Ontario’s education system is world-renowned for its focus on student achievement and strategic leadership. Evidence of their student success can be taken from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores. Canada ranks among the top 5 countries in the world and Ontario, being the largest province in Canada, accounts for much of those prestigious results.
Among the highest achieving districts in Ontario is the York Region District School Board which the CEO Bill Hogarth and Lyn Sharratt, then Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, led. Its improvement went from below-average scores to the top performing district in Ontario (using a standards-based measure, EQAO). “Align – Focus – Feedback” are 3 powerful words that they used to drive their district’s singular priority of literacy—that is, increased language and mathematical literacy achievement for all students, Kindergarten to grade 12.
Subsequently, Sharratt and Michael Fullan researched and wrote about this phenomenal improvement. What they discovered in their research became known as the 14 Parameters for System and School Improvement as captured in Realization: The Change Imperative for District-Wide Reform. (Corwin Press, 2009). The 14 Parameters are listed here:
- Shared beliefs and understandings
- All students can learn
- All teachers can teach
- High expectations and early intervention are critical
- All teachers and leaders can clearly articulate why they do what they do
- Embedded literacy coaches
- Time-tabled instructional blocks of time
- Principal leadership
- Early and ongoing intervention
- Case Management approach
- Literacy professional development at school staff meetings
- In-school grade/subject meetings for collaborative marking of student work
- Book rooms with leveled books and resources
- Allocation of district and school budgets for literacy learning and resources
- Action Research/Collaborative Inquiry focused on literacy
- Parent involvement
- Cross-curricular literacy connections in every subject area
- Shared responsibility and accountability for ALL learners
When all 14 areas are woven together – and implemented intentionally, they become the secret to increasing all students’ achievement and the “sandbox” for designing powerful, explicit professional learning, as discussed in their second book, “Putting FACES on the Data: What Great Leaders Do!” (Corwin Press, 2012).
What leadership dimensions does it take to do this work? In asking over 500 research participants, they discuss 3 things that Principals and district staff need:
- Knowledge-ability: what excellent classroom practice looks like and how to eliminate the obstacles to make it happen
- Mobilize-ability: how to create a “we-we” culture of learning as a lead learner
- Sustain-ability: how to leave great leaders in place to continue to do the work, long after they’re gone
A focus on student FACES is our work – every day, in every school, in every way. It IS possible!
Lyn Sharratt, Ph.D., is an Associate at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at University of Toronto (OISE/UT), where she coordinates the Ed.D. cohort in Theory and Policy Studies. She had worked as a teacher, curriculum consultant, teacher-trainer, public education policy analyst and superintendent of schools in the Ontario school district.