School Improvement Plans – Not too pretty and that’s a good thing!

I’ve spent the last week or so thinking deeply about something in which all schools in Ontario take part; the drafting of the School Improvement Plan (SIP). This is the direction that a school sets for itself, based on what we know about the needs of our students, the directions of our School Board, and the focus of our Ministry of Education, which provides us with excellent curriculum and supporting documents (as well as personnel), to make schools as successful as possible.

I have to be honest.  I’ve had a variety of experiences with the SIP and often it’s been something we did at the beginning of the year with/for the principal, presumably to be handed in to the superintendent — never to be referred to again.

I’m glad to see that those days are over!  I’m learning that the SIP is now a central focus of the school and there is a lot of freedom in how it might be approached and co-constructed with the voices of all of the school community involved.   It will be an organic document that will become the focus of my work as an administrator and therefore it might look a bit messy at times.  I’m okay with this, as real learning is often a messy process.   The SIP allows the principal to help staff define student needs, and as a result, collaboratively decide on some needs for teacher learning as well.   As a working document, it allows the principal to engage staff in a process of taking manageable, cumulative steps towards school improvement in the following areas:

  1. Enhancing the way curriculum is ‘presented’  to students (I prefer to use the word presented rather than ‘delivered’)
  2. Creating a positive school environment
  3. Increasing the involvement of parents

There is a lot of support from the Ministry and from our own Board staff to help me implement this process with staff,  including some of the following recommendations:

  • surveying staff, students and parents about school climate
  • collecting data from a variety of sources
  • involving staff in setting directions
  • collaboratively deciding where we want to go and how we will get there

Since an effective SIP is a 3-year plan that is iterative and involving collaborative inquiry on the part of teachers, I will probably be inheriting a SIP that is in progress. I will need to embrace this direction positively and respectfully and yet figure out my role as a change agent within that school by listening to, and getting to know, staff and students.   I believe that effective administrators embrace and nurture change through their involvement in helping teachers see and understand how they are making a huge difference to students through their focus on school wide improvement.  Helping to set clear and realistic goals, providing conditions that provide teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to do their jobs well, removing distracting obstacles, and helping to monitor progress and celebrate successes will be an exciting part of making my school a better place to learn!

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3 comments

  1. Hello, My name is Sébastien. I’m a teacher and parent in Toronto. I think it’s a great idea to post about your experience with the SIP online. I find that the improvement plans reflect positively on the school, and the emphasis on collaboration. I get the impression though that the improvement is somewhat offloaded from the back of government and onto school community – even though the funding is provincial and itemized on a per student basis to facilitate liberalizing schools. I find this outsourcing of responsibility for creating a learning society particularly disturbing given a recent speech by Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz at the World Bank about what actually entails creating a learning society. A learning society genuinely contributing innovations to the knowledge economy must not be closed to the limits of a local community. Rather, knowledge has to be free-flowing and public so that in this exchange of knowledge, new innovative ideas are created. In essence, the closed local nature of a community, can have the paradoxical opposite effect of improving the school as this is not simply a resource allocation problem to adjust to local needs, but a problem of a different nature with broad-based benefits across different sectors of the economy.

  2. Hi Sebastien,
    Thanks so much for your response here! I’m currently taking my Principal’s Qualifications so I’m just beginning my journey in looking at SIPs from a different point of view. I do love what you point out about funding to schools being a way to allow for some liberalization or individualization based on community need. You’ve pointed me to some new learning by mentioning Joseph Stiglitz and I will certainly check that out. What you mention about his call for free-flowing and public interchange of knowledge reminds me of one of my favourite thinkers about learning – John Seely Brown – and his book The Power of Pull. JSB reminds us that organizations that will thrive in the future will have strong core values but will allow innovation to come in from the edges by welcoming an open and diverse kind of participation. As a connected educator, I’m hoping to be at an advantage in making sure that I can use technology in ways that might bring those other voices, viewpoints and talents to my school…certainly from the local community, but also from the world beyond through global connections.

    I wonder if you feel your school moving in that direction? Do you think that by providing funding at the school level, our Ministry is giving us more freedom to make our connections in ways that are meaningful to us and based upon the needs of our own students?

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