According to the study More Efficient Public Schools in Maine: Learning Communities Building the Foundation of Intellectual Work released August 10, 2012 by the Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine, some schools in Maine significantly outperform others both in terms of academic achievement and making the most of taxpayer dollars.
The study isolates key factors responsible for the higher level of functioning. These factors are: concentrated, consistent intellectual work on the part of students and adults; teachers who believe their work as educators is essential to creating a better world; efficiency in using resources. The study emphasizes that schools that wish to improve need first to assess how they are doing in relation to these key factors.
Self-reflection is something some schools do better than others. A culture of self-reflection in a school is fostered by a leader who includes teachers in the intellectual work of school reform. Leaders of this type see themselves as collaborating with the other players in the school. As a result each player then buys into the goal of improving student achievement and works for a strong outcome. Such leaders recognize that all the players in an institution must be invested in plans to improve the school and understand that it is their job to unify all the players so work can be done collaboratively. The effective administrator knows that only by working together will a school become more focused on the efficient use of resources and on increased student achievement. Teachers will not effectively implement plans for improvement they do not believe will work.
Too many schools in Maine are intensely hierarchical institutions. The inevitable result is a lack of investment on the part of many except those at the top. The divide between teachers and leadership in such schools is often cavernous, defined by mutual criticism. Teachers feel administrators aren’t keyed in to the realities of students and the classroom and that their roadmaps are flawed. Administrators feel teachers don’t cooperate with their plans. The result is a waste of talent on all sides.
Some schools in Maine operate as learning communities where the adults engage in meaningful, collaborative exchanges and all feel valued and invested in the work of improving schools. These are the schools with a culture in place that allows for the teachers and administrators to work together. These are the schools where all the players create plans together for how to better serve the students they teach. Teachers are happy to go to work in these schools and the payoff from that alone is enormous. Contentment on the part of teachers defines the mood of a classroom and school and goes a long way to improving student learning.
The report More Efficient Public Schools in Maine makes many practical recommendations for how to improve outcomes, among them: minimize phone interruptions during the school day; have a good arts program; save staff meetings for discussions on curriculum and instruction; disseminate administrative information by email; provide time for teachers to collaborate during the school day; use technology judiciously; choreograph transition time for students so a minimum of time is wasted. All of these recommendations serve students well.
However until teachers in individual schools are invested in collectively deciding what needs to change in their own schools then much in the way of potential positive gain is lost. Teachers need to be an integral part of creating the roadmap for reform of their school.