Best Practices of the Nation’s Most Rapidly Improving Schools

As school leaders determine how to respond to the new opportunities available from the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), I have received many requests for information about best practices in the nation’s most rapidly improving schools.

In our ongoing study of these schools, we at the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) have learned that there is no specific formula or program that works. There are, however, consistent practices these schools use at the organizational leadership, instructional leadership and teaching levels.

My next several blog posts will showcase best practices from schools and districts across the country. To kick off this series, I’m sharing perhaps the most important practice of all:

Best Practice 1 — Create a culture of high academic expectations and positive relationships.

Here are four examples of how these schools and districts helped establish this culture:
  • Johnston County Schools of Smithfield, NC, used budgeting to create a student-centered culture. Every proposed budgetary item—no matter how small—needed justification about how that expenditure would likely impact student performance. The assistant superintendent of instruction had to approve all budget requests. 
  • Pembroke Central School of Corfu, NY, needed to address the lack of positive relationships within the district, mainly to resolve a bullying problem. In 2012, the district created a “Safe and Supportive Learning Environment” committee to help create a plan of action to establish a positive culture. The committee used Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as a framework to guide actions within the district and across the community. It led to the implementation of Covey’s The Leader in Me  program across the district. It has turned around the culture for both the schools and the community.
  • Kathleen H. Wilbur Elementary School of Bear, DE, a large elementary school (1,100 students) with a very diverse population, made a commitment and took action to create a positive culture where everyone — from students to teachers to parents — galvanized around a shared vision of growth and achievement. They accomplished this through a series of pep rallies, videos, daily announcements, songs, back-to-school nights, and community activities built around the following theme: “We are WILBUR, we are INSPIRED, HARD WORKERS, GREAT THINKERS, WE PERSEVERE.” In addition, the school created “Dream Teams” of teachers who presented their “best practices” on rigor, relevance, and relationships twice a month to all staff. Wilbur has become a place where each and every student and staff member develops a growth mindset and is supported to succeed.
  • Brooks-Quinn-Jones Elementary School of Nacogdoches, TX, developed an initiative with staff, students, and the community to begin to develop strong relationships. Inspired by Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who notably said, “Why not me in the Super Bowl?”, Principal Thomas Miller led a series of activities that allowed all stakeholders to demonstrate their interest in and support of students, championing them on with signs and songs, and challenging them to commit to the theme of “Why Not Me?” It has led to a culture of support and high expectations for all students.

At this year’s 25th Annual Model Schools Conference, scheduled for June 25-28 in Nashville, we will showcase multiple examples of schools which have created a culture of high expectations for all students.

Next week’s blog will focus on districts and schools that have experienced success by making organizational and instructional changes in their schools.


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