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System & School Improvement

Ask Gayle

Q:  We understand the importance of school climate and culture, but how do you measure growth and learning in this area? 

A:  OSPI and the Office of System and School Improvement’s (OSSI) theme for September is School Climate. The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments describes school climate as “a broad, multifaceted concept that involves many aspects of the student’s educational experience.”¹ In order to make school climate improvements in your school, you first need to have measurable data for your current school climate from students, staff, and families. 

The collection of this amount of data may seem overwhelming, but there are resources available to you. These resources range from your school’s Report Card data through OSPI, School Climate surveys offered through various organizations, and the School Improvement Team at the Northwest Educational Service District. 

Attendance data can give you a quick snapshot about your school climate as “research has shown that positive school climate is tied to high or improving attendance rates”¹. Through the OSPI Report card² site you can find attendance data for your school, including overall attendance rate, trend data to see how attendance has changed over the last several years, attendance by grade, student demographics, and student program. This specific attendance data may help as you determine next steps for a particular student group.  

The U.S. Department of Education’s School Climate Surveys and Reports¹ site has a collection of resources depending on the needs for your school. The U.S. Department of Education developed School Climate Surveys and an associated web-based platform. You may be interested in using the full functionality of the site, but you may also be interested in using the survey questions³ (downloadable and free of charge) to use in a Google Form, Microsoft Form, or other survey tool you have available for your school. Similarly, you may choose to use The Center for Educational Effectiveness4or Panorama Education5 perception survey questions or web-based platforms.  

Alternatively, you could reach out to Amy Colburn at the Northwest Educational Service District to receive specific support on collecting and analyzing school climate data for your school. This support could take many different forms, but one is having Amy develop a survey in partnership with you where Amy keeps track of the data and provides you with an analysis of the responses to use to guide your next steps. Schools that have been identified for improvement can take advantage of this support at no cost, all other schools and or districts would require a minimal fee. For more information please email Amy Colburn. 


Q: Who should be responsible for monitoring the progress of the implementation plan?

A:  While different individual people can be assigned to roles that monitor specific components of the plan, a team review of the overall implementation is probably best.

Q: Why is it so hard to implement a plan?

A:  Often, the day-to-day activities of running the organization get in the way of monitoring the plan. This is why it is so important to determine roles, tasks, and a timeline of continuous monitoring that is part of collaborative teams.

Planning for Failure?

Q: What are some ways for administrative staff to build relationships in our buildings with teachers and staff?

A:  Sheldon Soper (2017) blogs about four ways for principals to foster positive relationships with their teachers and staff.

  • Transparency as a leadership style means making decisions in the open and explaining the reasons behind them.
  • Being present, be an active member of the day to day activities in your building and don’t get stuck in an office.
  • Seeking out teachers’ and staff professional input. Create opportunities for input and discussion.
  • Celebrations – focus on what is going right and celebrate those successes.

For more information on this topic, visit Sheldon Soper’s blog.

Q: Where do we start in building strong teacher and student relationships?

A:  Often, we just expect teachers to be experts in building relationships with their students. Somehow, it is assumed that if a teacher is excellent at teaching their subject that they automatically know how to build relationships with students. Consider providing professional development on effective communication skills. In addition, Dave Foley suggests in his article 5 Tips for Better Relationships with Your Students:

  • Treat students the way you would like to be treated.
  • Get to know your students.
  • Protect their self-esteem, correct behavior quietly and quickly.
  • Build goodwill on good days by celebrating what’s going well.
  • Listen to your students.

Q: Where do I start with implementing an Early Warning System if I can’t do it all at once?

A:  If you are not ready to implement the entire system, we suggest you start with attendance. If the students are not in school, they cannot receive instruction. Here are some ideas:

  • Create a team to examine attendance data and intervene with students on a weekly basis.
  • Ensure each student has a caring strong relationship with at least one adult in the building.
  • Examine attendance data and set an attendance goal for the year.
  • Develop interventions for attendance below 90%.
  • Extra focus on the first 20 days and the last 2 months of school.
  • Create incentives for attendance for Tier 1, 2, and 3.  Make sure they include short term rewards that are weekly and monthly. For groups, these incentives could be publicly awarded, and individuals could be privately awarded.
  • Publicly display the daily overall attendance and the goal you want to achieve and make it a part of daily announcements. This highlights the importance of attendance.
  • Parent meeting might include information on what constitutes excessive absences and why attendance is so important for academic achievement.
  • Consider getting the community involved through signage and giveaways at local businesses promoting attendance. If available, local radio and TV broadcasts can assist you in informing the public about the importance of attendance. 

Q: I am a new principal who is challenged to manage my work/life balance. I work late almost every night and am not feeling like I am accomplishing as much as I have planned. Any suggestions?

A:  This is a common challenge for most of us but particularly in education.  I find we are often busy but not always productive.  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Determine your focus areas and make sure they are aligned with your state and district goals.
  2. With your school team, create a Site Improvement Plan (SIP) that is focused and detailed. Write S.M.A.R.T.  goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.  Break each goal down into S.M.A.R.T. tasks.   Review your SIP on a monthly basis to monitor progress and adjust as needed.
  3. Block out times in your schedule to get your most important work done just as you would an important appointment.  Block out a minimum of one hour per day. Studies show that because of interruptions we only have 3 to 4 hours per day to produce work.
  4. Begin to develop teams within your building for shared work around these priorities. It takes collaborative teams to improve schools and achieve sustainability.  You cannot do it on your own.
  5. Take time to build leadership capacity among the faculty and staff within your building.
  6. Learn to say NO.  You can be organized and manage time well but if you are unable to say NO to things outside your goals and focus, there will never be enough time.
  7. Make your time off a priority.   Set a stop time at the end of each day and stick with it.

Remember:  The work will always be there tomorrow.

Q:  I want to select one or two evidence-based strategies and practices.   Where can I find information about these?

A:  The OSPI website has list a of links to evidenced-based strategies and practices for schools in content areas as well as attendance, behavior, discipline, graduation, interventions, technology, wellness, and others.  

I most frequently use the Menus of Best Practices generated by OSPI for ELA, Math, and Behavior and cross reference with John Hattie’s list of most impactful strategies.

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