How to Develop School Reform Policies that Work

Many school administrators enter the field hell-bent on making a name for themselves and refusing to live in the shadows of their predecessors. Often, they feel as though their only choice is to go in a totally different direction, making the previous school reform mandates null and void. This situation creates frustration among the surviving faculty and staff. The changes of the new administrators often happen before they fully think about the consequences or repercussions of their actions. Perfectly competent adults massage their egos instead of thinking about what is in the best interests of the school, the teachers and the children.

To be fair, part of the reason that most administrators take the jobs they do is because they want to make a difference and blaze new trails. As teachers, it may have been difficult to implement the change they really wanted to see – but as administrators, that path is more straightforward. Taking the time to develop a well-thought-out plan, and keeping policies of merit in place, makes a big difference in the well-being of any school community, though. So how should administrators looking for school reform proceed?

Start with a plan.

When initiating reform, an action plan must be developed before the school can determine how the reform implementation will be carried out. Too often, administrators become anxious and feel the need to change the implementation processes before any data has been collected. It is best to examine all the moving parts before making the decision to start from scratch on any initiative.

Allow time for the plan to work.

It is counterproductive to start one reform and then decide to start another several months later. Some school districts revert to a model proven to be ineffective due to impatience and the desire for quick results. Once reform has been implemented, all parties involved must show fidelity to one reform until there is concrete data or evidence that indicates the reform is effective or ineffective. Reform is about creating an environment in which students are the priority and we as their teachers assist them in starting and finishing their journey to becoming educated citizens.

Be okay with some setbacks.

Strategic planning and the implementation of school reform sometimes require schools to absorb temporary setbacks in order to reap the benefits of long-term gains. Student progress might dip for a month or two before teachers and administration see a significant gain in student learning and performance. Teachers and administrators need to allow change to take place and not panic when instant significant changes are not apparent.

Don’t compare.

Model schools can be found in every major city, but when trying to recreate their successes, many schools fail to achieve the same results. Trying to recreate another school’s success is potentially dangerous, even when schools share similar characteristics. This is because, regardless of the similarities, every district is unique. Often, after a large amount of time, energy, and money has been spent, the school declares the plan a failure and has nothing to show for the efforts.

Stay focused.

Too many plans to change can be as dangerous as not having a plan at all. Strategic plans are a district’s consistent road map, even in the face of overturning staff or administration. The plan will also serve as documentation when the federal government looks into accountability. In this way, schools should glean what they can from the efforts of other schools to implement and sustain change. In the end, a strategic plan that reflects the culture and needs of the individual school is likely a better route than attempts to replicate the efforts at another school, or a plan that is over-zealous for the wrong reasons.

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