Picture Perfect: 3 Steps to School Improvement

Openness Media Connection

Here is an interdisciplinary, photographic connection to this week’s blog about Openness. Enjoy the savory delights!

Parking lots, with all of their lines and divisions, attempt to bring order to the world of wheeled things. They tell us where to go and where to stop. I took this picture of a parking lot because they also make me think about openness in schools. They reflect the characteristics in This We Believe that state that effective middle grades schools are “inviting, safe, inclusive, and supportive of all” while they also possess “organizational structures that foster purposeful learning and meaningful relationships” (pp. 31-33). How do we make that happen? If we know that young adolescents (and those who teach and serve them) flourish when there is a healthy balance of structure and freedom… If we know that they blossom when consistency and spontaneity are wedded… If we know that they grow when there are points of demarcation and free spaces for exploration… then how do we ensure that our organizational structures are making that happen? How do we ensure that we aren’t just drawing rigid lines to control students for adult ease and convenience?

First, define what your school organizational structures are. Typically, these are the elements, policies, etc. that are intended to bring order and control to school life for all stakeholders—but they have the potential for much more. Here are some school structures to examine now and throughout the year:

  • Master bell schedule
  • Discipline policy
  • Homework policy
  • Late work policy
  • Dress code policy
  • Grade level structures
  • Teaming structures
  • Special Education models (i.e., push-in, pull-out, inclusion)
  • Advisory/Advisement structure
  • Technology policies (i.e., BYOD, blended learning)

Second, with a collaborative group of stakeholders at your school, ask the following questions for each of these school structures:

  • What’s the point of this structure? Why do we have it? Who created it and when?
  • If this structure had its own vision and mission statement, what would it be?
  • How is this structure moving us forward as a developmentally-responsive middle grades program?
  • How are we measuring this school structure to determine if it’s successfully supporting students, teachers, families, etc.?
  • How does this structure support current students? How does it hinder them?
  • How does it support current teachers and staff? How does it hinder them?
  • How does it support current families? How does it hinder them?
  • Does this structure reflect the needs of our future students, families, and stakeholders?
  • How does this structure help students and families transition to and from our middle school? How does it hinder them?
  • How does this structure help with CCR goals and the 21st Century Cs of Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity?

Third, take the responses you’ve gathered and make the following decisions with your staff, considering who will be affected directly and indirectly with each one:

  • Leave the organizational structure as it is.
  • Revise the organizational structure now.
  • Revise the organizational structure later (specific date).
  • Remove the organizational structure now.
  • Remove the organizational structure later (specific date).

Is any of this work easy? No. Is this the perfect formula? No. It is a framework to create an open dialogue for future change in the middle grades, so our organizational structures are responsive and supportive of all.