Public education is a high stakes endeavor. Students, parents, and community members have expectations for a school district to effectively educate its students. On top of this are state standardized assessments, which result accountability scores for a district. For these reasons, a district needs to be able to create and measure and effective district-level learning program. Below are some ways to make this happen.
Teachers as Professionals
It may seem obvious, but a measurable district-level learning program begins with quality teachers. Teachers are the ones inside the classroom day in and day out, building relationships with their students, understanding their struggles and how those struggles impact their learning, and how to build bridges with the lessons teachers create that lead to students learning. Sure, there might be curriculum maps and standards for which lessons are built around, but teachers are the professionals most responsible for ensuring that students are learning.
The first step in measuring the effectiveness of a district-level learning program is to invest in great teachers and treat those teachers as the professionals they are. Many districts get bogged down in trying to create systems to make sure teachers are doing their jobs, but the negative result too often is teachers that feel micromanaged, unappreciated, and inadequate. Instead of being leading experts on how to educate students, teachers often feel the pressure by those not in the classroom to perform miracles when real-world education takes time, relational bridges, and frequent practice.
An effective district-level learning program should be driven by teachers because no one knows students and classroom learning better than someone who is in the classroom with students every day. Most teachers want to do well and are highly student-focused, so the best thing that a district can do for teachers is to trust them to be professionals and experts they are on educating students.
Support for Learning
In addition to trusting teachers as professionals, a district can aid in classroom learning most by providing adequate support so that teachers can perform their jobs well. Teachers need support in three main areas: managing student behavior, accessing quality instructional resources, and having the freedom to explore ways of engaging students in learning.
Unfortunately, negative student behavior can be distracting to student learning. Of course, classroom management is a skill all teachers need to know, but teacher authority is limited, and many students are aware of that fact. Which is why teachers need administrators who will support teachers in quick and purposeful discipline when it’s required. This will lessen negative student behavior and help students stay focused on the learning task.
We live in a digital world, which has changed the landscape of many schools and classrooms in how learning is approached. With today’s technology, opportunities for student learning increase, but teachers don’t always have access to the best instructional material. If investing in students means investing in great teachers, it also means investing in great instructional material. This might mean instructional content, technology for student use, or, in some cases, instructional coaches who provide needed assistance to teachers in how to design classroom instruction without dictating how a teacher approaches their craft.
Students want to be engaged in learning, but traditional approaches to teaching don’t always result in student engagement. Students are all the same, so their interests are wide-ranging. The best teachers are willing to experiment with ways to engage their students in the learning they’ve designed. They understand a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t exist. Exploring new ways of engaging students is risky. What if it doesn’t work? Won’t that waste precious learning time? Teachers understand that trying new things is the only way to discover new ways that work, so districts need to support teachers in their exploration of student engagement activities.
A Clear Tracking System
With quality teachers and support for learning in place, the actual measurement of student learning can actually be pretty simple. This is where data comes in. Districts need to know exactly what students have mastered what standards in any class, and teachers need to be able to use that data to individualize instruction.
Each classroom teacher (or team of teachers of the same subject) can create a spreadsheet of all the standards their students are required to master. Then add to that spreadsheet a list of the students in their classes. As teachers assess learning, they can track exactly which students mastered and which students need intervention.
Some districts are even giving their students some ownership in the tracking of their learning by allowing students to track their own mastery of the standards on a spreadsheet.
Tracking student learning by standard takes the guesswork out of knowing which students need more one-on-one time with the teacher. It also creates opportunities for enrichment for students who have already mastered the material.
A district who invests in its students by investing in great teachers through trust and support will have the tools to build an effective learning program for the entire district and truly make a difference in students’ lives.