Newsletter 168 - NEEDU - Schools That Work II - Recommendations relating to the Education District Office
Our findings point to the need for major departures from business-as-usual for many district office staff in order to realize effective learning in all schools. Because many districts have limited capacity, they need to consider limiting improvement initiatives to a few fundamental efforts. Three areas that can be
prioritised as a starting point are:
· Improving co-ordination among different units in the district,
· Better use of data to take decisions and to inform improvement strategies, and
· Supporting Principals as instructional leaders in their respective schools
RECOMMENDATION 4—REORGANIZING DISTRICT RESOURCES TO SUPPORT IMPROVEMENT EFFORTS:
Individual parts of the district need to strategically co-ordinate their work better so that they operate in concert with one another as opposed to working in separate silos or in competition for limited district resources. Findings in this study suggest that strong, coordinated support from the district office is essential to realising effective learning for all schools and all learners. No matter how committed individual district officials may be to school improvement, their plans will likely be stymied unless they find ways to bring every part of the system into alignment with the goals of excellent teaching and learning for all learners. Top-performing schools described how officials from different units in their district offices worked together as crossfunctional teams to support them
RECOMMENDATION 5—EFFECTIVE USE OF DATA:
In addition to setting the expectation of data-driven decision-making, districts need to take responsibility for collecting data, analysing it, and using it effectively to support learning. Districts need to develop a data-driven culture. Managers in district offices must have access to the “right data” to help them answer questions that are fundamental to system-wide improvement. “Right data” can loosely be defined as data that addresses specific measurable outputs. Right data would assist districts to address important questions such as:
· Which of our learners are chronically low-performing across grades and subject areas?
· Which teachers and Principals, if any, have these learners had in common?
· What other features of these schools might help explain such results?
Among other things, such data can be arrived at by doing question, item and error analyses. Districts need to ensure that, when requesting data from schools, the data can be used to inform specific decisions regarding school improvement. Having access to better data and using it effectively to inform its decisions, districts will resist the temptation to blanket their schools with professional development offerings, in the hope that some of them might pay off. Instead, they would be careful to target their efforts on the areas of greatest need, to focus their school improvement efforts and to refine their supports for individual schools.
RECOMMENDATION 6—FOCUSING ON SUPPORTING PRINCIPALS’ INSTRUCTIONAL LEADERSHIP:
In pursuit of quality education, districts need to take deliberate steps to reduce the amount of time circuit managers spend on operational or administrative issues and monitoring schools’ compliance, and shift their focus toward improving teaching and learning in schools. District office staff influence teaching and learning not directly, but their support influences the behaviour of those who do have a more direct impact on the learning outcomes, i.e., teachers and SMT members. Therefore, circuit managers would have the greatest impact on their districts’ efforts to improve teaching and learning when they dedicate their time to specific teaching strategies such as modelling effective instructional leadership, both in one-on-one settings and in professional learning communities. However, circuit managers can become progressively more capable of helping Principals become effective instructional leaders only if they receive ongoing support, too. It is recommended that circuit managers receive intensive professional development as well, in order to perform their role effectively. It also recommended that circuit managers and district directors encourage a “crosspollination” of ideas among the Principals and create platforms where Principals freely share good practices among schools within a circuit and across a district. A “District Good Practice Register” could be created where schools can share what works in their schools for other schools to learn.