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Lessons from High Performing PPS Principals

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As we get ready for “Our Schools Can Succeed” on October 3 with Karin Chenoweth and Dr. Valerie Kinloch (tickets here), I thought I’d share a few lessons about what high performing schools are doing to ensure all kids are learning well. Most of the observations below come from two principals in Pittsburgh who are getting way better results with all students. We don’t have to look far for examples of equitable and excellent schools. We have a few in our own District, and the lessons they have for us, can spread if we have the will to make it happen.

Schools that Succeed:

  • Believe fiercely that all students can achieve: From Schools that Succeed: Great schools reject the faulty reasoning that intelligence is fixed and that kids can be grouped according to it. Instead all members of the school community believe (a belief backed by research) that “effective effort drives development.” The grouping of children into tracks by intelligence is made worse by implicit/structural/unintentional biases that are built into American culture. Overcoming those biases is part and parcel of the work of great schools.
  • Make the habits of learning explicit: One PPS principal talks about how they make explicit to all children the skills and habits that lead to learning. It’s a way to reinforce high expectations while giving children concrete guidance on how they can be successful.
  • Teachers know the data and know where their kids are: Another PPS principal talked about how she’s worked closely with teachers to understand from quizzes, tests, student work, and behavior in class, where each child is. In her words “It might be 8 different things that are impacting why the student is having trouble learning skills or concepts. Our job is to help untangle those issues and get the student the support she needs to be successful.”
  • Students are taught how to advocate for themselves: Just as parents teach children to use their words to talk about their feelings, educators in high performing PPS schools are teaching children to speak up for what they need. Empowering students to be partners in learning and teaching them how to be independent create way better outcomes for kids.
  • A strong leader is key: From Schools that Succeed: A University of Washington study concluded in a 2010 study of school leadership: To date, we have not found a single case of a school improving its student achievement record in the absence of talented leadership
  • Schools are organized to make sure every child has a relationship with a caring adult: Every school employee from the bus driver to the secretary to teachers and administrators has a role to play in knowing children, making sure they know they’re cared for, and providing them positive encouragement. The power of positive relationships unleash learning at high rates for all children.

These are just some of the key lessons we’ve learned about how high quality schools are getting results with ALL students. What are some aspects of high performing schools that you have visited? Haven’t visited a school lately? You should! Contact your neighborhood or local magnet school for a visit today.