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Striving for Excellence: How Your School Can Improve

Take a minute, and think about your ideal school.

If you had all the money, resources, and employees you could possibly want, what kind of school would you build?

Of course, if you asked 10 of your neighbors that question, you’d probably get 10 different answers.

The truth is, everyone has different ideas about what makes a school great.  That includes education experts and researchers, who espouse very different strategies for reforming schools.

But, after years of trial-and-error experimentation, research does show there are several traits that the best schools share. And while you probably can’t build your perfect school from scratch, you can use these approaches to improve the schools you have.

Writing for Education Week, Catherine Gewertz outlines some keys to success for U.S. high schools. Those principles are based largely on Paul T. Hill and Tricia Mass’ research on the best ways to achieve school reform. They include:

A rigorous, engaging curriculum
students learn goes hand-in-hand with what they learn. You can have all of the best teaching techniques you want, but without a comprehensive, well-rounded curriculum that challenges students and invites creativity, those strategies mean nothing.

Curriculum matters. Whether it’s in local political battles or state and national fights over Common Core or other curriculum mandates, people care about what students learn.

Strong student-adult relationships
Students succeed when they have support and guidance from the adults responsible for their education.

This, of course, starts with teachers. Schools need a well-trained and enthusiastic team that understands the power of students’ voices, and isn’t afraid to re-think its approach.

Almost as importantly, students need support from their parents — both in and out of the classroom. That means schools must engage parents, involve them in their child’s education, and ask for their input.

Personalized learning with strong support  
Every student learns differently. Creating personalized experiences for students helps ensure their —and your school’s — success.

Taking a personalized approach is especially important for struggling students. The best schools know how to engage low-performing students, assess their challenges, and set them up for success.

A customized approach
Hill and Mass say that, while all districts should use these principles, each district must have its own, unique approach.

“Stop creating rules that make all schools operate alike,” they write. “This means abandoning the hopeless effort to create exactly the right set of rules that will force all schools to be good.”

Each district, and even each school, has its own challenges — and they won’t be solved with a top-down, dictatorial approach.

If you want to understand how to address your district’s challenges, start by asking your community.

Your students, parents, teachers, and community partners can tell you from experience what’s holding your district back. As you develop your strategy, bring them into the decision-making process — and take heed of these principles.

How does your community help drive your success? Tell us in the comments.

Want to develop a school reform plan for your district? A good school survey will get you started.