As a part of our focus on the 2023-24 back to school season, we heard from education leaders about how they are planning for a successful school year. This blog covers how one Louisiana assistant principal and her leadership team developed a four step process for setting and achieving school goals through collaboration with other educators at the NIET Summer Institute.
School is back, which means students, teachers and leaders alike are visualizing how the year is going to look. Districts and schools who partner with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) got a head start this summer during the NIET Summer Institute, which served as a catalyst to brainstorm with and learn from other educators on a topic critical to every school’s success: creating school goals and a plan to achieve them.
Lashonda Jones, assistant principal at Morehouse Elementary School in Morehouse Parish, Louisiana, said the experience equipped her team to hit the ground running when classes started again. Utilizing the Summer Institute training, Jones identified four critical steps she and her team use to achieve their goals: analyze data to identify student needs, set goals for student learning, create a plan to meet goals, and establish a monitoring process that allows for adjustments over the course of the year.
1) Analyze student data
The first step to creating a goal is to understand what needs to improve. Jones and her instructional leadership team used their time together at the Summer Institute to analyze student data and build a common understanding of their goals in two key areas - reading and literacy.
“We wanted to be intentional about taking a deep dive into our student data,” Jones said. “We take a look at the quantitative data to ensure that we understand what our needs are, and we look at the qualitative data to determine how we plan to address those needs.”
A key part of their plan is to identify data that can be measured throughout the school year, giving teachers and leaders a tangible reference point for progress. Working with educators from other districts during the Summer Institute allowed Jones and her team to learn how other educators analyze student data and use data to inform their school goals.
“I’ll have to admit - when I found out that we would be in some of the breakout sessions with some of the districts who have been working with NIET for a number of years, and then you have us who are at the very beginning stage of improving our goal setting and planning process, I kind of felt a little intimidated,” she confessed, then smiled. “However, I quickly learned to not feel that way at all.”
By collaborating with other districts and sharing resources and ideas for measuring and staying accountable to goals, Jones and her team produced a cohesive plan for various grade levels in their school. This document is their game plan for measuring success and reaching student achievement goals.
2) Set school goals
Jones and her instructional leadership team landed on two goals for this school year:
- Focus on improving ELA School Performance Scores for grades 3-6
- Focus on improving the number of students who scored above or on grade level by the end of the year DIBELS literacy test for grades K-3.
Creating written goals with specific measurements based on data helps set schools up for success by providing concrete expectations rooted in student and teacher data that provide the foundation for action steps to achieve those goals.
Building goals around specific student outcomes also aligns and focuses the work for every layer of leadership - from teachers to teacher leaders, principals and district leaders.
Jones’ and her instructional leadership team constructed their goals and school plan to build capacity among leadership team members to provide clear and consistent guidance for teachers – keeping everyone on the same page in terms of what the school goals are and how to meet them.
“We have certain leadership team members who are experts in one subject matter and can really help us all understand exactly what our expectations are,” Jones said. “We want to make sure that we have clear expectations for our staff, as well as to ensure that we are all speaking the same common language. It’s very important for us to build that capacity amongst each other before delivering this information to our teachers.”
3) Make a plan
Once school goals are defined, the next step is to develop clear actions to achieve them. Jones and her team crafted a step-by-step blueprint on how to meet their goals, while staying accountable and monitoring progress during the school year.
Jones’ team drew inspiration from other district and school leaders that have goal measuring systems in place that have been improved year over year. Another district offered insight into how Morehouse Elementary School could ensure it was guiding teachers in analyzing student work on a regular basis during the year, which was a key point of focus for Jones when thinking about the new school year.
In preparation for modeling expectations for staff, Jones and her team are taking a “go-first” approach for their plan.
“We will be able to demonstrate that ‘you go first’ mentality. We’ll be able to go in and model the expectations that we have all worked together to create in order to make sure that our staff have the support that they need,” Jones said. “Whether that is in our weekly cluster (collaborative learning) meetings, making sure that we’re delivering and explaining how instructional materials can help support strong lessons, or working alongside them in their classrooms with students.”
4) Monitor progress
By focusing on and monitoring real-time student data and progress, Morehouse Elementary School leaders plan to respond and adjust their approach based on the use of more current data than they used in the past. Rather than waiting for annual assessment data, the team will have the information it needs to support teachers who are facing challenges with their content or curriculum, who need help with classroom instructional practices, or those who are looking for support to meet the needs of each student. This plan creates an expectation and capacity for leadership team members to provide personalized, hands-on coaching to help meet overall goals and achieve success this year, Jones explained.
“Struggling teachers need more than just observation and feedback,” Jones said. “Sometimes they need to be shown exactly what the clear expectation is so that everybody can be on the same page.”
Analyzing data throughout the school year will help Morehouse Elementary School leaders ensure that they are helping teachers meet the needs of every student.
“One of the major takeaways that we took from the Summer Institute was that we need to consistently analyze the data that we have within our school,” Jones said. “Not just at the beginning or the middle or the end of the year, but we need to consistently analyze data and student work - whether that’s monthly or weekly.”
Moving forward, Jones and her team will use the four-step plan to build common purpose among the faculty, and together take the steps necessary to achieve their goals.
“It was great to be able to come together and collaborate and network with other districts. In the beginning stages they probably faced some of the same challenges we face, but now that they have been implementing NIET (strategies) for a number of years they’re able to share what works for them and how it could possibly help other educators,” Jones said. “Overall our experience was amazing - we feel focused and prepared and ready to meet our goals this year.”
NIET has partnered with schools, districts, states, and universities to ensure all students have effective educators for more than 20 years. Its work to develop teacher leaders, support successful instructional strategies, and build educator capacity to address student needs have served more than 9,000 schools and have impacted more than 300,000 teachers and 3 million students.