There are many things highly effective schools do to promote better teaching and learning in classrooms, some of which can be usefully understood in terms of ‘school improvement,’ as Geoff Masters explains.
‘School improvement’ typically focuses on areas of school practice that support improved teaching and learning. The first thing we know about highly effective schools is that they have an improvement agenda that is explicit, clear and shared across the school – so everyone in the school knows what they want to improve. This might be attendance levels, retention rates, post-school destinations, Year 12 results, literacy and numeracy levels.
The leadership team has adopted the agenda and all members of staff understand the agenda, are committed to it, play a role in implementing it throughout the school, and believe strongly and optimistically that improvement is possible.
The agenda is also expressed in terms of things that can be monitored in order to identify whether outcomes are improving. Outcomes might be expressed as explicit targets, with timelines, but are always measurable in terms of data of various kinds. Importantly, monitoring for improvement involves the whole school, so curriculum coordinators and classroom teachers use data in their decision making. This requires a commitment to building capacity to use data.
Highly effective schools place learning at the centre. There are high expectations, a commitment to every student learning successfully and a focus on supportive relationships between everybody in the school that focus on the learning agenda.
Highly effective schools also make good use of human and physical resources, and draw on resources beyond the school to maximise outcomes for their students. They actively seek ways to enhance student learning and wellbeing by partnering with parents and families, other education and training institutions, local businesses and community organisations.
Staff in highly effective schools work together as an expert teaching team, with a shared commitment to understanding how to support student learning, and a shared commitment to understanding highly effective teaching practices.
They also have a clear understanding of the curriculum that is shared and clearly documented across the whole school. At the same time, the leadership team in highly effective schools understands the importance of differentiation – and supports staff in identifying and understanding the needs of individual learners to tailor learning opportunities for them.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, highly effective schools are very focused on pedagogy. School leaders in highly effective schools see pedagogy as their job. They don’t say, ‘I’m managing the school; pedagogy is for teachers out there in classrooms.’ They are actively involved in the quality of the teaching that is occurring within the school and typically have a strong view about the kind of teaching they would like to see occurring, support professional learning to enable this, and participate in this professional learning themselves.
Professor Geoff Masters is Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council for Educational Research. In this role he maintains his professional interest in educational assessment and school improvement, and has been invited to undertake numerous reviews for governments. His most recent work includes the development of the National School Improvement Tool endorsed by Australia's Commonwealth, state and territory education ministers in December 2012.
Bastow Twilight session on Wednesday 19 June, 2013: Professor Geoff Masters will describe the National School Improvement Tool which brings together findings from international research into the practices of highly effective schools and school leaders.
To find more about school improvement, visit www.acer.edu.au/nsit