The Six Strategies: How to Make them Work for You and Your School
This section includes a brief description of each strategy followed by tips for use and questions for reflection and discussion.
- Strategy 1: Creating an Atmosphere and Context for Change
- Strategy 2: Developing and Communicating a Shared Vision for Change
- Strategy 3: Planning and Allocating Resources
- Strategy 4: Investing in Training and Professional Development
- Strategy 5: Monitoring and Checking Progress
- Strategy 6: Continuing to Provide Assistance
Strategy 1: Creating an Atmosphere and Context for Change
Because the very basis of school reform involves changing the way the school and its staff approach their work, it is vital to create an environment where change is encouraged. A safe and collaborative atmosphere that promotes a sense of trust is essential as school staff must be comfortable learning new skills and taking the risks necessary to put these new skills into practice.
Undertaking a comprehensive reform program will involve everyone in learning new content, new skills, and new ways of thinking about education and the classroom. Therefore, each person involved in the reform must be regarded as a learner. This includes teachers, principals, administrators, parents, and students.
By sharing responsibility and re-casting everyone involved as learners, you help create this critically important context for change. As this new learning environment is created and nurtured, new instructional practices, organizational structures, and content will be introduced. It is important to reflect on each change and note which practices are working well and which are not meeting with success.
Tips For Creating an Atmosphere and Context for Change
- Provide staff with the training they need to carry out reform and encourage risk taking.
- Provide the time for staff to meet as a group and discuss your school's reform program and how it is affecting teaching and learning.
- Encourage staff to play a role in decision making.
- Encourage staff to voice their concerns and help them work through these concerns.
- Encourage staff members resistant to a reform program to take an active role in discussions; we can often learn from those with differing views.
- Find ways for teachers who are withdrawn or resistant to the reform program to play a leadership role in an area they care about or would like to see change.
Questions for Reflection
- How do we gain consensus about the need for reform?
- What elements are crucial in creating an environment of trust?
- How do we ensure that all staff members have the opportunity to voice concerns?
- What can we do to promote a collaborative atmosphere in our school?
- What things do we already do that support the development of a collaborative atmosphere?
Strategy 2: Developing and Communicating a Shared Vision for Change
One of the most important aspects of school reform and improvement is creating and sharing a vision of what the school and classrooms will look like when the reform has been implemented. Each person involved in the reform effort needs to share the same vision of change. Creating this image provides a common focus and helps drive all the decisions a school makes. A vision should be created and shared in partnership with the stakeholders at a school -- teachers, administrators, parents, and students. By sharing a common vision in as many formats and as frequently as possible, the ideas become not only familiar, they become part of the expectations for the future.
Tips for Developing and Communicating a Shared Vision:
- Work to build a vision with input from all participants and stakeholders in your school organization.
- Help staff develop a mental image of what your school will look like when the reform is in place in order to best understand what should be happening in the classrooms and how students should be learning.
- There should be constant references to the school vision presented throughout the school year and around all school buildings; use every opportunity possible to refer to the vision.
- Translate the vision into workable plans and actions.
Questions for Reflection
- What elements are important in defining a vision for our school?
- Ideally, what do we want our school to look like once we've implemented reform?
- Who or what resources can we use to help us develop a vision of what our school will look like when the reform has been implemented?
- What will be taking place when the reform is implemented? What will teachers be doing? What will students be doing?
- What are the best ways for us to get input from staff, parents, and community members with regard to our vision?
- How can we ensure that we get input from staff with diverse points of view regarding the vision?
- How can we ensure that we receive input from culturally and linguistically diverse community members?
- What are some effective methods for communicating the vision to the teachers, parents, and the community?
Strategy 3: Planning and Allocating Resources
A well thought-out plan can help a school translate its vision into action. Developing a comprehensive, yet flexible plan from the outset of a reform program helps provide clear direction for everyone involved in the reform effort. As the implementation progresses, the plan should allow for revisions based on experiences and data from ongoing assessments. The school priorities will be reflected in the way it chooses to allocate resources. Resource allocation should work to maximize change and effectiveness, thus impacting student achievement. District-level and central office personnel can provide guidance both in planning and in finding/allocating resources.
Tips for Planning and Allocating Resources
- Let the school's shared vision be your guide.
- Design your comprehensive plan based on data from a thorough needs assessment and your school's vision for improvement.
- Create specific action steps to help move the school toward its vision of change.
- Realize the plan for your reform program is not a blueprint; it is evolutionary. Conditions change and adaptations will need to be made over time.
- It may be necessary--and can provide a new perspective--to get technical assistance from outside the school to help prepare a plan and reallocate resources.
- Think "out of the box" when it comes to reallocating the resources that you have.
- Make sure the allocation of resources reflects the priorities of your school.
Questions for Reflection
- When and how should we go about developing a plan for our improvement program?
- How can we include parents, paraprofessionals, and others in the planning process?
- How do we ensure our plan remains up to date?
- How can we best use the staff we have right now to carry out our reform program?
- How could we rearrange our schedule to make better use of time? Are there areas where we are not making efficient use of the time we have?
- Are there funds we already have that we could use to support reform?
Strategy 4: Investing in Training and Professional Development
Change efforts will require the development of new skills and strategies. In order for teachers to effectively bring these skills and strategies into the classroom, they must have ample time for learning these new skills and strategies. They must be allowed time to practice and given opportunities for discussions with other teachers, as well as feedback on the effectiveness of their changes. When administrators participate in the professional development, they are not only showing support, they are providing themselves with a context for understanding the changes that are happening in the classrooms.
Tips for Investing in Training and Professional Development
- Professional development should be ongoing; always provide follow-up coaching.
- Include school leaders in professional development sessions. When school leaders are learning along with the staff, they have a better understanding of what the staff needs and how to assess the progress the staff is making.
- Make sure there is a connection between professional development and the school's vision. Professional development should be focused on developing the skills and knowledge the staff needs to help them achieve the vision.
- Provide time for teachers to get together and talk about their instruction, their students' work, what is working well and what is not working well. Teachers' helping one another is one of the most powerful forms of professional development and helps alleviate the isolation many teachers experience.
- Look for ways to use small amounts of time. For example, use faculty meetings, department meetings, and grade-level meetings as professional development opportunities.
Questions for Reflection
- How can our shared school vision guide us in creating a professional development program?
- What kinds of professional development are needed to support our reform program?
- What resources are available to guide us in our selection of professional development opportunities?
- How do we find or create the time we need to devote to professional development?
- How do we ensure new staff members receive training to get up to speed with staff members who have been involved in the reform program from the beginning?
Strategy 5: Monitoring and Checking Progress
Every school reform program, no matter how well planned and implemented, will encounter problems at some stage. Some will be major, some only minor. By checking and monitoring progress throughout the implementation process, a school can quickly and effectively address problems as they arise. Assessment of a school's progress should be evaluated both formally (i.e., surveys and testing) and informally (i.e., hallway interactions and classroom visits).
Tips for Monitoring and Checking Progress
- Integrate evaluation into program planning and implementation from the beginning; it should be an ongoing part of your school's reform program.
- Assess student achievement formally and informally.
- Measure progress of the reform's implementation by asking questions such as "Are we doing what we said we would do?" and "How do we know this?"
- Make checking progress commonplace and part of a routine.
- Learn from both mistakes and successes.
- Quickly address issues that impede progress. By collaboratively evaluating student work and student data, teachers can learn which methods of instruction are effective and which are not.
- Only by identifying and tracking problems can we determine what our "next" steps should be to help get us back on the right track.
- Provide feedback in constructive ways.
- Hold regular meetings with principals and grade-level teams.
Questions for Reflection
- How do we obtain effective tools and processes to use in assessing our progress?
- How can teachers help each other monitor progress?
- What other types of data do we need?
- Do we know how to effectively interpret the data we have/want?
- If we find problems, how are we going to address the problems? What kinds of techniques are effective in couching feedback in a positive light?
Strategy 6: Continuing to Provide Assistance
Any worthwhile program, especially a new reform effort, needs nurturing to flourish. As a school progresses in its improvement efforts, the needs of those implementing the reform change. These needs must be addressed with continuing assistance, with a focus on promoting implementation through coaching, problem solving, and technical assistance to individual users. Even though celebrating progress and recognizing achievement is frequently overlooked, they are both very important parts of continuing to support the school's reform effort.
Tips for Continuing to Provide Assistance
- Make certain teachers receive continuous support and coaching in their areas of need and that they have the materials and data they need.
- Create an environment where staff members can easily engage --teaching and learning from one another.
- Assist teachers individually and through mentoring, peer coaching, and group problem solving.
- Provide consistent leadership to sustain the reform effort.
- Celebrate successes, even small ones.
Questions for Reflection
- Who is responsible for providing continuing assistance?
- What forms of assistance will maintain the momentum of the reform efforts?
- What are good forums for celebration and acknowledgement of success and what kinds of successes should be celebrated?
- How do we continue to sustain and improve our reform efforts in the face of changes and challenges?
- What are some ways that we can incorporate what we learn from assessment back into our program?
- What types of student data do we now gather that will be helpful in checking progress?
- In what areas have our students shown improvement? In what areas have we not seen improvement?