What is the "Effective Schools" model?
In 2005, North Thurston Public Schools embarked on an ambitious five-year effort to improve student learning by implementing the Effective Schools model.
"Effective Schools" is an approach adopted by many school districts across the nation in recent years. Its goal is simple: Learning for all - whatever it takes. The beliefs behind Effective Schools are that all children can learn, that it is the responsibility of teachers, administrators, and other school staff to help make that happen; and that data about individual student performance can be used to make sure that we're reaching and teaching every student.
What Effective Schools is NOT is something extra. We're not doing more, we're teaching differently.
The essential elements of Effective Schools are:
A Clear and Focused Mission
In the Effective School, there is a clearly stated school mission through which the staff shares an understanding of and commitment to the instructional goals, priorities, assessment procedures, and accountability.
In the Effective School, there is a climate of expectation in which the staff believes and demonstrates that all students can attain mastery of essential school skills and that they, the staff, have the ability to help all students do so.
Strong Principal and Teacher Leadership
In the Effective School, the principal is the instructional leader who shares leadership with the rest of the staff. He or she is a leader of leaders.
The principal, with the rest of the staff, emphasizes that the purpose of the school is learning.
Frequent Monitoring of Student Progress
In the Effective School, student academic progress is measured frequently. A variety of assessment procedures are used and the results of the assessments are used to improve individual students' performance and to improve the instructional program.
Opportunity to Learn and Student Time on Task
In the Effective School, teachers allocate a significant amount of classroom time to instruction in the essential skills.
Safe and Orderly Environment
In the Effective Schools, there is an orderly, purposeful business-like atmosphere which is free from threat of physical harm. The school climate is conducive to teaching and learning.
Parent and Community Involvement
In the Effective School, parents understand and support the school's mission and are given the opportunity to play an important role in helping the school to achieve the mission.
Why did we decide to implement the Effective Schools model?
We know we've been doing something right because student academic performance, as measured by several different assessments, has been rising for nine straight years. We also know that the state's Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) is looming as a graduation requirement, and that we have to do even better sooner. In fall, 2004, we commissioned an independent assessment of our practices to get an outside opinion of what we were doing right, and what needed changing.
The results of the assessment confirmed what we've always believed about our teachers: They are dedicated and caring professionals who already are doing outstanding work. It found that our teachers, administrators, and other school staff do expect all students to achieve to the best of their abilities, and do believe that they have a responsibility to make that happen.
The report also noted that communications between schools and families about learning goals and teaching strategies has been generally good, and that the positive atmosphere in our schools encourages learning. It commended us in general for what we were doing and for our willingness to make changes in order to meet the needs of all students.
What the report also told us, however, was that while we were all in the same boat with the same destination in mind, we were not all rowing in the same direction to get there! In other words, the best teaching practices weren't being implemented districtwide, and our curriculum was not aligned to state standards at all schools and in all classrooms.
The general idea of the report was that we need to focus on the following:
What's happening now?
A Commitment to Continuous Improvement
Essential to an Effective School is the systematic processes that must engage each member of the organization in an ongoing cycle of:
The goal is to create the condition of perpetual learning for staff and students. Continuos learning (improvement) is a way of doing business on a day-to-day basis forever. Participation in this process is not reserved for those designate as leaders; it is the reasonability of every member of the organization.
Building a Collaborative Culture
The very essence of an effective school is a focus and commitment to the learning of each student. In order to achieve this purpose, teachers and administrators must be guided by a clear and compelling vision of what must be done in order to help all students learn. In the North Thurston Public Schools each teacher and administrator is part of a collaborative team know as Professional Learning Communities (PLC) or Data Teams (DT). These teams make collective to create and use results-oriented goals to mark their progress. Members work together to clarify exactly what each student must learn, monitor each students' learning on a timely basis, provide systematic interventions that ensure students receive additional time and support for learning when they struggle, and extend and enrich learning when students have already mastered the intended outcomes.
Our belief is that if the organization is to become more effective in helping all students learn, the adults in the organization must also be continually learning. Therefore, structures are created to ensure staff members engage in job-embedded learning as part of their routine work practices.
There can be no doubt or hedging regarding this commitment to learning. Where many schools operate as if their primary purpose is to ensure that children are taught, North Thurston Public Schools are dedicated to the idea that we exist to ensure that all students learn. All the other characteristics of an Effective School flow directly from this shift in thinking about the purpose of the school.
North Thurston is actively creating systems of supports for teachers and students. For students each school has begun the process of identifying specific schedules, strategies, and structures to meet the needs of all students. This includes students who need additional support to master a skill and for students who excel and need a challenge. Specifically, we have:
For students to succeed, they must have a clear picture of where they are going. In schools, this means that teachers should specifically communicate what students know and be able to do at the end of each lesson. In addition, parents should be able to ask what the students will know and be able to do by the end of each lesson or unit. Of course, teachers must be able to communicate to students and families so they are better able to support their students at home.
Will students still get a well-rounded education?
At North Thurston Public Schools, we've never considered sacrificing a well-rounded education for higher test scores. Test scores are not an end in themselves; they're an indication of how well we're reaching and teaching students.
Implementing Effective Schools will help us improve the way we teach in order to better help students meet and exceed state standards in the Reading, Writing, Math, and Science. High test scores will naturally follow a combination of good teaching practices and a curriculum aligned with state standards. Our students will gain an even firmer foundation for the well-rounded education we will continue to offer.
Learning for All-whatever it takes!
To view the educational guidelines for grades K - 6
Last Modified on August 25, 2010