Straight from Educators: What Makes Great Schools Tick

straight from the educators what makes great schools tick header

Teachers have an up-close view of schools in action—and they have firsthand knowledge of how the systems within a school can help them and their students succeed. That’s why we asked a group of teachers and teacher-leaders for their thoughts on what these systems mean to them and how leaders can ensure that they function effectively to drive positive change.

Collaborative, job-embedded professional learning:

One of the most valuable resources in schools is teachers’ time. If there’s time for teachers to study and practice, they’ll do well. It’s close to true all the time. When the agenda has been set by teachers, and their given the time consider their own process and reflect on their work. I’m also a firm believer that the answer is always in the room. While it’s good to get perspective from those on the outside, bringing teachers together is powerful because the answer always has to come from the inside.

High-quality professional development creates experiences for teachers to be active learners. In the same way that we want our students to be met where they are and challenged to become their best, we need to build professional development opportunities that provide the same for teachers. Teacher agency is the path to student agency! With student empowerment and agency an increasingly important goal in schools, it is critical that teachers experience that same kind of learning. They cannot create the kinds of environments that are necessary if they have never learned that way. Most educators went to traditional schools where the solo teacher was in charge. That is the way they will teach, through no fault of their own, if they are not given opportunities to be active learners, empowered to discover their strengths and weaknesses and to grow beyond them.

Effective instructional materials:

Districts must prioritize teacher voice in the instructional materials selection process. They must also allow time for teachers to sample possible programs and then provide ample professional development to train teachers on how to implement. As a member of my district’s textbook committee, my teacher voice was not only valued, but heeded during the process. Now that we have high-quality instructional materials supported by our community, our department needs the time and training to decide how best to utilize for our students based on their individual needs.

An environment that supports students to direct their own learning and promotes community engagement:

The interesting thing about student-directed learning is that it really keeps the students’ interests and keeps them coming back. It does take training for administrators, teachers and students. You must relinquish control and allow students to control themselves. But students will always turn to their teachers as a resource for information that they cannot find on their own.

Meeting families where they are is the first step to having a stronger relationship. That might be taking a phone call at home around 10pm because a parent works nights or going to visit their homes, or inviting them for breakfast. It is hard to expect teachers to do this, but teachers will take on what they see other teachers and educators doing within their building.