Springboard Trust’s work with principals can be as varied as the educators and students themselves. While courses like the Strategic Leadership for Principals Programme (SLPP) will remain largely the same over time, the suite of Alumni Services we provide can be tailored to any school’s needs.
The goal, as always, is to foster student excellence. With Edmonton School, Principal Margaret Samson got in touch with us to assess some dramatic alternative approaches.
The project: A new profiling system
Margaret wanted to develop an effective priority learner assessment tool – essentially, a profiling system, with related adjustments to monitoring processes and teaching practice. This stemmed from the discovery that eleven students in years five and six were significantly under-achieving compared to national standards. In Margaret’s own words:
“Analysis of data and identifying learners into ‘At Risk Groups’ did not work, as there was no established system to address the needs of these learners. The data-driven practices in place did not move learners in a direction that accelerated their learning, and the school identified that they needed to address it differently. The current project was driven from this observation.”
This profiling tool would be used to enhance student engagement, create positive shifts in student achievement and improve the teachers’ sense of efficacy with students who needed to improve their writing skills.
To establish a profile, educators must begin with trust. The principal, with Springboard Trust's support, spent a long time with each of the eleven children, developing a deep understanding of their backgrounds, histories and preferences. With this trust and knowledge established, they could identify specific needs to be acted on – as well as boost each child’s self-confidence and sense of worth.
Initially, the programme consisted of:
Deeper dialogue and analysis with students
Regular reflection and adjustments to teaching methods
Earlier intervention to improve student outcomes
The principal worked largely with two teachers, coaching them in use of the profiling tool and how to adapt their teaching practice, as well as their own belief in making a difference to learner outcomes.
Together, the three devised improved learning interventions tailored to each of the eleven children. Over three to four intensive weeks of coaching with each student, they laid down clear expectations, boundaries, goals and motivations.
Support from the community
The teacher-student relationship is only one aspect of a successful restorative programme. The principal and one of the teachers engaged whānau and parents wherever possible, garnering their support for the programme creating a learning environment at home. In particular, they wanted children to begin writing for pleasure.
With community fundraising, they also delivered on some learners’ passion projects – like riding a train for the very first time.
“We deliberately set out to link interest and purpose. We made explicit the skills required to enable the writing and they started to self-evaluate their writing. They became more and more confident in writing in the classroom, and gained motivation – like they were writers.
They began to help others in the classroom, and transferred their own skills to more students. They wrote at home for pleasure and purpose. Vocabulary development was evident from quite early on, and their ability to write and qualify writing improved dramatically.”
A different approach to education
The second teacher took a different approach to community and whānau engagement. They conducted off-site visits and interactive sessions to improve learners’ writing skills.
In particular, learners cited visiting the city, travelling by train and writing or posting letters to parents as fulfilling activities. Students unanimously agreed that their skills improved after the interventions, with one noting:
“We went deeper and deeper with our writing. Like you keep walking and don’t stop when you are in a forest.”
The outcomes of a tailored intervention
Results of the work done at Edmonton School emerged unexpectedly fast.
In one term, seven of the eleven students moved a whole level in writing proficiency (from well below to below, or from below to at standard) and one moved two levels. Additionally, many students saw corresponding results in reading and math.
These results echoed throughout the school, improving results across the board.
Springboard Trust provided invaluable feedback and analysis for the principal to test her thinking, as she iteratively developed the tools and techniques to profile, intervene and make these results possible.
An evaluation specialist designed a framework which helped to structure the principal’s approach, and ensure they could measure every outcome of the project.
The next step is to scale this pilot, so priority learners across the whole school may benefit.