Perspective: Focusing on student achievement

Once I heard a minister talking about the appropriate structure and outline for a good Sunday morning message. He said he once asked a more experienced member of the clergy how many points a good sermon should have.

The older minister gave a tongue-in-cheek reply: “At least one.”

I also remember reading of an older minister who listened to a younger minister deliver a sermon that lacked clear direction. The older minister said, “The poor young man gave a sermon that aimed at nothing in particular, and hit it.”

Clearly, an effective message should have a definite focus and a predominant theme.

Having such a clear destination is crucial in any successful endeavor, whether it is the delivery of the all-important message in church, the mapping out of one’s career path, the business plan for a start-up company, or the attempts to improve student learning in schools.

In any of those examples, if there is a feeling that efforts are all over the place it is hard to make important gains.

To press onward to successful results, everyone involved needs to have a clear understanding of what takes priority and what the objectives are.

Dr. Mike Schmoker has written extensively about school improvement and how educators need a definite focus.

In his book entitled “Results,” he wrote that teachers should collaborate to help students achieve at higher levels. He said their collaborative efforts, however, must have a definite instructional focus.

“Without explicit learning goals,” Schmoker wrote, “we are simply not set up and organized for improvement, for results. Only such goals will allow us to analyze, monitor, and adjust practice toward improvement.”

He went on to write that such an approach “will have a high payoff in student learning.”

In recent years in the Jefferson City Public School District teachers have begun such collaborative efforts, and we are just now beginning to see positive results.

Schmoker made it clear that for those efforts to work, the educational focus must be on teacher collaboration and working towards common goals based upon student learning.

And he also made it clear that those two things are interrelated. Schools cannot have teaching teams that are effective unless there are student improvement goals for them to work towards. In addition, having common goals tends to serve as a rallying point in their work and helps the overall cohesiveness and effectiveness of the team.

This is true not just in education, but in any organization.

A part of teachers working collaboratively includes a commitment to experimenting with new teaching strategies, analyzing the results, and reporting the findings to fellow teachers.

This kind of shared expertise and shared professional practice serves to bolster student learning throughout the school.

Teachers cannot do this by simply working in isolation.

Schmoker said it best: “If we wish to have energized employees who are steadily progressing toward the ultimate, long-term goal of providing a better, richer education for our students, then every member of every school should be working together in teams, not token or merely social teams, but goal-oriented units.”

The idea of practicing good teamwork and having our eyes on the goal is not really a new concept. But it is one that American schools have been slow to embrace.

Fortunately, more and more JCPS staff members are taking advantage of the power of productive collaboration. It’s time that practice is adopted by teachers in schools everywhere.

David Wilson, EdD, is one of the assistant principals at Jefferson City High School. You may e-mail him at david.wilson@jcschools.us.

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