Improving School Culture & Climate

California has been experimenting with an accountability model called the School Quality Improvement Index which uses academic, social-emotional learning, and school culture and climate factors to measure how well public schools are performing.

CORE Model

This new system has an enormous number of variables, which makes it difficult for educational leaders to consistently focus on problem areas where teachers have a direct influence on student performance. As a staff, we examined our culture and climate factors because we felt that our teachers directly support risk-taking and independent thinking while providing multiple measures to show student mastery. Our teachers are also able to directly intervene and help students feel safe on campus.

Climate

Unfortunately, we scored below the District average on items B & F from our 2016 School Climate Survey. The student and staff survey items were developed by WestEd for the California Department of Education. The results from these items were published on our School Accountability Report Card (Goal 4). Our teachers want guidance on how we can improve these scores.

2016 Climate Results

We wondered what do students need to “see” from teachers to improve positive response rates on the following: B) “My teachers work hard to help me with my school work when I need it”; and F) “Teachers go out of their way to help students” How do you think your students would interpret/answer these items?

In order to gain some perspective, I asked my 10th and 11th-grade students the following: Can you tell me a story of a teacher who worked hard to help you with your school work? (Don’t use real names, refer to Mr. Math or Mrs. English instead.) How do you think I could help you do better in this class? Here are the responses from (N=74) students. Four comments that I found insightful are italicized below.

Students value one-on-one assistance

Mrs. English has helped me prepare for tests by giving us easy ways to memorize the things that were going to be on the test in 9th grade. Whenever I didn’t understand something, I would go up to her and ask her for help and she was more than welcome to help me with anything I needed. I think the way you can help me do better in this class is to talk to me 1 on 1 and help me understand the concept better and help me with whatever I need.

Students want more group/collaborative projects

Mrs. Chemistry helped me with her class when I was really struggling. I would go to her class during lunch to get help on my homework so she would give me examples. And when I asked for more work for what I was failing to understand, she gave me another worksheet for practice before the day of my next test. I struggle with tests in history. I try to manage my time with all my other classes, but it is overwhelming sometimes. I would prefer to do more group projects to help each other. If we did group work maybe I might know something my group members don’t and vice versa.

Students want to be challenged by their teachers

I had a teacher that I thought she didn’t like me but she actually did she helped me pass her class with an A. She pushed herself to help me out because I was going to fail her class because I was gone for 3 weeks and I was really behind. I think you can help us by being on top of us when we don’t turn in our work, check in with us why didn’t we do it.

Students want teachers to be more accessible

Most teachers don’t really take time out of their day besides the class period to help their students. You go looking for them at lunch and they aren’t there or they don’t get to school early or when you look for them after school they have already left. This is the case with most teachers, but Ms. English tends to be available whenever you go looking for her and she spends her own time besides class time helping students individually with their work. I think working with students one on one with whatever they are working on will help them do better in this class.

I wish we had the PD time to have the entire faculty read and reflect on these responses. Thirteen pages of student statements are a lot to go through, but each time I re-read them I make more connections that will help me improve my classroom practices. I now have a better understanding of what factors students are thinking about when they address school climate survey items like “Teachers work hard to help me with my school work?” and “Teachers go out of their way to help students?” I hope that each teacher will ask their students these questions and adjust their instruction so that our students will feel as though their voices have been heard over the course of the school year.

Learning from Student Reflection

This year, I have made a concerted effort to build reflective prompts into the end of every project in my History classes. As I read through these responses (180 at a time), I have a hard time separating the superficial responses from meaningful commentary that indicates in-depth reflection. This post will detail how I am seeking to improve in this area. The problem of practice that I am trying to improve is the playlist (personalized) approach to learning that I have implemented this year. I have learned that giving students too many learning options and activities stresses them out. Instead of helping them focus and improve their time management challenges, the playlist approach may cause a small population of students to misuse their class time, shy away from challenging work, and fail to accept enough responsibility for their learning. The reflections that I ask the students to complete are designed to give me some insight as to their work habits, problem-solving abilities, and creative process.

Costa & Kallick (2008) describe in-depth reflection as making specific reference to the learning event, providing examples and elaboration, making connections to other learning, and discussing modifications based on insights from this experience.

student-reflection-16-638

Including guiding questions like these: (What resources did you find useful while working on this project? What did you learn about your work ethic, creativity and performance skills as you worked on your speech? Which was more difficult completing the Flipgrid or delivering the speech in front of class? How did PaperRater help you with this project? Thinking about your PVLEGS (Poise, Voice, Life, Eye Contact, Gestures & Speed) growth area, how will you improve this skill before your next speech performance? What part of this project are you most proud of? What would you change if you had a chance to do this project over again?) guarantees that a significant population of students will not delve into the dangerous area of original thought.

This student didn’t even bother to construct a narrative and instead answered my questions as succinctly as possible. I found the teleprompter extremely useful. It helped me manage my time with my speech and eliminate the unnecessary information which was a very important factor. The articles you provided for us on strong openings/conclusions were useful as well. I learned that I work a lot better under pressure than I do normally. I learned that the most challenging part of writing the speech is not finding the information but delivering it to your audience. Listening to my peers giving their speech made me realize that creating an interesting speech is far more difficult than maintaining interest on a poorly written one. It is difficult for me to discern whether this student really put any effort into this project, or got anything out of it. 

Another student, listed several very specific goals to improve her next speech.  
I need to work on staying still while I present my speech because I was shifting my body side to side. I also should’ve practiced using the teleprompter more because it would have improved my performance while I was presenting. I wouldn’t have been as paranoid about messing up if I would’ve been more familiar with the software. I really enjoyed completing this project because it was the most entertaining project that I’ve done in this class. I’m usually good when it comes to managing my time, but for this assignment, I let it all slip. Next time I have speech assignment
 or any other assignment, I will plan out my schedule more appropriately to complete everything that needs to be completed on time. 

One of my repeat customers (a student who had me for World History in 9th grade and now has me again for US History in 11th grade) provided examples and elaboration.
Working on this speech I truly saw an improvement in my writing style. I realized that with this speech i was able to turn some not to interesting information into a somewhat interesting speech. A source of information that I found super helpful was the book Dr. Petri gave me Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. This was very helpful because it gave me a very detailed and wide view into the overthrowing of Queen Liliuokalani, as well as the overthrowing of Hawaii in order for it to become part of the United States. My work ethic has improved greatly since my freshman year with Dr. Petri, who even said that I have improved since then. As well as my creativity, I remember when I would normally do essays and/or speeches I would not make them very creative they would just be filled with a lot of boring information that no one cares about. But for this speech, I was much more creative especially with the way I started. For example, “Your brother dies, oh but let’s not forget he is the King of Hawaii. You, a woman, has to step up to the throne and be the next one in line to run Hawaii. This was how Liliuokalani, became Queen Liliuokalani on January 29, 1891.” I wanted to catch the audience’s attention from the very beginning and I wanted to keep it that way.

Showcasing student reflections that make specific references to the learning event, provide examples and elaboration, make connections to other learning activities, and discuss modifications (or lessons learned) based on insights from this experience can help students improve their reflections and learn from their mistakes. This slideshow illustrates how I use student exemplars with the whole class to improve subsequent reflections. Although I am having some problems with a small population of my students using this playlist approach, anecdotally I can say that I am getting higher-quality, original work and more engagement from the vast majority of the students in my classes. Reading their comments and compliments as they recognize their own talents and growth inspires my teaching.

Example A
Each component 
I did better than last time. I realized that I got more work done in the amount of time I set for myself. With that being said my performance in this class is getting way better, I’m not as lazy and I am actually happy to be doing work, at the end, it feels great to be done with assignments either on time or earlier. Helping me improve my performance can be really easy, you can do that by working with all the due dates and giving extra time, which won’t really be necessary now because I’ve changed my ways.

Example B
At the beginning when we started I didn’t really know anything about this subject. I’ve done similar work in this class before and other classes like English too. I think I’ve gotten better because I’m used to having to finish certain work by the due date and making sure
I finish it all. I think what I should improve on is my note-taking because I’m not really the best at that and I feel like I should write more notes.I think I did pretty good on all my work besides my notes because my notes weren’t really much and I feel like I could’ve written more notes that could be more helpful. I think my project was good because I had good info. to support what I was saying in my podcast. What I would like to improve on is note-taking because I need to work on writing more.

Example C
I did well on my project, but I could really improve by trying to do it ahead of time because I really waited last minute to finish the project. I’ve could have done so much better if I really focused on my project. The way you can help me solve this problem is by making the due dates shorter so that it motivates me to finish faster and the rest of my work would be much neater.

I feel like this has been my best semester ever and am excited to return to work after the Winter Break. I am interested in hearing from other teachers who have been inspired by goal-setting and growth mindset. What have you learned from student reflections?