School Improvement Building Blocks:  Systems, Instruction, and Relationships

Schools have always been about instruction.  But it seems like in the age of accountability with report cards and school/country comparisons the pendulum has swung to instruction and instruction only.  Our principals have to be instructional leaders.  Please don’t get me wrong, instruction should be the main focus.  My issue is that relationships and systems have been hidden from focus and denied their just due.  Fortunately, some balance is being restored with our focus on developing the whole child as evidenced by the continued rise of SEL and RTI/MTSS.  All three school improvement building blocks (systems, instruction, and relationships) must be emphasized.  


But what is instruction?!  How do we get everyone to have both the illusive and magical art of teaching and still have the science of it as well?!  With such variety in pedagogy, charter/public/private, urban/rural, learning styles, teaching styles, single gender, inclusion, etc. etc. how do we get teaching and learning right for all children?  This entry does not proclaim to have the answers but I do believe we can get it “righter” LOL.  So what do we do to improve teaching and learning? One step is to rethink the summer and other schedules.  We can reconsider when our intense professional learning days occur.  It is crucial that we work to provide real training, practices/scrimmages if you will, prior to the season begins.  We are then able to make adjustments prior to when a child’s life trajectory is determined by our strengths and weaknesses.  To continue the sports metaphor, we can schedule “by-weeks” for intense school-level training sessions throughout the year.  


Systems–The entire building supports teaching and learning.  If the school lacks systems then the school is the proverbial bucket with holes in it. As you set quality people and initiatives in place much of the impact is lost because of the lack of systems.  To prevent students among other things from falling through the cracks, construct effective systems to get things done.  What typically occurs is that we try this and that and build and improve a system over time.  But time is even more precious in a school.  Every minute, hour, and day is affecting the life of a child, a family’s future, and the village’s well-being.  So we can’t afford to waste time with so much trial and error.  Furthermore, in education we try a program or intervention and then change the next year because we didn’t attain the desired results.  But it is quite possible that it wasn’t the program but rather the lack of an effective implementation system.  


Relationships–Every aspect of the schoolhouse factory is human based.  Students, our products, if you will, are humans.  The human machinery juggles between having both the art and science of teaching in order to reach all students.  Of course, our managers are human.  Needless to say, relationship building (dare I say destroying but that is for a later discussion) permeates everything we do.  In other words, there is no real teaching and learning without relationships.  How do we take a complex concept such as relationships and make it doable in a school.  These are all things that all school stakeholders must know but especially the administrators who are responsible for the culture and climate.

Without teachers and especially administrators focusing on these three areas:  Systems, Instruction, and Relationships, our educators will continue to be burnt out and lack a strong self efficacy, and students and schools will fail.  This is just the beginning of what I hope to be a conversation about improving schools.  I look forward to having conversations that flesh this out more and places meat on these bones.