When talking about school improvement plans, many educators’ minds go to the annual plan that a school must complete and submit to a state department of education sharing how the school will improve from one year to another. My initial thoughts when I hear school improvement plan go that direction. However, a school improvement plan does not have to be a mandate. A school improvement plan may be just what it is: a way to improve one’s school from one year to another, which is growth. A school improvement plan helps bring forth/reiterates a school’s vision, analyzes school needs, determines action for needs, and implementation.
What is a School Improvement Plan?
According to the North Carolina Department of Education (2013), a school improvement plan is “a road map that sets out the changes a school needs to make to improve the level of student achievement and shows how and when these changes will be made” (p. 18). A school improvement plan identifies weaknesses in schools to provide action to strengthen them and make strengths in schools stronger. School improvement plans must focus on quality school development by utilizing data analysis, stakeholder feedback (teachers, staff, students, etc.), and sound implementation processes.
Where You Should Start
Before delving into a school improvement plan, schools should identify improvement areas and prioritize improvement needs (Hanover Research, 2014). Identifying and prioritizing needs give schools opportunities to narrow their focus on school improvement rather than being overwhelmed by numerous factions that have need. By prioritizing, bigger need areas that are addressed may help alleviate other identified school improvement needs.
Identify Your School Vision.
Identifying or refreshing a school’s vision is a vital aspect in school improvement. A school’s vision is the ultimate purpose of the school while its mission is the actions to fulfill the purpose. By identifying the school’s vision, the school’s improvement areas/needs will be focused through the lens of the school’s vision. An example of this would be a high school’s vision for all students to graduate while an area of need is attendance. The school would set aspects of the improvement plan on how to increase attendance and how it will impact graduation rate.
Analyze What You Need.
School analysis through school vision helps educators/administrators get a big picture of the school. School improvement plans help educators find strengths and weaknesses. It helps educators see not only what is not working, but also what is working. Through positive analysis of what is working, positive reinforcement/encouragement will guide school administrators as they analyze need areas. If one always focuses on what is not working, it is hard to find what is working. Analysis and improvement are not about field inspecting, but rather treasure hunting.
Determine Your Action Items.
Once needs are analyzed, determine what actions the school is going to implement to improve the needs. If attendance is a major issue, the school will need to implement into the plan how they plan on improving/solving this issue for the next school year. An example would be setting up chronically absent at-risk meetings and continuous phone communication by an attendance designee. An attendance designee may be a counselor, administrator, teacher leader, and/or any staff member designated by the principal.
Rewards and incentives are other action items that schools may determine if attendance is an issue. For example, schoolwide rewards such as if the entire school’s chronically absent rate is 9% at May 1st, the student body will be rewarded with popcorn and a half day of free time. Individual incentives would be drawings for prizes for perfect attendance and/or students that decreased their absenteeism by 2% from the previous school year.
Communicate the Plan.
I have used the example of attendance multiple times already in identifying a need and determining action because it hits home. As a high school principal, attendance is an area of need in my building. With that shared, if attendance is the need area, let all school stakeholders know. School administrators need to emphasis the need area(s) to teachers, staff, and students from the beginning of a school year to the end.
Also, let parents know. I am learning every day that if you communicate effectively, areas communicated strengthen. Let your parents know that attendance is a focus, why it is a focus, and action steps to better include needing their help. Most stakeholders want the best for their students and the school.
Along with communicating the need areas, communicate with stakeholders the progress throughout the school year. If attendance is getting better, let them know and celebrate! If it is staying the same or getting worse, let stakeholders know as well so they can help. You can never go wrong by over-communicating!
School improvement plans can either be a state-mandated checklist or a road map of change for success. The 2020-2021 school year has shown educators that improvement can happen and is needed continuously. From virtual learning to quarantines, educators have faced the reality that school improvement plans are needed to become real.
I have seen some great things come from this school year through effective planning, flexibility, and evolving. It has also helped on preparing a school improvement plan for the 2021-2022 school year. I encourage all of us to take time preparing our school improvement plans, as we have learned greatly over the past year that we never know when our areas of need may change and/or strengths may get stronger.