California Educator

APRIL 2010

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“On the surface, we are no different from any other good public school,” Simmons muses. “We are bound by the same standards as all schools and given the same standardized tests. We have a full special education program. Some- times we take kids who have worn out their welcome everywhere else and we are asked to fix them. We have given up a lot of things due to the constraints of the state budget. We may be a charter, but being a charter school is not a magic bullet.” “A good school is really about good teachers,” says seventh-grader Margo La Clair. “The style here is very interactive. They ask us questions so we learn to think critically. I’ve been to a lot of schools, and I like this one the best.” What education experts have to say about W Andy Hargreaves While politicians may define a good school by test scores, education experts say schools are more than the sum of their scores. “What makes a good school is that every child cannot wait to go to school,” says Andy Hargreaves of the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. “And when children are in good schools, the days fly by because they are utterly absorbed in learning and what they are doing. And the weight of the troubles students bring with them to school falls from their shoulders as the minutes and hours of the day pass. When it’s time to go home, they can’t believe it’s time already.” Mostly, good schools teach to the strengths that children already have and address individual learning styles, says Hargreaves, a guest speaker at CTA’s Summer Institute who has worked with CTA on helping schools supported by the Quality Education Investment Act. “Children in good schools find that every day engages them in ways they learn best — whether it’s visually by drawing, by playing with things physically, or by listening — and differentiated instruction helps them to improve in areas where they are not so strong,” continues Hargreaves. “In a good school or a great school, the teachers have time, skills and “What they are learning in school makes sense to them because it’s in their backyard. In fact it is their backyard.” Jacoby Creek Charter School Catherine Girard, good schools training to know their children and how they learn. They don’t have too many children in their classes, which makes this impossible.” Hargreaves believes that punishments under NCLB — instituted by President Bush and likely to be continued in the Obama administration — are not the way to transform struggling schools into good ones. “If schools need to be good places for children, they also have to be good places for teachers. We cannot browbeat teachers into inspiring their kids and tell them that floggings will continue until things improve. Just as kids are inspired by great teachers, teachers are inspired by great principals. Great principals support teachers and involve them in the work and life of the school. They know how teachers learn best and how to engage them.” Experts agree that good schools have good professional development — taking the form of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) or groups — where they can collaborate, give each other feedback and reflect on best practices. The goal is to create an environment that fosters mutual cooperation, emotional support and personal growth by working together to accomplish as a team what cannot be accomplished alone. Dennis Shirley, who co-authored The Fourth Way of Change with Hargreaves and collaborates with CTA on improving struggling schools, advocates for professional development and mentoring in a new book, The Mindful Teacher, which he co-authored with a second- grade teacher in Boston. “The Mindful Teacher is predicated on the observation that the pressures on classroom teachers have become so great that few teachers are able to find time for sustained reflection and modification from one’s teaching in the company of one’s peers,” he maintains. Instead of imposing reforms on teachers, Shirley recommends that schools encourage teachers to participate in a “collegial community” of inquiry and best practices. In good schools, professional Richard Rothstein development zeroes in on student learning and using disaggregated student data. But good schools also look at the whole child. “I believe in the importance of data,” says Shirley. “But I’m seeing educators spending so much time gathering data that they have less time to teach.” Shirley says good schools share other characteristics. “A good school is a kind and caring school where children learn a sense of ethics and responsibility to themselves and others,” he muses. “Rigorous academic skills are learned and applied to the world around them. Continued on page 33 APRIL 2010 | 15

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