Magic is defined as influencing the course of events through unusual means. If you followed sports in the 80’s you would remember Earvin “Magic” Johnson doing amazing things on the basketball court. Music artists have written countless songs depicting “magic” in their lives and the lives of others. What created the “magical growth” in our staff and school community is the change process that I will be sharing. This recent school year, we were awarded as a School of Momentum by the Ohio Department of Education. The “magic” is we improved our school from an “F” rated school to a “C” rated school. We are an urban school with a 100% free/reduced lunch population and 76% minority. Two years ago, I challenged my staff to look at a new math philosophy to change the systematic instruction of students in mathematics. This process was not just one strategy but a plethora of immediate formative assessment practices. We wanted to shift the learning process in mathematics from teacher-directed instruction to the gradual release of teacher control. Teachers began videotaping their lessons and sharing them with students prior to instruction. This allowed our staff to work at alternative pacing with different learners. It also allowed our educators to be mathematical coaches. Instead of teaching students the teacher’s way of solving the problems, the students were developing their own strategies with the guidance of an educator. We noticed that through this process, students began to remember more of what they learned and were able to apply it on assessments. The “magic” of this model entailed embedding John Hattie’s highest effect size practice into the classroom. We chose to focus on the most applicable practice for immediate student growth which was the self-reporting of student grades. The IM3 model that was created embedded John Hattie’ self-reporting of grades strategy, organically. This allowed for very little professional development as we were not looking to change a teacher's style, but a different mindset and delivery of content. Thus, the creation of (IM3) or Instructional Model of Mastery in Mathematics. The students and teachers were beginning to experience the magic!
Magic must also come from the administrator. The climate and the culture of a building starts with you, the administrator. You set the tone each and every day and determine the mood of teachers and students prior to them attending class. Students will behave and your culture will change when they believe you advocate for them. Behavior improves when students know that “YOU” care. “You have the “magic” to improve your culture by your actions.” Wouldn’t it be easier to mentor and advocate for the students? You can improve your school just by focusing on that one thing. Teachers need support in behavior management and modification, as it is something that can be done frequently and consistently with your support. Anytime you are asking your staff to make a systemic change in instruction, you need to be present through the process and support the needs of the staff. This was a critical first step in changing our entire buildings philosophy on student-led learning.
“If a movement is to have an impact it must belong to those who join it not just those who lead it,” Simon Sinek. I was ready to move the school forward and knew that I needed staff support. The climate and culture of the school was ready for the model. A few ways you can improve your staff culture and morale are by celebrating your teachers and their achievements in genuine ways. In my book “Five Phases of Successful Urban Leadership”. I discuss numerous ways to celebrate educators and create more buy-in for your new initiatives. One way to improve staff morale is to share leadership. Nothing creates staff cohesiveness more than having teacher leaders as a part of the process. After ingraining shared leadership in my thought process, I would then share all decisions with my teacher leaders. This empowers teachers to discuss and debate this new initiative to ensure we were doing what was best for all parties involved. Using this type of leadership, I was able to ask staff to implement a new model with fidelity in the middle grades. When I mentor principals, I emphatically state anything that changes and impacts student achievement, or safety is a decision you need to cast quickly. Let your teacher leaders make the decisions that are best for the school. If you allow teacher leaders to make decisions, it builds your staff leadership capacity immensely and creates more advocates for the mission of driving student achievement.
Some of the “magic” lies in the design I use to support my educators:
1.) Reach out to local business communities and solicit volunteers. You want volunteers to come to your school on a weekly basis and work with your students who struggle, as well as with your high achieving students. Every time an adult volunteer comes to your building and works with a child, the child has an advocate and mentor. That is 30-45 minutes of individual attention spent on that child. Imagine if you had 20 volunteers each week? Through hard work and networking, we have over 50 volunteers who come weekly or biweekly to support the “magic” of learning in the classroom.
2.) Parent engagement is a key component of school success. Parent events should occur on a monthly basis and should be educational. One of the key “magical” moments we had was when we conducted a book study with 4th through 7th-grade girls and their parents. We read and discussed the book “Girls Without Limits” by Lisa Hinkleman. This created a shared discussion and became a “magic” change event for parents and their students.
3.) Community Involvement should be a year-long process. Create “magic” through monthly engineering design projects that impact the community. For example, we conduct recycling, food waste/reduction, paper towel waste, milk waste, senior citizen projects, etc. Make sure to let district personnel, school board members and local news media know what exciting events are happening at your school.
4.) Support your educators! Remove minutia from their plate so they can use their magic in the classroom. Every educator went to school to impact students, not to do meaningless paperwork that could be completed by a volunteer or support personnel. Teaching doesn't burn teachers out, behavior and non-teaching items do. When you have a teacher that has that magical touch, support them and ensure they have every tool they need. Walkthroughs, discussions with students, parent conversations all support the educator and allow more student achievement to occur!
How did I find my why or magic to lead this new initiative? I have always had a passion for helping children, as well as a love of mathematics. As I was reading Rick Warren’s book on Purpose Driven Life and John Maxwell’s numerous leadership books, it occurred to me that I had the skill set and hardworking aptitude that would impact students. I knew if I took the same vigor I did in the business world and worked with urban children through collaboration, the status quo could be changed. I would wake up in the morning and think of a powerful John Maxwell quote such as “Each day is an unrepeatable miracle. Today will never happen again, so we must make it count." Disruptive innovation must occur in education for the status quo to be challenged. We are striving each minute of every day to improve the lives of all students. The goal has not been reached, but we are moving closer to the goal line, which is all of our Magical Wishes!!
Jack Hunter and his amazing staff instruct daily at Chase STEMM Academy in Toledo, Ohio. They have presented around the tristate area and Hunter has been a keynote conference speaker on Urban Leadership and currently mentors numerous Urban Leaders. If you are interested in visiting the school or learning more about the IM3 model, publications are available on his website or Amazon.com. Be sure to look for his books “The Five Phases of Successful Urban Leadership” and “Mastery-Based Learning in Mathematics” which was co-authored with one of his amazing educators. Contact Jack for more info at firstname.lastname@example.org