7 Fs Every School Should Strive For
When you were a child, your mother or grandparents may have given you one dollar for every A you made on your report card. You may recall having privileges taken away for Ds and Fs. In junior high, athletes were required to run line drills in the gym for every D and F on an interim report or final report card. It was ingrained in us that an A was success and a D or an F was failure.
Most adults grew up with a report card that reported letter grades from A-F. In an era of accountability and transparency, states have started reporting the success of schools using a public report card. Quick Facts: A-F School Performance Grades provides a snapshot of the North Carolina public schools report card. Parents are not lining up at the front doors of an F school, in the same manner that they do at a Black Friday Sale. While schools should strive for an A, I am going to suggest 7 Fs that every school should strive for.
Families should be partners in a child’s education. The National Network of Partnership Schools at Johns Hopkins University cites Six Types of Involvement: Keys To Successful Partnerships (Epstein, et. al. 2009. School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Your Handbook for Action, Third Edition). Family nights could include curriculum nights, family movie night, kickball night, school carnivals, literacy night, and themed nights. Too often, schools host family nights with the intent of raising money. The primary goal of a family night should be building relationships.
“When parents, teachers, students, and others view one another as partners in education, a caring community forms around students and begins its work (Epstein, 2011, p. 91).”
Assessment FOR Learning is different from tests designed to give students a grade. Formative assessment is ongoing. It may appear in the form of a Post-It note, role play, survey, presentation, thumbs-up/thumbs-down vote, Google Form, artwork, accountable talk, or a quick write. “Formative assessment, done well, represents one of the most powerful instructional tools available to a teacher or a school for promoting student achievement. Teachers and schools can use formative assessment to identify student understanding, clarify what comes next in their learning, trigger and become part of an effective system of intervention for struggling students, inform and improve the instructional practice of individual teachers or teams, help students track their own progress toward attainment of standards, motivate students by building confidence in themselves as learners, fuel continuous improvement process across faculties, and, thus, drive a school's transformation” (Stiggins & DuFour, 2009, p. 640). Families should seek schools that believe in the transformative power of formative assessment to guide teaching and learning.
Frequent and Timely Feedback
Too often, students are not given timely feedback. An assignment is given and students receive a B+. What does a B+ mean? Wiggins wrote, “Effective feedback is concrete, specific, and useful; it provides actionable information” (Educational Leadership, 2012). Read 20 Ways To Provide Effective Feedback For Learning. Can you recall when someone gave you feedback? How did it make you feel? Did the feedback inspire you to continue to learn or did it discourage you? Feedback is the breakfast of champions! Does your child receive timely feedback or a grade at the end of the week? Feedback supports student understanding. If families are going to partner with teachers, then the type of feedback schools provide is critical to student success!
Frame Student Understanding as Your Core Purpose
Grant Wiggins, co-author of Understanding by Design (1998 and 2005), shares how Teaching For Understanding (YouTube, 2012) impacts student engagement and deeper understanding. A Culture of Learning “Focuses on engaging learners in ‘meaning making’ by exploring essential questions and engaging in meaningful applications of learning. Understanding core ideas and the ability to transfer them to new situations should be the twin goals of education today” (McTighe and Seif, 2011). McTighe and Seif created a self-assessment tool titled, Teaching and Assessing for Understanding: Observable Classroom Indicators. This list can assist teachers, coaches, and administrators in supporting a Culture of Learning. Some classrooms focus on isolated facts and skills. In a classroom focused on Teaching For Understanding, students will be able to explain their work and will be able to transfer their understanding to the next unit and across disciplines. Does your child’s school focus on student understanding and transfer, rather than focusing on students passing the course and advancing to the next grade level?
Focus on College and Career Readiness
College and career readiness has become the new goal in the United States. “It is no longer enough to just ensure that all students are prepared to walk through the entrance doors of high school or college; nor is it acceptable to track students into educational paths that limit their opportunities. In today’s global and entrepreneurial economy, every student must also be able to walk out of the building with a meaningful diploma, prepared for success in the twenty-first century.” (Alliance for Excellent Education, Civic Enterprises, and the Data Quality Campaign, 2011, p. 1).
If the new goal for K-12 educators is to prepare all students to graduate from high school College and Career Ready, then teachers and administrators must begin this important conversation. In a nation that has traditionally viewed high school graduation as an opportunity for some, many parents and educators may view College and Career Readiness as political rhetoric. Teachers, administrators, school boards, and families can begin having a conversation about what it means to be college and career ready. The changes will not come from speeches, new standards, assessments, or hoping that more students will graduate from high school. Change will come when educators define college and career readiness and begin to ask, “What is my role?” Does your child’s school discuss college and career readiness with students and families? Are students discussing college and career readiness in middle school? As a parent or guardian, do you know how your child’s school is focusing on college and career readiness?
Flexible Learning Spaces
Schools need to redesign the learning space in order to create a Culture of Learning. Analyze your child’s classroom? Does the current classroom design encourage students to meet the goals of a high-performing school (think collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity, contribution, community, citizenship, literacy skills, leadership, innovation, relationships, virtual learning, problem solving, and adaptability)? Does your child’s classroom need to look like a playground or Chuck E. Cheese? No. However, you could learn a lot about classroom design by visiting a playground, children’s museum, or arcade. When you observe students on a playground, you will see collaboration, communication, critical thinking, teamwork, problem solving, citizenship, innovation, and community. We need more academic playgrounds. If teachers and administrators took time to reflect on the importance of design, purpose, and space, they may find that the old structure is a barrier to student achievement (Weber, ASCD EDge, 2014). All students deserve a learning space, not a classroom.
Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, and Other Two-Way Communication
Does your child’s school send home several pieces of paper with students weekly? Does the school have a mechanism in place for instant feedback from parents, guardians, and stakeholders? When was the last time your child’s school gave families a voice in school decisions or sought input? If you are a fan of continuous improvement, then you will love the unsolicited feedback that families can provide through a blog, school app and/or Twitter.
In addition to providing families with an opportunity to post their thoughts, a blog, school app, and Twitter help schools market their brand. Every school has a brand, similar to a restaurant, sports drink, or professional organization. Great things happen in schools on a regular basis and when you use social media to tell your school's story, you will build followers. People enjoy stories, especially when it involves their grandchild, next door neighbor, or favorite nephew. Does your child’s school use social media to share school highlights?
Families live in a world where the calendar provides them with reminders, the local new gives them alert messages, and they have the chance to rank a story or reply to another person's post. Social media has increased the number of times a person can communicate with a wider community. Families want to have instant access to the school staff and to have a voice in school decisions. It may be time to ask, "Are we encouraging two-way communication?"