my site has a new, first year principal. She has a clear vision – that all students can learn and that our school will make sure all learners are successful academically and socially/emotionally. In terms of making this happen, teachers have been given one 50 min. a week collaboration prep. All teachers are eager to collaborate and work well with their grade level team. There are 5 special education classes that serve students with autism, so I suggested that we form a PLC that meets once a month to modify/measure the school goals for our students. The principal is very open to building teacher leadership capacity, which has been great in terms of making sure that all teachers are using their strengths.” –Caitlin Healey, Emerson Elementary
“We created a ‘Pillar’ system, with five pillars. Each pillar ran one portion of the PD for the month. Every teacher was required to be on a Pillar and we had built in time in the school month to plan the upcoming PD. The pillars were: accountability and systems, curriculum and instruction, building school capacity, intervention and culture and climate.” –Lacy Lefkowitz, Formerly at Claremont Middle School
“Our staff is intentional in working together. While much of the staff has experience, the majority are new hires to our site this year. We seem to have started the year with a mindset of collegiality and camaraderie which has served us well to communicate openly and often.” –-Cori Belew, North Oakland Community Charter School
“The administration and support staff are incredibly strong. It is so clear that everyone on campus cares about our students, teachers, and families. Our principal and other staff members put in an incredible amount of work to make teachers’ jobs more manageable (by providing planning time, reducing paperwork, and supporting class needs) while continuously working to ensure students and families feel connected to the school. Our administration also collects and reviews feedback forms after every PD or school-wide event in an effort to encourage teacher and staff voice and to continuously grow and improve as a school.” –Emma Coufal, Think College Now Elementary School
We’d love to hear from you! What is working at your school site? What strategies from those listed here might you bring back to your school leadership and why?