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Do Sweat the Small Stuff A Case Study of One School


Do Sweat the Small Stuff A Case Study of One School s Improvement Journey. Completed During Principal s Sabbatical Dr Sheila Grainger October 2010 – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Do Sweat the Small Stuff A Case Study of One School

Do Sweat the Small StuffA Case Study of One
Schools Improvement Journey.Completed During
Principals SabbaticalDr Sheila
GraingerOctober 2010
  • This is a powerpoint summary of a 41 page paper
    prepared during the Principal Sabbatical of Dr
    Sheila Grainger
  • The full paper is being prepared for publication
    in a relevant academic journal
  • For further information email

  • Serious concerns about the schools performance
    began to be identified by the Education Review
    Office (ERO) in 1992, finally leading to
    statutory intervention in December 2005.
  • Rapid change and improvement characterised the
    statutory intervention period, and by December
    2009, the statutory intervention was withdrawn
    and the school returned to a normal 3 year
    cycle of ERO monitoring.
  • In 2009, the ERO team talked about the turn
    around of the school, and their questions led
    the schools leadership to reflect on how this
    had been achieved

Sustainable Improvement
  • Fullan, 2006, reports that many school
    turnarounds have been short-lived. The problem
    with many turnaround strategies he says, is that
    they focus on external interventions. He says
    current turnaround policies and practices
    generally move schools from awful to adequate but
    no further, failing to achieve long-term
    sustainable improvement.
  • Fullan, M. (2006). Turnaround leadership. San
    Francisco Jersey-Bass.

Key to Sustainability
  • As long as school decision making continues to be
    based on shared understandings about valued
    student outcomes, and has the tools to ensure its
    decision making and strategic planning is
    informed by evidence of student achievement,
    progress should be maintained.
  • The key to its sustainability lies in the
    leadership of the school aligning its decision
    making to the values it wants to promote, and
    ensuring that every decision it makes, however
    small, consistently reflects those values.

Examples of Sustainablity
  • Pathways Department
  • Provison for the Less Academic
  • Study Periods
  • Classroom Behaviour and Student Work

Pathways Department
  • there were no shared understandings amongst
    stakeholders, of how career education could make
    a huge difference in students lives, lifting
    their expectations and bridging the gap between
    their limited view of their future and the
    potential they could aspire to.
  • This lack of shared understandings about what
    counted as valued student outcomes in terms of
    career planning and course selection, created a
    vacuum into which teacher centric and timetable
    centric considerations could creep, allowing
    school decision making to be subverted. One
    example of this, the shortened English and Maths
    courses at year 11, is discussed in detail below.

Pathways Department
  • The Departments brief is to connect students to
    their future potential right from year 9, and
    find innovative ways of helping students to set
    and review their career goals, making informed
    choices about study pathways as they progress
    through school.
  • The Head of Pathways tracks credits attained and
    still needed by students co-ordinates STAR
    Gateway and Distance Learning provision enrols
    students in interest rich courses which broaden
    their horizons and develops individualised
    pathways for students who do not thrive in
    traditional academic subjects.
  • The valued student outcomes achieved through the
    pathways approach include, enhanced student
    expectations, a wider range of student
    achievements with more students succeeding and
    enhanced targeting of school resources where the
    need for extra student support is identified.

Provision for the Less Academic
  • Those in year 11 with the lowest skills in
    literacy and numeracy were channelled into an
    alternative class which provided 2 terms tuition
    in alternative maths and 2 terms tuition in
    alternative English, instead of 4 terms in each.
  • In this way, those students most needing to
    improve in these two essential learning areas,
    received only half the standard tuition time
    enjoyed by other students.

Provision for the Less Academic
Increased value added in NCEA English Dip in
value added in 2009 NCEA English BUT still high
literacy attainment. The need to more closely
interrogate our student achievement data in NCEA
Level 1 English. Identified the need for more
focus on preparation for the NCEA external
assessments in English. English programme
revamped to ensure that the pursuit of the 8
Level 1 literacy credits is not at the expense of
achievement in the externals.
Study Periods
  • ERO reports since 1992, had commented on
    inconsistent attendance and absence monitoring,
    lack of student engagement, poor quality and
    organisation of student work, low achievement and
    low teacher expectations.
  • These, coupled with environmental factors, such
    as the low value which some sectors of the
    community traditionally placed on academic study
    and schooling, were all contra indications for
    exempting these students from attending school
    during their study periods.
  • It was, in fact, a management centric solution to
    the problem of what to do with students during
    those times, and the school had by default
    absolved itself of responsibility for them.

Study Periods
  • Since a more student centric approach has been
    taken, with the staffing and monitoring of a
    study room where all seniors must spend their
    study time, senior attendance and work ethic has
  • The expectation of regular supervised study has
    improved the learning culture both for seniors
    and, through their modelling, for junior students.

Classroom Behaviour and Student Work
  • Successive ERO reports had reported poor quality
    and disorganised work in many classes in the
    junior school.
  • My own observations in classrooms during term one
    2008 confirmed that in many junior classes
    teacher expectations were low and student work
    was low in quantity and quality.
  • Many exercise books were marred by graffiti,
    sexual innuendo and scrappy pages, with set tasks
    often at a low level, failing to challenge
  • In many students books there was a striking lack
    of teacher feedback and feedforward on their
    work, and little evidence that teachers were
    valuing students work and passing on that sense
    of value to students.
  • Storage of students books in some classes was
    disorganised and counter productive to the
    valuing and tracking of student work to monitor
    progress and guide students next learning steps.

Classroom Behaviour and Student Work
  • School wide professional development sessions on
    the Best Evidence Synthesis on Teaching and
    Learning (Robinson, Hohepa, Lloyd, 2009)
  • Sessions on student data showing how few students
    were actually below average and how many were
    well above on their entry data
  • Checking all junior student work in the four core
    subjects English, Social Studies, Maths and
    Science on a regular basis
  • Increased monitoring of credit attainment and
    analysis of NCEA results in the senior school
  • Written feedback to teachers and their HODs on
    the quality of work observed, with any requests
    for improvement rigorously followed up with the
    department concerned.
  • School wide professional development sessions
    addressed the importance of teacher expectations
    and the use of student data in planning
  • School targets reflected the desired quality of
  • Principal reports to the Board of Trustees.
  • Student buy in

Classroom Behaviour and Student Work
Learning From Reflection
  • Shared understandings of school purpose and what
    constitutes valued student outcomes need to be
    established in order to successfully drive school
    decision making and school improvement
  • An evidence base of valued student outcomes needs
    to be established and constantly interrogated for
    monitoring and tracking progress so that decision
    making can be student centric not teacher or
    management centric
  • Tools for self review and self improvement need
    to be accepted and embraced by all staff, so that
    a culture of high accountability can sit
    comfortably with a culture of high professional
  • School leaders do make a significant
    contribution to school improvement and success
    but this would be unsustainable without the
    support of a skilled management team. On the
    other hand, school leaders can also pose the
    biggest risk to school success and early
    identification of this risk could avoid school

Learning From Reflection
  • Where problems are repeatedly identified at both
    school governance and management levels personnel
    changes at one or both of these levels are
    probably needed before school improvement can
  • The highly complex work which principals do is
    enacted through a chain of tasks which are often
    mundane and trivial, but each one offers the
    opportunity to pursue the strategic change agenda
    and embed shared understandings about valued
    student outcomes
  • Educational change often needs to be achieved
    through sweating the small stuff because the
    small stuff is what dominates a principals day,
    and there may never be a time when only the big
    stuff can be addressed

  • Teachers and Leaders can make a difference.
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