From the Principal

No Silver Bullet

In this, the age of great change and scientific achievements, we have become so used to great strides forward that we seem to have developed a sense that for every problem there must be a silver bullet or miracle cure. And if there isn’t, there should be!

This can lead to single incidents quickly become crises in people’s minds and then they tend to catastrophise.

Catastrophize (British catastrophise). VERB. View or present a situation as considerably worse than it actually is. Oxford Living Dictionary.

Another alternative is that when, when a silver bullet is not immediately produced, some people become outraged. Note the term “immediately”.

The fact is making things better sometimes takes time, effort and perseverance, things that do not make great media bites in our current 24 hour news cycle.

When SCAS first made the Top 100 schools in the Higher School Certificate, I was asked by other principals how we did it, so they could copy our success. My answer that Year 12 success begins several years before the actual sitting of the examinations was not appreciated by those who wanted a simple answer and the key to immediate HSC success.

So, when the media actually tells a story of perseverance, determination and a process that took years, not minutes, to achieve its goals and it is about a school, my interest is piqued.

The Age/Sydney Morning Herald reported a story about a school in Narre Warren, titled ‘A big ship to turn around’: The school that changed course. (Anna Prytz).

Here is the story of a school facing great challenges in terms of socio-economic disadvantage and failure, turning itself around to become a benchmark school, offering an example of educational change for the better.

No magic bullet, no instant success. This process took over three years!

Not only is the story inspiring, it tells us much about how a school can be excellent if you set out to do the right things (the things that really make a difference), work hard at making them part of your culture, and not giving up.

It felt good just reading it. Imagine how the community around that school must feel!

Though we are not in the same state – geographically, economically, culturally or environmentally – as the school in the article, there are some affirming insights to be found in their success for St Columba and its community. For me these are:

  • Self reflection → Look at what the problems are and make sure you are not falling into the habit of responding to issues with knee-jerk reactions but constantly working to identify and address the real problems.
  • Change what doesn’t work → If you’ve always done it this way and it isn’t working, change it!
  • Ensuring all staff teach in the same way so as to give students stability and help kids whose behaviour was disruptive → Teachers’ capacity and desire to teach the way they want can sometimes lead to inconsistency and leave gaps in learning. While we honour the originality, skills and passion of our teachers, the School’s responsibility to ensure consistent professional delivery of teaching and learning (particularly in the basics like literacy and numeracy), student safety and supporting positive socialisation trump individual concerns.
  • A safe place → We have to do our best to make the school a safe place for students (and staff). That means not only managing physical dangers but taking steps to make our school a place where students feel safe from physical and psychological nastiness and where teachers are protected from parents who overstep the mark and take advocacy for their child into the realm of outrage, threat and even bullying.

A comment in the article actually summarises the key to what we are trying to achieve here at SCAS: 

“We’re about an orderly learning environment where kids genuinely feel safe, where the teachers are in charge, where there are consequences for disruptive behaviour.”

 The Narre Warren school example tells us that if you get these right you can expect:

  • Improved student engagement
  • Improved attendance
  • Improved academic results

Learning happens in an environment and the more welcoming, well organised and safe an environment is, the better the opportunities for learning and success.

“Where schools and teachers can make mistakes is focusing on teaching before an orderly learning environment. We worked together to focus on improving the classroom, so the kids could pay attention and the teachers could feel confident they could manage.”  Rob Duncan,  Principal Narre Warren P-12 School.

A significant body of educational  research shows that Mr Duncan is correct, and how we manage our learning environment really does make a difference to our academic results.

How important is classroom management in improving student achievement?

Why is this question important? It is common knowledge among teachers that classroom management is an essential skill for teacher survivability and student success. Unfortunately, common knowledge isn’t always accurate and educators must verify hunches with objective research. Research conducted over the past 30 years confirms that classroom management is truly a core ingredient of effective teaching. Effective classroom management’s effect on student success has been determined to be one of the most powerful skills teachers need to master their vocation.

Result(s): The overall impact of classroom management on student achievement was determined to have an effect size of 0.521. The results were gleaned from research on 553 students in five studies. The research showed a 20% increase in achievement after systematic rules and procedures were implemented.

Four components of classroom management were identified and analyzed in a variety of studies: rules and procedures, disciplinary interventions, teacher-student relationships, and mental set. These studies found that teachers who used effective classroom management strategies had good days and bad days, as is true of any teacher. However, the average number of disruptions in classrooms using effective classroom management was substantially less than in classrooms not employing effective procedures. Over the course of a year, effective management practices resulted in classrooms with increased time dedicated to teaching and an environment more conducive to learning.

  • Rules and procedures were examined in research on 626 students in 10 studies. The implementation of systematic rules and procedures resulted in a 28% drop in disruptive incidents.
  • Disciplinary interventions were analyzed in 68 studies of 3,322 students. Their use resulted in a 32% decrease in disruptions.
  • Teacher-student relationships were reviewed in 4 studies of 1,110 students. Mastery of these relationships brought about a 31% drop in disruptive incidents.
  • Mental set was looked at in 5 studies of 502 students. A good mental set resulted in a 40% decrease in disruptions.

Author(s): Robert J. Marzano, Jana S. Marzano, and Debra J. Pickering

Summary: At SCAS we need to make sure we keep doing the things that are working for our students and not get distracted by educational wars, politics and the desire for immediate fixes if anything is difficult or does not go right.

Mr Terry Muldoon
Principal, St Columba Anglican School

Related posts
From the Principal

Who is teaching what?

From the Principal

Think before you attack

From the Principal

Educating for the future

From the Principal

Principal's Blog