5 Things I Learned About Effective Schools


For the past two weeks, I attended a Gear Up conference which was designed to help us implement the Common Core Standards, but also help us create a high performance learning environment in our school.  Here are some things I learned:

1.  Schools Are Museums – Technology is advancing at an alarming rate.  It is becoming more and more integrated into our lives.  Our students are more tech savvy than ever, often understanding and utilizing the latest technology for practical means, not simply to play video games or watch YouTube.  Students research.  Students will use their smartphones to look up a song or check someone’s Facebook account or go to IMDB for information about a movie or actor.  However, most schools are stifling and running away from this technology rather than embracing it as a tool to be used in the classroom. Internet blockers are heavy-handedly placed on school internet servers, and most school administrators do not understand the internet or its many positive uses.  In essence, schools and the way they do education have become museums and the teachers in those schools have become the curators.  Education must change with the culture of the times.  Read this case study about using cell phones in the classroom.

2.  Critical Thinking for Positive Change – I have been against the “read the chapter, do the questions” method of teaching forever.  It is worthless.  Schools need to get away from “teaching to the test” and realize that if we teach students critical thinking skills, teach them how to reason, find evidence for their opinions, support those opinions with fact, and let them find their own voice through questioning, we will not have to worry about the precious state standards when they take the test.  They will be critical thinkers, able to reason out answers.  Students need to understand the “why” behind the answer to the question.  I use the Socratic method in my classroom, and with this pdf file, any teacher can use it as well.

3.  Are You In a Prison? – School learning environments must be inviting environments.  How many high schools have you been in that have the same antiseptic feel to them as a mental institution or a prison?  Is the school beautiful on the outside, but because of staff attitudes about students it is toxic to free and challenging education.  I stay out of the teacher’s lounge.  I don’t know how many times I have heard negative things about students I have been able to challenge and who perform well in my class, but do not perform well in the negative teacher’s class.  There is always the teacher who says: “Just wait until you get him” or “She can’t write” or “That kid can’t read.”  This creates a negative atmosphere that perpetuates that child’s failure.  Consider the video below:

4.  Power and Control – Most schools are run from the top down.  In order for education to be meaningful and worthwhile, schools must be collaboratively controlled by the teachers, staff, administrators, school board, parents and students, or by all involved in the community of education.  The days of “us against them” need to come to an end in order to facilitate a positive learning environment.  One of the most important tools in creating this kind of atmosphere are surveys.  Schools must be data driven, utilizing carefully written surveys to help educators, parents and students create a place of learning that is uniquely suited for the culture, the needs of the community and the abilities of those involved.  If all involved in creating a learning environment feel that they have ownership of that environment, then they are more apt to buy in to making that school a successful learning environment for all of its patrons.

5.  Goals – I have to admit, I did not know our school’s mission statement or whether or not we had one at all.  Apparently we do, written somewhere on our student and teacher handbooks.  The goal should be stated clearly and posted somewhere in the school so that all people involved in the process of education can see it and know it.  Schools need to have goals other than “we must pass the state mandated tests.”  The best change is never mandated, but grows from within the people who are most involved and who have the most invested in the goal.  Goals must be owned by those who are trying to achieve the goals.  Otherwise, the goal becomes something that “they make me do” rather than something that “we must accomplish”.

I will leave you with a poem from Taylor Mali:

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