When schools are identified as underperforming, the inclination can sometimes be to remove staff or, in extreme cases, close a school. However, this is a drastic and, oftentimes, unnecessary measure. Too often, schools who are underperforming just don’t know where to start. Teachers might be overwhelmed with initiatives, not all of which lead to improving student outcomes. This can lead to teacher burnout and, given the fact that we currently have a teacher shortage, replacing a teacher is not always the most viable option. The good news is that many schools make significant changes with existing leaders, teachers, and staff.
Ed Direction sees the value of developing teachers and leaders who are already employed in a school. By building the capacity of both teachers and leaders through high-quality professional learning opportunities, providing on-site and virtual coaching, and narrowing the focus to do a few things really well, schools can build a strong foundation to keep teachers and leaders instead of replacing them.
Consider Mana Academy (see figure 1), a K-8 Utah charter school that focuses on providing a well-rounded and culture-based education to the Pacific Islander community. The school had strong leadership but due to teacher shortages in Utah, the school had many Alternative Route to Licensure teachers who did not have a degree or background in teaching. Rather than replacing these teachers, they partnered with us to support those teachers. We provided on-site professional learning and coaching to teachers to develop their skill set and this yielded unprecedented growth for the school. Teachers’ self- and collective efficacy increased, morale increased, there were significant gains in student achievement, and the school became a more attractive school for potential students as well as teacher candidates.
Another example of improvement with existing staff is Whitehorse High School in Southeast corner of Utah. The school serves students in grades 7-12 on the Navajo Nation and, due to how rural it is, often struggles to find teachers. Similar to Mana Academy, Whitehorse had strong leadership which allowed us work with them side-by-side to build the capacity of the schools’ current staff. Ed Direction provided on-site and virtual coaching for teachers and administrators to build their skills. Professional Learning focused not only on improving instruction, but on improving the culture and climate of the school. Whitehorse has made steady gains in state assessment scores and both students and staff indicate that the school environment is more positive and supportive than it has been in the past (see figure 2).
“I feel the teachers and administrators care and they keep us positive.” – Whitehorse student
In the end, both of these schools chose to invest in the teachers they had by partnering with Ed Direction to bolster the skill set of their team. Selecting supports that most closely matched the unique needs of the dedicated teachers and leaders paid off with exceptional growth. School turnaround can be a long and difficult process that can often be frustrating. But these schools exemplify exactly what we at Ed Direction believe, school improvement IS possible with existing staff