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!