Lessons from High-Performing Jeffco Schools

At the September 7th Board meeting, several of our principals from schools which had either or both high growth and high achievement on the 2017 CMAS assessments spoke to the Board of Education and shared what they felt had the biggest impacts.

The session was amazing – at least for an edu-geek like me. It was a master class in leadership and in strategies to build great education systems. I took copious notes as the principals spoke and broke them down into three main areas. These are:

  • Readiness to Learn – systemic and community-wide efforts to remove barriers to learning.
  • Conditions for Learning – Critical factors either in the school, home, or community that must be put in place for quality learning to take place.
  • Learning – the experience of the student in the learning process.

The schools had different contexts and stories, but there were certainly unifying themes. Listed below (within the three aforementioned areas) are what I captured from their remarks. Not all of them apply to every school – but these were the big takeaways from my notes.

Readiness to Learn

  1. Strong community systems of schools – from early childhood (PreK) through high school.
  2. Relationships (with the community and support organizations).
  3. Quality counseling systems.
  4. A positive culture of and support with the community.

Conditions for Learning

  1. A professional model of teaching – empowered, skilled, trusted, respected staff.
  2. Professional learning communities – systems of professional learning where the instructional staff decide what they need to be focusing on and learning about – tailored to the needs of the school and its students. Not top down.
  3. Systems of coaching, feedback, and support for teachers – instructionally focused.
  4. High expectations for students and aligned instructional systems.
  5. Clear and consistent strategies and procedures at the building.

Learning

  1. A focus on the work the students were doing (task).
  2. Individual student goals and students involved in goal setting.
  3. Problem and project-based learning, within a content-focused curriculum.
  4. Intentional efforts at student engagement.
  5. Systems to individualize and customize learning to fit the student’s needs (RtI, MTSS).
  6. Student experiences (tasks) centered on skills such as:
    • Curiosity
    • Collaboration
    • Productive struggle & asking students to go deeper, do more
    • Critical thinking
  7. “Letting Go” – allowing the students to determine direction and next questions, empowering them.
  8. Authentic learning and authentic tasks – which had meaning outside of school.

Nowhere in the principals’ statements were quick fixes or silver-bullets. There were no stories of shortcuts, miracles, or overnight successes. All of the schools had stable leadership over a period of several years and the principals had a contextual understanding of their community, school, staff, and students.

7 thoughts on “Lessons from High-Performing Jeffco Schools

    1. Hi Jacques – these may be important additions for some schools and students, but I do not remember them being a recurring theme. I do recall some schools talking about community supports and that they offered a range of experiences for students.

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  1. Hello Dr. Glass,

    What does ‘Rtl’ and ‘MTSS’ stand for? Education is famous for the alphabet soup of acronyms, so is there a guide to understanding Colorado/Jeffco shorthand somewhere?

    Thanks for the Cliff Notes on these promising practices.

    Katie

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    1. Hi Katie – they stand for Response to Intervention and Multi-Tiered System of Supports. Both are basically the same thing and refer to a process of monitoring how students are doing through ongoing formative assessments and then adapting instruction or supports until the student begins to succeed and show progress. The big idea is to intervene early to lessen the probability of failure, and also to ratchet up supports as need increases.

      I wouldn’t describe these approaches as promising practices. They are really decades old methods that few places do really well. The Finnish education system is a study in how to implement these approaches at scale.

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