Over the last decade, Graham Elementary School in the Austin Independent School District's dramatic and sustained academic Title 1 success brought local, state and national recognition. Beginning in 2011, approximately 30 to 60 educators visited the campus every year to better understand the makings of Graham's astonishing level of sustained academic success. These visitors would depart with the working knowledge of stop-gap and bridge resources that yield multiple double digit increases in student outcomes. But, in a short campus visit, a fundamental underpinning of Graham students' social and academic success remained obviously obscured.
In many Title 1 elementary schools, campus personnel are working long, tiring hours each school day – at Graham, it is no different. But, Graham’s daily work was not only oriented to produce academic performance but to create a schoolwide student learning environment and a teaching climate similar to that of a non-Title 1 elementary school. However, to accomplish this task, the challenging needs of a both urban and rural Title 1 schools frequently require a proactive management system to set the stage for dramatic academic growth.
This lengthy blog (Part 1 of 2) is intended to define the proactive principal’s role with regard to accelerating student performance outcomes in the challenging environment of a typical Title 1 elementary school. But, stellar student performance requires that the faculty understand the high need for efficient and effective classroom preparedness each school year to accentuate student outcomes. For example, for every 15 minutes of instruction and student learning that is consistently lost each school day due to classroom procedural inefficiencies or handling student disruptions, approximately 9 full class days are lost throughout the school year. 30 minutes and 18 class days are lost regardless if the students were present at school or not. For more information, see the Related Blog: ‘When 15 minutes is lost, it is expensive!' at The New 3Rs Education Consulting.
The lead administrator must expatiate without ambiguity the absolute need of effective classroom management and efficient daily routines during the professional development sessions at the start of school. High academics are an outcome of a student learning environment that is prepared for engaging pedagogy in every classroom. Effective classroom management and efficient daily routines provide the foundation for dramatically heightening social and academic performance at a Title 1 elementary school. Full Stop! No exceptions. But, the proactive principal must actively assist teachers in establishing and maintaining these systems.
After student safety, the principal’s first priority is to heighten student achievement. If the academic performance of a Title 1 elementary school is to achieve comparable and equitable academic levels to that of a non-Title 1 elementary school, then the Title 1 campus administration must understand the importance of aggressively and actively supporting teachers in their classrooms. A proactive principal must establish the general classroom expectations both horizontally and vertically across grade levels. Otherwise, the principal's time during the day is retroactively controlled by handling classroom situations that can be avoided.
So, what should a Title 1 principal do differently?
The Effective and Successful Title 1 Elementary Principal
The teachers in a Title 1 school are not in need of only a cheerleader. The principal must model and guide both classroom and school expectations, so all faculty members thoroughly understand the campus' expectations. In doing so, good things happen, but not by accident. It must be by design. That design is expatiated during staff development every school year when the faculty returns from summer break.
If significantly raising social and academic outcomes are a goal at a Title 1 campus, the principal must adopt new classroom support roles. It is not accurate or sufficient to state that the principal must be visible on campus – the principal must be actively visible! The principal must command the school, but in a relationally positive manner.
A Title 1 Elementary Principal’s Professional Development Emphasis in August
The principal should explicitly convey student behavioral expectations for each classroom on campus during the professional development days at the start of every school year. Analogously, as teachers share their classroom rules with their students, the principal is communicating to each teacher his or her classroom expectations in the most basic language using specific examples to clarify precise meaning. In doing so, the faculty operate efficient classrooms that ultimately preserve instructional minutes every school day from the first day of school to the last. Consequently, academics are heightened from a safe and structured learning environment due to effective and consistent daily pedagogy, stop-gap resources and bridge resources.
Principal Management Guidelines and Proactive Support of Classroom Teachers
The following list provides eight (8) additional proactive measures that the proactive principal follows to 'walk the walk,' so their actions match their message to the faculty.
The principal must be a consistent, proactive supporter each day in the classrooms - not for only the first two weeks of school. Regular walkthroughs assist in visibility and provide ample opportunities for relationship building with students.
If a student is disrespectful to the teacher, uses profanity, strikes another student, etc., that child has made a choice - a poor one. The child must receive an appropriate consequence for that poor choice. However, the administration should follow-up with the child (multiple times, if necessary) on subsequent school days to be proactive to curb continued inappropriate student behavior.
The administration cannot be in the office during the school day completing paperwork. Teachers’ grade papers at night; hence, principals should complete the majority of their administrative paperwork at night as well. If there is a student problem in the classroom, teachers must follow their classroom rules, and if necessary at some point, contact the office. A student’s misconduct must be addressed and not be permitted to continue. If this inappropriate conduct is allowed, a few students exhibiting poor conduct will generally be copied by other students – inevitably resulting in a classroom in chaos
During daily rounds to classrooms, the administration must be actively visible in classrooms by modeling teaching practices and working directly with students. Later emailing or leaving a note to communicate and document any pedagogical observation and guidance, as needed.
The principal’s direct interaction with students can build positive relationships and establishes trust. One of the most effective means to accomplish this task is actively interacting in the classroom setting. When a behavior situation occurs later on with the same student, the administrator can utilize the investment capital of time and trust from the past to facilitate and de-escalate difficult situations.
Have a plan prepared with the faculty for a difficult classroom situation. If the student refuses to leave a classroom with an administrator, the administrator should summon additional faculty personnel for support and observation. After support personnel arrives in the classroom, the teacher can transition the other students to the library to read. Once the ‘audience’ has been removed, the student usually calmly exits the classroom with the administration team. The principal should remain absolutely calm and nonaggressive – not make threats to the child – and de-escalate the situation. It is highly recommended that an administrator or counselor not remain alone with the non-compliant student in a classroom. Call another adult faculty member!
All novice teachers should be assigned a mentor and the school’s administration and/or instructional specialists must also assist in the classroom by modeling effective pedagogy. It is highly recommended that novice teacher’s classrooms have carefully selected student rosters void of known challenging students from prior grades. The entry-level teacher must develop their pedagogical efficacy in a setting that is as controlled as possible. See Related Blog: A First Year’s Teacher’s Cry – “Help! I need somebody. Help!” for more information at The New 3Rs Education Consulting.
The principal should require teachers to maintain a detailed record of all parent conversations with regard to their children’s behavior – providing written documentation of previous conversations and agreements.
A principal must support teachers in the classroom to lay the foundation to build academic and social success at the campus. Their active role in the classrooms demonstrates and conveys to teachers and students alike that the campus work is a collective effort. Establishing this type of school environment requires front-end loading in both time and energy, but after a system is set-up, it is easy to maintain.
A proactive administration's actions result in the following beneficial outcomes at the campus: student achievement to dramatically rise, a school community of trust and shared vision, a decrease in teacher resignations and transfers, students enjoy and feel safe coming to school each day, heightened parent support and a significant decrease in the number of student discipline occurrences. In the end, this level of administrative effort provides a successful and safe learning environment in our public schools for all children - whether the elementary school is Title 1 or non-Title 1.