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.
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.
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.
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.