Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Improving the School System for Quality Learning

By Gilbert M. Forbes
Principal, Padre Burgos Central School
Padre Burgos, Quezon

Raising the standards and quality of education in our schools depends largely on the existing system that the school effectively follows and implements.  Actually, as former DepEd Secretary Lesli Lapus puts it when he took office, there is no more need to reinvent the wheel.  What school leaders, teachers and the rest of the school stakeholders need to do are to keep it rolling.

Aside from making the existing system works and the wheel rolling, Kathy O’Neill, Director of Learning Centered Development Program based in the US suggested the following which we may be acquainted already but we’re only doing some only for compliance.
  • Using Data to Focus Improvement.  We have it already under our so called School Basic Education Information System.  What we need to do is to enrich it aside from looking for trend.  One way to enrich it is to take it down to the classroom level seriously.  Lots of data are generated every year.  All we need is to utilize it fully and design a workable program out of it in consultation with the stakeholders which should be integrated in the School Improvement Plan.  It should always be remembered that schools that successfully improve student achievement regularly use data to guide decisions about instruction, student support and professional development.
  • Creating a High-Performance Learning Culture.  It is uncommon to see schools fully supporting a school which support a true culture of excellence due to underlying behaviorial, attitudinal, and values prevalent under the present circumstances in the Philippine School System.  If itsn’t the school leader, problems lie mainly on teachers and other stakeholders who still prefer mediocrity versus quality and excellence popularly known as ‘puwede na yan’ and ‘bakit pa’ attitude.   Schools cannot improve when the culture does not support school improvement. Often in the push to improve quickly, the school's culture is forgotten. School leaders should learn what that culture is and why it must be challenged, changed and cultivated for the better; what roles leaders play in growing the culture; and what tools and strategies are available to help leaders foster a culture that supports improvement, high expectations and the well-being of students.
  • Using Root Cause Analysis to Reduce Student Failure.  Improving student learning by changing classroom and school practices both requires and results in changes to a school's culture. Culture also impacts how and what improvements are made to benefit student learning, and data can be a powerful lever to explore inequities, expose systemic biases, and change beliefs and practices needed to improve the achievement of disenfranchised pupils and stakeholders. We need to gain analytical tools to uncover the real problems that school leaders need to address to close success gaps in schools. Aside from the school leaders, teachers being at the forefront of the teaching and learning has a pivotal role in this regard.  One way to do it is the so called student tracking system long time promoted by DepEd in the late 90’s.  Another way is identification of highly at risked children through the Project REACH and DORP, the promotion of at least basic but strong guidance and counseling program, and basic parenting seminars in our schools.
  • Providing Focused and Sustained Professional Development.  Professional development is a powerful tool for changing schools, yet professional development is frequently done poorly and results in little or no positive change.  This is a long time ago.  With the introduction of the NCBTS and CB-PAST, individual teachers now has a hand and a say on what professional development assistance they need.  The first and foremost need however is how could teachers fully utilized these tools when current observations point out that they usually don’t know where they really are.   This a major challenged that is seen so far which school leaders should  attend.  School leaders should lead teachers in the realization that standards are standards.  It is non-negotiable.  For one to claim that he/she is able to meet one standard or is competent of doing something should be evidenced-driven and is highly observable on varying degrees.
  • Organizing Resources for a Learning-Centered School.  How can schools more effectively use time and resources for teaching, planning and professional learning?
  • Building Instructional Leadership Teams That Make a Difference.  The heart of leadership is the willingness to assume responsibility. Schools that improve and sustain improvement use teams to lead school reform. A crying need exists for teachers to lead by taking a more formal and explicit role in the supervision and improvement of instruction. 
  • Communicating to Engage Stakeholders in School Improvement.  Effective communication is the key to an improving school community. Often the best intentions are sidetracked by poor communication. One feature of poor communication which doesn’t promote strong stakeholders involvement is the lack of transparency and enough for full cooperation characterized by mutual understanding and democracy.  On extreme cases aside from monetary issues, clash with the PTA’s leadership come into being when school administration appear to be autocratic instead of democratic and consultative.
  • Leading School Change to Improve Student Achievement.  School leaders have gotten used to the idea that "the only constant is change." Productive school leaders understand the forces that influence the change process and can direct these forces for continuous school improvement. Learn how to lead change rather than react to it.
  • Benchmarking and Coaching for School Improvement.  Schools undergoing transformational school improvement processes often need external models or bench-mark and coaches to help them through the process. The main challenge however in our schools is that too few want to share their secrets of success.   While any school could benchmarked a model school, they base it merely on outside and observable indicators because more often than not, selfish desire sad to say exists due to shallowness of professional beliefs and values as successful school leader implementers would often see other school leaders as competitors to their possible rise to the educational ladder.
Certainly, there are no shortcuts in making our school continuously improve and be a quality and excellent one.  The great challenge however to achieve it in a long sustainable and continuing way is for us to change our attitudes and values for the common good.  All best systems are already there.  The only thing and the main challenge is for us is to make those systems work.

(We welcome reactions, sharing and additional ideas in relation to this article.  All that will help our schools.)

(Mr. Gilbert M. Forbes had his Bachelors Degree and MA in Educational Management (CAR) from the Philippine Normal University.  A campus paper adviser and trainer for 13 years.  Currently, he is a school principal in one of the central schools in the Division of Quezon.) 

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