A question I ask other leaders I work with is this, “What are you leading for?” Every leader should be able to articulate vision and focus. Leaders must always be thoughtful regarding how they balance the “pressure” of moving folks forward alongside the “support” necessary to accomplish goals.
I am leading for our scholars to be college, career and/or military ready. Well, that’s just one thing I’m leading for, but I wanted you to be certain about it. “What’s your plan?” is not some empty question or cute poster to me.
A few weeks ago, Mr. John Smith, Tascosa High School Principal, wrote the message below for the THS staff. To me, his challenge to them was inspiring and motivational. I am posting it because I think his message is worth a wider audience. Enjoy!
I want to thank our counselors and college career crew for getting 100% of our seniors applied for college. It is the first step to in the process of attending a college. As part of our NEU commitment, we want students striving to be the best they can be.
Now, I want to push you as a staff. Behind every symbol is a substance of work required to support the symbol. I want us to reflect on that a minute. What is the substance for a student to attend and be successful in college? I am sure you can come up with a myriad of thoughts but when I think of college, I think of going to class and studying. There are other sidebars to college that we might think of, but in the end I am paying money to receive a diploma that will get me a job. To break that down further, can a student have the tools to read, write, reason and persevere through the challenge of college?
What is the substance to our symbol of signing every student up for college? What is our role in building the substance in our students to not only get accepted to college, but to be successful in college or career?
I have said many times that the most important place on this campus is the classroom. The classroom is where the rubber meets the road. Students learn content but also learn how to learn. Students learn how to think, communicate, collaborate and contribute to the classroom culture. It is important for us to not only teach content but plan lessons that engage students in the content. Challenges, curiosity and expectations will push students to learn more. Confidence in their brain is crucial to academic success. Confidence does not come from menial tasks, but from tasks that push the limits, give value to their opinion, and allow them to have success in critically thinking. It does not matter if it is a top student or one of our lowest. All students can “grow smartness.” As you plan, think about content and instruction. Are we planning for conceptual understanding? How we teach it, how we engage students, how we provide feedback based on learning, and how we model the learning process will be the difference maker in the substance.
Academic confidence gets students into the game and the belief that “I can continue my education after high school.”
I have again attached the system of instruction that we are to follow. The plan keeps us grounded in making sure we cover the appropriate curriculum; we have a plan for assessing the learning and a guideline for improving instruction.
In Damen Lopez’s first book Turnaround Schools, he talks repeatedly about the goal of a campus is to have a “Culture of Universal Achievement.” I have listed the tenets of that below.
The overriding belief at a school that embraces a culture of universal achievement is that every student is capable of academic proficiency, and that the primary responsibility for making that proficiency a reality rests with the adults. (Do we believe we can grow smartness in every student?)
No responsible educator can say that it is impossible for high-poverty children to be high-achieving students because it is happening today in schools across America. The only question is, quite simply, does a principal and his teachers have the passion and determination to make same dream a reality at their school?
A courageous principal and equally courageous teacher-leaders encourage the creation of a culture of universal achievement by focusing relentlessly on student academic achievement and by leading positive conversations with their colleagues. (We are in control of our relentless effort and we are in control of our conversations. Do we self-monitor each other to change the conversations “from complaining to how we can solve this problem?” I believe We are the variable and We are the research.)
A culture of universal achievement is firmly in place when the following beliefs and practices are held by the teachers and the principal:
Every student will be proficient in reading, writing and mathematics. (You can expand that for us to say career paths, certificates, job ready, TSI and other markers that our students can achieve.)
The academic accomplishment of every student is an obsession.
The school can neutralize many challenges students bring to the classroom. (The classroom is a safe place where students thrive as learners and see hope for the future. We provide stability to many students who do not have it outside of our walls.)
Student achievement is the number one topic of conversation. (If our students are serving the community are they learning? Yes. Our band is striving to receive a division 1 rating in marching, are they achieving? Yes. Students in my class are working to raise their scores on tests that show learning. Yes.)
A maverick spirit leads the way.
There are no excuses for poor effort.
As your principal, I am very proud of reaching our goal of having 100% of students applied for college. But, with that, I am burdened by the thought of, “Are they prepared to be successful in college, a career or a job?” Remember, behind every symbol is a substance of work required to support the symbol. You impact students. You are the variable. Every day, every class, every student matters to the long term success of our students. Our scholars need us!