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The 4 not-so-secret attributes that all successful schools share

As your students file back into your halls over the next few weeks, your school or district will no doubt face several challenges.

Budget issues, political shifts, student poverty, safety, and parent engagement and communication—the list is seemingly endless.

Given the myriad potential pitfalls, it’s impossible to draft a one-size-fit-all approach to school success.

But there are several common attributes that most all truly successful schools share, writes education advocate Matthew Lynch on Education Futures, a popular blog he runs for Education Week.

“Sure, the context of schooling will impact attributes that contribute to effectiveness in specific schools,” explains Lynch. “But at the same time, there are attributes that contribute to effectiveness across schooling contexts. If we understand the attributes of effectiveness, we can observe which attributes exist at successful schools.”

Below are attributes that Lynch says are common across successful schools. Considering these elements now, as a new school year gets underway, should help you frame important conversations with parents, teachers, students, and others.

Quality leadership
It’s obvious, but still important: Good leadership is key to success.

Writes Lynch: “Effective leaders are visible, can successfully convey the school’s goals and visions, collaborate with teachers to enhance their skills, and are involved in the discovery of and solutions to problems.”

How you discover those solutions depends heavily on how well you engage your community. Take the pulse of parents, teachers, students, and others to see what issues and concerns are top of mind. You can use a combination of school- or district-wide surveys, in-person board meetings, online forums, or other resources to gather information and ideas from different segments of your school population. Use that feedback to inform your decision-making. And communicate your plans back out to the community, so they know what to expect.

Set a high bar
The expectations you place on staff and students often directly correlate to the type of success they’ll eventually achieve.

Lynch says that students are dependent on expectations to give them a sense of purpose, ability, and confidence. Set your expectations too low and you might miss an opportunity to push your students toward something bigger.

The same goes for teachers. Your staff might not like the added pressure at first, but setting a high bar for success helps the entire team strive for better, says Lynch.

Continuously monitor progress
The best schools continuously monitor progress—and use the data they collect to make adjustments when necessary.

But when you think about data, don’t just focus on academic data (e.g. test scores, graduation rates, et cetera). Anecdotal feedback from students and parents is vital too—whether it’s from open-ended answers on formal surveys or from informal hallway conversations.

This kind of feedback takes on increased importance in light of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). New stipulations in ESSA require schools to measure factors outside of academic performance. These so-called non-academic indicators include school climate, student and parent engagement, safety and discipline, and college-and-career readiness, among other possibilities. As the deadline for complying with ESSA draws nearer this year, school leaders will pay special attention to how they monitor and report school progress under the law.

Clear goals and direction
You can’t move forward unless you know where you’re going—and have the right people on board.

“Student performance has been shown to improve in schools where the entire school community works toward goals that are communicated and shared among all in the learning environment,” writes Lynch on his blog.

What steps are you taking this school year to include your community in setting the vision, and the path, for success? Tell us in the comments.

Want a better way to effectively take the pulse of parents and students this year? Here’s one way to engage your community in a productive, two-way conversation about school improvement.