It may seem obvious to say that Student Learning is the goal of schooling. In some schools, however, the belief that all children can succeed--regardless of race or ethnicity, native language, poverty, or special needs--is lacking. Sadly, the achievement in these schools reflects this belief. But research has shown, time and time again, that given the right supports and strategies, every child can learn. These supports and strategies include:

A balance between student support and academic press. Schools exemplify the potential for change when support for students and families is at the forefront of school improvement efforts. “Helping students deal with their own personal challenges improve student connections to the school, and facilitating this support throughout the entire staff means that the likelihood of a student-to-adult connection can be increased,” observed an MSU K-12 Outreach staffer. But while student support is very important, work with Michigan schools revealed that a similar focus needs to be placed on academic achievement. Our experience shows that sometimes a school that excells at providing a caring and supportive climate and culture for students are hesitant to stress academics. But poor academic achievement of the students in a school is evidence that student learning needs equal time and effort. “There needs to be a balance with academic structure, curriculum and rigor,” observed an MSU K-12 specialist. One way to do this is to involve students in their own data. Several Michigan schools have adopted a system where students track their own data in notebooks. This gives them ownership of their data…and their learning. In some schools, students knew where they were in every subject in relation to where they needed to be

High-quality, student-centered teaching. The quality of classroom instruction is critical to student learning; in fact, it's the most important factor in student learning. It makes sense, then, that successful schools have systems in place to: monitor the quality of instruction in every classroom; provide ongoing, job-embedded professional development for all teachers; and create collaborative and collegial mechanisms for lesson planning and data review.

A high-quality, rigorous and aligned curriculum. This curriculum, related assessments and instructional strategies should be aligned to state standards, as well as within grade levels in a school and across a district. In addition, curricula and assessments should be vertically aligned from grade to grade. That is, each grade's curriculum should build upon the previous grade's curriculum so students work on expanding their skills and knowledge in a coherent fashion.

The articles and videos in this category of MSU K-12 Connect will explore these multifaceted dimensions of student learning.

In Harvard Business School, Sheryl Sandberg was the only woman in her class who received a prestigious academic award, but kept it a secret. She believed school life would be easier if she wasn't identified as "the smart girl," a problem her male peers never faced, who were able to speak openly about their accolades. In her New York Times bestseller Lean In, Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, shares her continuous struggle to cope with the lifelong pressure of being a "smart girl," which started as early as high school when she asked the yearbook club to remove her title as "most likely to succeed."

According to EdWeek, 62 big-city school systems have pledged support to President Obama's "My Brother's Keeper" initiative dedicated to improving academic outcomes for African-American and Latino males.1 But keeping this pledge will require educators, throughout Michigan and across the nation, to address the often uncomfortable issues around how they feel about and deal with young males of color. It also means moving beyond negative stereotypes and preconceptions. According to Dr. Darron T. Smith, "Negative representations of African-American males are readily visible and conveyed to the public through the news, film, music videos, reality television and other programming and forms of media."2

When Dorinda Carter Andrews was a high school teacher, she was her own worst critic about how issues of culture, power and privilege impacted her teaching. She devoted time and energy toward reflective practice and trained to be a more effective multicultural educator. Now an associate professor at Michigan State University (MSU), Carter Andrews shared in last month’s MI Toolkit article strategies to become a more effective multicultural educator which, she says, is “not an option but a must” to serve all student demographics.

murphyBook Author: Joseph Murphy and Daniela Torre (2012)

Following up on previous work on school improvement that stresses the importance of academic press and school culture (Murphy, 2010), Murphy and Torre's Creating Productive Cultures in Schools illustrates the role of leadership and community in the pursuit of strengthened school culture. This book starts with the characterization of a model for building a personalized community within and around schools that emphasizes a leadership engine that both overcomes liabilities and builds on assets. The book then turns to practices of collaboration in professional culture and analyzes successful frameworks and models for creating communities of teacher professionals. For readers, Murphy and Torre split attention between the "'what'— ingredients that define professional learning culture" (p. viii) and the 'how'—dimensions of capital (knowledge and cultural) that deepen professional norms and attitudes (Murphy and Torre, 2014).

Focus schools across Michigan are tackling issues surrounding achievement gaps. To address these issues, district and school leaders are charged with developing and implementing strategic interventions that will improve the quality of instruction for all students and reduce achievement gaps. MSU K-12 Outreach is proud to highlight the efforts of Leslie Public Schools. Leslie’s efforts are notable not only because they are working to change teaching and learning in their two Focus schools, but also because they have used the Focus designation to reinvent the way they plan and lead school improvement across the district.

While only the elementary and middle schools were designated as Focus schools, Leslie’s district and school leaders have taken this as an opportunity to assess and address what they see as district-wide needs.  After looking at their data for all schools, identifying where there were gaps in student learning, and holding discussions with all stakeholders, Leslie identified possible strategies to address those gaps.  

The video you see here was taken at a professional development day where teachers and administrators came together with their MI Excel facilitator to concentrate on differentiated instructional strategies that Leslie’s K-12 instructional staff has decided will have the greatest impact on learning for all students.

Although Leslie never wanted to be a Focus district, the administration and teachers have embraced the designation and have rallied to improve teacher collaboration and use of data, leading to improved instruction that will benefit all students. Leslie Public Schools is an example of leadership fostering district-wide momentum that other districts can look to as a model for embracing change.

 This article was written with contribution from:

author blairBlair Anstey is a Research Assistant with Michigan State University’s College of Education, Office of K-12 Outreach. She is a 3rd year doctoral student in the K-12 Administration program. Blair’s research interests include leadership practices when faced with policy initiatives such as the Michigan focus school designation. She is a recent recipient of MSU’s new Urban Education certificate program and an EPFP alumnus. Prior to attending MSU, Blair was the Assistant Elementary School Headmaster at the American School in Switzerland. Her professional experiences also include work as the Technology and Math Director at TASIS and an elementary classroom teacher in Massachusetts for four years. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and Human Development from Boston College and her masters of education in Education Technology and Media from Boston University.

author beverlyBryan Beverly is a Research Assistant with Michigan State University's College of Education, Office of K-12 Outreach. He is a 2nd year student in the Educational Policy program. Prior to returning to MSU, Bryan served as an education consultant for school districts and alternative education systems assisting in the development, implementation, and assessment of education initiatives. His professional experiences include work with the Lansing School District; KRA Corporation; the President's Council of State Universities, Michigan; the Michigan Association of Counties; MSU GEAR-UP; and the State of Michigan−Office of the Governor (Granholm). Bryan is a lifelong Lansing resident and holds a BA in Sociology from Olivet College and a MA in Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education Administration from Michigan State University. He takes pride in the quality of education he received and is passionate about providing similar impactful experiences with students in today’s urban schools. This guides his research interests: urban education, governance and policy formation, and access. Bryan is actively engaged in his community, currently serving on the Lansing Housing Commission and the Greater Lansing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission.

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