Improve Achievement for One Student, the Whole Class, or the Entire School

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Effort vs. Innovation

How to Really Improve Classroom Achievement--Teaching is a most respected endeavor, though not always treated as such, and teachers do work extremely hard. Spend a few minutes trying to get the few kids in your own family on the same page and you can begin to relate just a little to what a tremendous undertaking it is for a teacher working to wrangle and organize 20 or maybe even 30 students with different work ethics, motivations (or little to non at all), abilities, and personalities. In our many meetings and trainings with teachers all over the country, we've noticed a common frustration. Teachers are overwhelmed.

Before the uproar that this is their job, they are public employees, and to quit complaining, workload is not necessarily what overwhelms them. They are overwhelmed with the many changes in procedures and programs that change frequently in an attempt to improve achievement, keep up, remediate, and so on. Changes brought on by boards, district representatives, and other higher-ups that sometimes seem to get in the way of teaching. Teachers love teaching. Sure there are exceptions--we've probably all had at least one teacher that left us questioning why they were in this profession because they certainly didn't seem to enjoy it, didn't appear to be particularly good at it, and in some cases, nearly destroyed our trust in all teachers. But overwhelmingly, teachers are very committed people who truly want the most for our kids. Teachers love to teach because they love to engage, inspire and see the "light go on" when a child "gets it." They love to be able to influence for good and watch kids grow and improve their abilities--just like parents do.

So, the question isn't whether teachers are putting enough effort into their work. It is really are they being effective, working smarter--Innovation. One reason why state, district, and school boards introduce changes in programs designed to help is that there is obvious need for change and improvement. We've personally noticed programs called "Double Dosing" (extra hours of work before and after school for certain students), and "Flex Time" (arrangement of students based on ability). We don't discount the need for programs like these--though some provide limited, short-term benefit, can be expensive, or they may simply be able to function more effectively. What we recommend is that there may be easier, more effective methods and solutions. Easier, innovative methods that make the teaching process easier and more effective. Like innovation in technology increased productivity, effeciency, and convenience--typewriter vs. computers.

This also applies to parents and their involvement.

Traditional, and current, methods of parent involvement in education typically involve parent-teacher conferences, volunteering for PTA or PTOs, attending "community council" meetings, providing supplies or the occasional treat for classrooms, serving as room mothers--and perhaps most directly linked to achievement--by volunteering on occasion for tutoring.  While all of these are good and helpful to some degree, research is showing that they have little or no effective on student achievement in the classroom. We have participated in or witnessed first hand many of these parent-involvement methods and have great respect and appreciation for theses services and the people involved. But considering that we as a society have been using these same techniques for years, and achievement results appear to be dropping or plateauing in many areas, perhaps it is time for a change.

A research review done by the Center for Public Education showed these ongoing, traditional methods of parent involvement fail to adequately influence classroom achievement. "Other forms of involvement among Epstein’s six factors (volunteering, attending school events like parent-teacher conferences) appeared to have less direct effect on student achievement..." But the type of parent involvement that does work is involvement linked to achievement. Here are a few of these methods listed from the above linked report by the CPE:

  • Better parent and teacher communication--Parents knowing what is important and emphasized in the class, and teachers knowing what parents are doing at home.
  • Involvement linked to specific desired outcomes--behavior, attendance, goals tied to subject
  • Shared tools--teachers/schools educating parents how to improve achievement at home, "math packets," for example

Aren't these just "one more thing" for teachers to do? Does that mean teachers have to do more by following up on with parents to discover what they really do at home? No. It's not a matter of working harder, doing more, or coming up with new programs, necessarily. It is about working smarter--Innovation.

Innovation in Education

A few years ago Legacy Foundation tested a unique parent-teacher model with 7 public schools in Arizona, Utah, South Dakota, and California. Legacy showed parents and teachers how to more effectively communicate, and it provided a common set of tools for each (activities and instructions for teachers in the classroom and similar tools for parents to use at home) showing parents and teachers how to organize, or to use an academic term, "structure" their environments of influence--home for parents, classroom fore teachers. After the first year, these demonstration schools averaged 5% increase in achievement, and often more in subsequent years. One of these schools located in Arizona that reported a strong emphasis on and commitment to engaging and involving parents and showing them how they can participate experienced an average of more than 14% improvement in that first year. Five percent improvement is a tremendous result for any school. But a double-digit improvement in only one year is amazing. This is what we believe is possible when parents and teachers understand how to work together. 

To make this system of parent-teacher communication and these instructional tools and activities easily available to schools and parents everywhere, www.AchievementSynchrony.com was created. The activities were organized into three primary categories--Character, Achievement, and Learning. Activities organized for classroom and the home environments so teachers and parents could proactively help students practice and improve skills in these three essential areas (Note: improving skills or abilities through practice is the most effective method of improving. If a child needs to change behavior, he/she needs to practice more appropriate skills--Character activity. If a student needs to improve their motivation--practice with Achievement skills.)

This system was titled Achievement Synchrony because Legacy's research showed that synchronized efforts and desired outcomes for parents and teachers is what created a common, unified effort to help students improve achievement--Innovation in education. In answer to the issure of teachers being overwhelmed and frustrated with "one more thing to do," this newly organized system requires approximately 20-30 a minutes a week to implement and it makes their lives and jobs easier. When the home and classroom are structured in this particular way, these environements (home and classroom) influence children to limit poor/distracting behavior and promote positive behavior, and improve their participation to achieve more. Teachers using the system report at least a 50% decrease in behavioral problems in just the first month.

Teachers do work very hard. Parents are involved in education (though more is needed). Effort isn't necessarily the problem. It's the lack of innovation. There are tested and proven systems of improving achievement available. When it comes to our children and their learning and achievement, there isn't an excuse good enough. With the expectations, demands, and influences in the 21st century today, now is the time to get smart. Get innovative. And get together so we can really make a change from old habits and look to innovation to make much needed improvement. The alternative? Keep typing away on the typewriter using whiteout on mistakes and not make use of the innovative power increased efficiency  and convenience of computers...so to speak.

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