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News Flash: Top 5 Ways Leaders Can Improve Student Outcomes

I spent most of this past week in New York City surrounded by an amazing team of leadership experts. This team, which I am honored to be a part of, is assembled to assist New York’s most ‘in need’ schools. By that, I mean schools who are struggling with their academic performance. On one of the days we spent together, we had a deep conversation about what quality instruction is and how leaders can provide the supports teachers need to improve student outcomes. While the list could be quite long, here are the Top 5 things, in my opinion, leaders can do right now to positively impact student outcomes.

  1. Get in the classroom: yes, you must be in the classrooms and be there to provide feedback, coaching, and support for teachers. It is quite difficult to know what is happening and where teachers are finding traction, and perhaps struggling, if you aren’t in the rooms. Often, we say we are going to do walkthrough observations but let them fall to the side for more ‘pertinent’ things. They are important, and here is a link to four tips I’ve shared previously for walkthroughs
  2. Set and model clear expectations for staff: one of the bigger struggles I have seen in classrooms is a lack of clarity. Clear expectations are essential for having a classroom where excellent teaching and learning can happen. As the leader, set the expectation for your staff by having and holding high expectations of them. We can’t expect teachers to have clear expectations of students if we don’t do the same for them. I have written about this before, but we must be willing to speak frequently of what we expect, hold people to the standard, and coach them up when they fall short of the mark.
  3. Let them know you support them: there are really two ways you can approach leading your staff. You can be the ‘gotcha’ leader or the ‘I got you’ leader. When we focus on forcing employees to comply, we are leading through a strategy I call punishment to gain compliance. In other words, we are quick to write people up, are focused on all the things they night do wrong, and will have a very high turnover rate as a result. If instead we lead in a way that staff know we have their backs, that they are in an environment where it is safe to take risks, the likelihood that we see student outcomes increase is much greater. Here is a post I wrote earlier on this topic with a few tips for supporting teachers.
  4. Focus on instruction: it is nice when we, as leaders, are getting in classrooms. But if we aren’t focusing on the quality of instruction and providing feedback for teachers, we are just marking time. As school leaders, we must be the instructional leaders our teachers need for continuous improvement. Be consistent with the time you spend in classrooms and provide feedback in a timely manner, within 48 hours is a good standard to follow. Check to see if students are clear on what they are expected to know and be able to do on a daily basis, then provide that feedback to teachers. Don’t think you have to ‘fix’ teachers when you are doing walkthroughs or observations. Instead, look for positives that teachers can build on as well as providing suggestions on instructional strategies, questioning strategies, and student engagement efforts.
  5. Engage in professional dialogue: when I look back on my time as a principal, some of my favorite conversations were those when I wasn’t trying to solve any issue but rather was simply talking about pedagogy with a teacher. One particular conversation related to what to do when a student scores quite well on a comprehensive exam for a semester but didn’t turn in a lot of work during that same period of time. That discussion with a social studies teacher will always ring in my mind, as he was honestly asking what I thought he should do. One of my questions for him related to how much correlation he felt the exam had with the targets, standards, and expectations he had of the course. Whether we are analyzing data, discussing assessment practices, or considering adoption of new curriculum, leaders must be engaged in the professional dialogue that positions them as a part of the team and not the person who has all the answers.

Leaders, if you are going to make a positive impact on student outcomes, you cannot be on the sidelines. This list of five tips is not a complete list, but a great place to begin. What might be something you’d add to this list? Add it in the comments below.

Have a #RoadToAwesome week


Tune in this week to “Leaning into Leadership” where my guest is PBIS coordinator and author Larry Carey.

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