Desire and knowledge of how to effect change should be the cornerstones of school reform. Administrators who possess both qualities are more likely to succeed when implementing change. They also possess the ability to focus on aspects of education they can change, and disregard insignificant issues. At the same time, they should also be keenly aware of barriers that impede progress toward change in the teaching and learning environment. The lack of sustainability in educational change, influences outside of the school environment, and personnel who are resistant to change are among the obstacles that interfere with continued implementation of school reform.
Positive change can be achieved in any school district. Building capacity to sustain educational change however is difficult. Effective assessment is a catalyst for continued improvement. The ability of schools to maintain changes brought about through reform rely on ongoing analysis of data collected from agreed-upon evaluations. When administrators analyze data and formulate decisions as to whether or not school reform was successful and ongoing, they must take into account all evidence that can be analyzed. Not all evidence can be collected from standardized tests however. Data pertinent to reform efforts can also be collected from classroom observations, authentic evaluations/learning, and student surveys. In this sense, the role of teachers in data collection efforts can never be minimized. Teachers need effective professional development focused on innovative modes of assessments used as essential components of reform efforts.
As administrators analyze obstacles to school reform, they should consider influences outside of school. Situations in children’s homes and communities sometimes create distractions in the classroom. When teachers have to address non-school issues, they lose valuable teaching time, which in turn negatively impacts the learning process. Although schools work with children for a considerable portion of the day, children return to their families and communities when the school day ends. Children today face a multitude of issues once they leave the school building. Even children from middle-class and upper-middle-class homes may not always have ideal family situations. In order for any child to learn, their basic needs must be met. It is difficult for students to concentrate on schoolwork when they are dealing with the effects of physical or verbal abuse, tension in the home, homelessness, or poor nutrition. While outside factors such as these are not directly captured by assessments, the existence of these problematic issues should be considered when analyzing standardized test data.
Communication with and the support of faculty and staff are essential before any school district embarks upon the long process of school reform. Disagreement is fine, and can be constructive, but in order to continuously improve, the majority of a district’s faculty and staff have to support reform. The process of consensus building is difficult, and district leaders have to work hard to build the level of consensus necessary to move forward with reform. Many employees will naturally feel stressed about upcoming changes, and will need to trust and respect the administrators leading the reform efforts.
Change is difficult. Administrators should anticipate that there will staff who are resistant to change. While a dissenting minority staff cannot be allowed to impede the improvement processes, administrators cannot simply deal with discontent by ignoring it and/or by asserting their authority. They must make a conscientious effort to clearly articulate their vision of successful school reform. Malcontents should be given the opportunity to express their fears and frustrations to the administration. At the same time, administrators should use caution to ensure that all complaints are stated in a professional manner so as not to discourage others. There may be times when a teacher feels upset over a diminutive detail that can easily be cleared up. When taking criticism from concerned educators, administrators must recognize genuine concerns and fear, and consider all suggestions.
School reform is as much about ensuring that a forward thinking and motivated teaching force is in place, as it is about making procedural changes that foster continuous improvement. Administrators who put data driven and innovative practices in place, attend to outside of school influences on school change, and engage in the work to include teachers in the process of change increase the possibility that a boost in the academic performance of American youth will occur.
Tagline- Matthew Lynch is an Assistant professor of Education at Widener University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.