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Lack of Teacher and Principal Voice is the real problem with School Imrpovement

I recently completed a study on the beliefs of teachers and principals of their ability to impact student learning during school improvement. My study contained interviews of 13 principals and teachers from across the United States who have experienced school improvement at some level. I did this study because in my own district, at the time that I started this study, 31% of the schools in my district were still operating in failing status and this just didn't make sense to me. All schools in failing status were following the same framework for improvement, all schools were being given the same professional development, similar funding, etc. but still were failing. I began to think there was some underlying reason for this failure so I decided this would be my dissertation. It isn't action research nor did I uncover anything which we didn't already know about school improvement. Rather what I did find were universal needs which all 13 failing schools in my study seemed to believe should be met in order to bring about a change in the climate and culture of the school. 

    The beauty of the study is that the participants came from professional learning sites, this site being one of them. So the information which is presented in the study is universal, not confined to one particular district, city, or even state. The information was collected through interviews with teachers and principals, done either face to face via Skype or in person, or over the phone. Participants also completed surveys which measured their self-efficacy levels in various areas. Self-efficacy is context specific which made this even more important that the participants came from across the United States, providing a wide range of diverse contexts. Their responses were categorized and determined as being critical information to the study. Once I had this piece completed, I analyzed the results and created what I call the Conley Hierarchy of School Needs for Improvement. The downside of the study, however, was that 13 is a small sample to represent schools throughout the country.

     What I found in this study I believe to be significant in bringing about change for improvement, but again, not earth shattering information. Rather, practices which NCLB and Race to the Top both promoted as necessary for school improvement but not being implemented to their fullest. I also believe this study supports the need to bring principals and teachers to the table when planning school reform measures.

     Teachers and principals along with parents, are the most familiar with their needs and the needs of their students. Yet, they are not a part of the team making decisions for change. Often School Boards and the Superintendent make decisions to implement specific programs which are generic enough to be adopted at all schools. One size fits all. Unfortunately, one size does not fit all. School A may have a large ELL population, School B may have a large special needs population, and School C may have a little bit of everything but a large number of homeless. How does one size fit all? By bringing the people who are most familiar with the clientele of specific school, decisions about what teachers believe they need, what principals believe they need, and what parents want to see for their children, a true individualized plan can be put together for improvement, targeted professional development, resources, and schedules to provide the most comprehensive climate change possible, thus creating a true student centered plan for improvement. 

     If you are interested in reading my study, I have attached it. This study was not meant to pass judgement on a particular teacher or principal but rather to look at what each believed about their own self-efficacy and ability to impact student achievement and what they believe they need in order to be more effective then to compare their responses with others to bring about critical information needed to produce change. Click here for the link to my study: TConley_DM_03_02_15.docx

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