There are many different ways in which school success is measured. There are schools who receive accolades and recognition for high test scores. There are schools who thrive in the performing arts and music department. There are schools with AP and IB programs that prepare leaders of tomorrow. And there are schools in which athletic programs perform at a high level and send students to universities every year. These are all great aspects of school success and should be celebrated within the communities in which they exist and beyond. However, what is the measure of a great school? One could make an argument for all of these at any point in time, but I feel strongly that none of them are the definition of what truly makes a great school.
The systematic and successful effort to reach, engage, connect, counsel and prepare every student for life within and life beyond high school is what makes a great school. Now that may seem obvious to some and oversimplified to others, but let me explain why I even bother to state the obvious. Everyday, while some students are performing well on AP exams, receiving scholarships to universities, winning awards in FFA contests, and playing music in prestigious concert halls, many students are floating through their schools days with no direction or self-esteem. While one student may be working long hours to be involved in extra curricular activities and maintaining a 4.0, another gifted student is underachieving immensely. Great schools see these trends and take action. Great schools see the gifted students, the under performing students, the emotionally detached students...The list goes on and on.
Now don't get me wrong, there has been some significantly improving in this area nationally. The graduation rate has risen significantly in recent years. Schools have been held more accountable for things like dropout rates which were at 11% in 1990 and have dropped below 7% in the last couple of years. The No Child Left Behind era, all politics aside, did do at least one thing, it shed light on some large voids in the American Education system. Since then, dropout rates across the board have decreased and that is a very encouraging things. However, dropout rates are not exactly what I am referring to. I think that great schools are doing everything they can to maximize the students who are still within their walls.
There are students on every campus who have the ability to perform in class and participate outside of it that are not being reached. High stakes testing in a lot of schools has inadvertently turned students into numbers and shifted the focus from "whole student teaching" to test preparation. Students testing well and students testing low have been given the most focus, while students in the middle who may very well be gifted have been overlooked because of the demand to be recognized as a "high achieving school." Well the good news is I believe this trend is changing.
Great schools see the value of each and every student and strive to connect them to their school. Student involvement outside the classroom and relationships with the teacher are the most important aspects of reaching this goal. If a student, has an established relationship with an adult on campus who is invested in them, they are more likely to succeed because naturally they will want to make them proud. Students who don't have teachers, administrators, bus drivers, coaches, secretaries, or maintenance people who care for them and talk to them on a regular basis are more likely to remain disengaged. So how does a school ever come close to engaging every student without the ability to force them into doing their work and participating in extra curricular activities. Well.....
Schools leaders should keep track of the interests and participation of each student. They should know who is in every club or sport, and they should know what their regular activities are. Then they can begin to target students who are not engaged and find teachers who can relate to them and get them connected. We should know our staff and be able to match them with students who are they are most likely to connect with. It will take every person on staff whether it be classified or certificated but it needs to be an organized and relentless effort. Because all it takes is the attention and interest of one adult to inspire a student to get involved. And this could literally save a life. This is not a perfect formula, but if we are not doing this as a school then we are not interested in engaging Every Student.
I believe that implementing this kind of organized and strategic way of connecting with students will enable more schools to become great. We are not solely in the business of developing doctors and lawyers. We are in the business of developing successful community members, husbands, wives, moms, dads, leaders, and healthy kids. We cannot sit back and rest on our awards, scores, and recognition, while students are struggling for purpose within our walls. We need to fight for each and every one of our student. We will inevitably lose some, but if we pay attention and work hard to connect with each and everyone, our schools can truly be great. Leading is Teaching.
For more on how a school can implement this process, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org