www.EffectiveK12Schools.com

Sometimes I Am the Most Hated Person at School

graduateI admit it. Sometimes I am the most hated person at school… but let me explain. I am the attendance dean at an alternative high school and middle school. Most students who come to us do so because they are behind on credits due to failed courses. They may also have issues such as drugs, alcohol, emotional disorders, violent behavior, teen pregnancy, and excessive absences. My job is to keep these students in school. That means I am fighting an uphill battle with students who already don’t want to be at school. Attendance is one of the biggest factors that impacts student achievement, and I do not take my job lightly.

This past year I implemented strategies to help improve attendance at our school:

  1.  I attend every new student orientation and meet with the students and parents. During this orientation I explain the attendance expectations, consequences for lack of attendance, and stress the importance of us acting like a team.
  2.  Students are placed on attendance contracts. If they break their contract, they must face the consequences. There is no one-size-fits-all, the interventions must be customized for each student.
  3. If a parent does not call the absence in by mid-day, I call the parent. I always explain that it’s not to harass the parent, but instead to find out if the student is okay. If a student is truant, I want the parent to know as early as possible.
  4. I meet with parents and students regularly. Both students and parents have my direct phone number. This is especially important for non-English speaking parents. These parents do not typically feel comfortable calling the attendance line because they feel self-conscious. If they call me, they know I will make it an easy experience by using our language line. They know that I will call back and meet with a moment’s notice.
  5. I follow-through. If I say I am going to do something, I do.
  6. I travel to all classrooms with my PowerPoint about attendance policies. I answer questions and I explain the expectations. If a student doesn’t understand the rule, how can they follow it?
  7.  I communicate with all staff. One student may  sleep in because he just doesn’t want to come. Another might have been up until 5 AM working and then overslept because he’s exhausted from working 30 hours a week and going to school. Each student has a different story.
  8. Students who have perfect attendance for one week, receive an award. Their photos hang on the wall next to my office. Their names are announced every Monday.
  9. If a student needs to talk, I just let them. It’s okay if a meeting that should only take one minute ends up being a 45-minute conversation. These students have a lot to say.
  10.  I know EVERY student’s name. I say “hello” and “good morning” every day to each student I see. I think EVERY teacher, EVERY staff member should  greet EVERY student they see. When students feel they are loved, cared about, and missed, they are more likely to want to come back.

I consider it a personal victory when I see changes. Don’t get me wrong, it takes a team. We celebrate progress with high-fives and squeals. Our truancy has decreased. Instead of students thinking they are going to be late to school, so why bother going at all? – We have students who now think, “I’m going to be late to school but I gotta’ hurry up!” Parents call and check that their child is at school. Staff members ask questions about why students are absent and how they can help the students.

Is every student in school everyday? Nope, but we celebrate the small victories.

The other day I asked a student how he was doing. “Truthfully,” he said, “I wasn’t going to come to school today. But then I realized if I didn’t show up you’d call so I figured I might as well just come.” I said that it made me happy he came and it was okay if he hated me for making him come to school. “That’s okay,” he said, “I know you’re just trying to get me here so I can finish and get my diploma.”

Baby steps. It’s okay if they hate me, just as long as they walk across the stage and get that diploma.

What strategies do you use to help students with attendance problems?

—-Stephanie Scott  http://effectivek12schools.com—-

Is Your School an Effective School?

Man and Child Having fun in the park.

The basic belief of the Effective Schools Movement is that all students can learn, regardless of socioeconomic status or race. Schools are in control of enough variables to increase and sustain student achievement (Lezotte, 1991). The all students can learn movement depends on seven different correlates working interdependently to improve student achievement, including:

  • frequent and continuous monitoring of data
  • strong instructional leadership
  • a culture of high expectations
  • a safe and orderly environment
  • a clear and focused mission
  • opportunity to learn and time on task
  • positive home-school relationships

In my own school, the mission is very closely aligned with the Correlates of Effective Schools: All students can learn. All means all! In my current position as the attendance dean at an alternative middle and high school, I place heavy importance on creating positive home-school relationships. It always seems as though teachers are hesitant to contact parents. It can be especially intimidating when it’s necessary to use language line to help translate for non-English speaking parents. Parents are our greatest allies! They want to work as a team to get their child the best education possible. Through this blog I will often explore strategies for developing positive  home-school relationships. I hope you will contribute ideas that you have found to be successful.

Is your school doing everything it can to ensure that these correlates are met? Which correlate do you find is especially difficult for schools to improve upon? 

—-Stephanie Scott  http://effectivek12schools.com—-

Reference

Lezotte, L. (1991). Revolutionary and evolutionary: The effective schools movement. Okemos, MI: Effective Schools, Ltd. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/pdfs/edutopia.org-closing-achievement-gap-lezotte-article.pdf

Mission Impossible, No Way!

direction

Before schools can even begin the continuous improvement process, they have to establish direction for all stakeholders. Creating a mission is the first step. The mission statement is a sign of the school’s integrity. Effective schools embrace clearly defined missions shared by all members of the staff.

A shared mission is one in which everyone understands the direction the school is moving (Lezotte, 1991). High-performing schools infuse an achievement based mission statement throughout all aspects of the school (Slade, Jones, Wiesman, Alexander, & Saenz, 2008). Specifically, these statements address concepts such as challenge, academic success, and citizenship. For example, an academically focused mission may state that the school will focus on providing outstanding instruction in a challenging environment.

A strong mission focuses on specific results and includes definitive benchmarks (Slade et al., 2008). In addition, the mission statement should not include exact criteria for measuring success but instead provide a framework in which stakeholders can produce results. A strong mission should address goals, priorities, procedures for assessment, and accountability measures (Lezotte, 1991).

My school’s mission is “All students can learn. All means all. No excuses.” What is your school’s mission?  Do you feel the staff knows and focuses instruction toward that mission?

—-Stephanie Scott  http://effectivek12schools.com—-

 References

Lezotte, L. (1991). Revolutionary and evolutionary: The effective schools movement. Okemos, MI: Effective Schools Products. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/pdfs/edutopia.org-closing-achievement-gap-lezotte-article.pdf

Slade, J., Jones, C., Wiesman, K., Alexander, J., & Saenz, T. (2008). School mission statements and school performance: A mixed research investigation. New Horizons in Education, 56(2), 17-27. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/EJ832903.pdf

The Value of Collaboration

meeting plc clipProfessional Learning Communities (PLCs) and collaboration are buzzwords that are actually worthy of discussion. Creating a collaborative culture provides an opportunity for districts to facilitate discussion within a school and between schools through articulation. “When teachers have many opportunities to collaborate, their energy, creative thinking, efficiency, and goodwill increase—and the cynicism and defensiveness that hamper change decrease” (Kohm & Nance, 2009, p. 68).

PLCs empower teachers to identify issues to improve their practice, as well as promote mutual learning and valuable discussion. Through the process of discussion with colleagues, teachers experience the value of the shared vision(Levine & Marcus, 2007). The members of the PLC apply strategies and best practices flexibly in their own classrooms and schools and report the results to the other members.

By working together, teachers save time reinventing the wheel and instead agree upon effective lessons and assessments proven to be valuable. Departments and administrators are able to easily identify which standards show mastery, and which standards require further instruction. PLCs present a forum free from judgement in which colleagues can discuss their own areas of weakness and strength and share best practices.

In my own experience, a PLC is helpful when teachers don’t feel they are being scrutinized. When the district and school empower the PLCs to generate their own goals and plan, there is more buy-in.

If  you have been part of a PLC, what do you feel is the most valuable piece to the collaboration? In what areas does your PLC struggle?

—-Stephanie Scott  http://effectivek12schools.com—-

References

 Kohm, B. & Nance, B. (2009). Creating collaborative cultures. Educational Leadership, 67(2), 67-72. Retrieved from the Academic Complete Research database.

Levine, T. & Marcus, A. (2007). Closing the achievement gap through teacher collaboration: Facilitating multiple trajectories of teacher learning. Journal of Advanced Academics, 19(1), 116-138. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/EJ786607.pdf