The Effects of Our Efforts

Tim Coray
Granger Elementary Community School Director

United Way of Salt Lake recently hosted the Summer Institute at Granite School District. Summer Institute is an opportunity for schools and principals to come together to learn more about Promise Partnerships and Community School Work. This year, the featured speaker was Steve Ventura, former superintendent, principal and teacher, and nationally recognized thought leader on school transformation.

“The most powerful variable in school improvement is instructional leadership.” Steve Ventura began this year’s Summer Institute at Granite School District offices with this finding. On June 18 and 19, Community School Directors and Principals engaged in conversations and action planning for the upcoming school year. Steve Ventura, a California-based consultant with a background in teaching and administrating schools, facilitated this training focused on contemporary leadership and school improvement strategies.

In my previous career as a teacher, I knew there were many variables in my classroom: attendance, engagement, parent and co-worker collaboration, preparation (both mine and my students’), and on and on. During my first years in the profession, I used to fret over those factors equally and constantly. Surely, each had the ability to impact my students’ success, and I thought I ought to be able to improve them. However, with time and research, I learned the effect of each of those considerations was neither equal nor within my control. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned during that time was to concentrate my labor on endeavors with which I could affect the greatest change and to limit the sleep I lost over the others.

I recall that experience because the lesson I learned in my own classroom as a teacher was validated during the Summer Institute training. Steve Ventura empowered us with the research and tools to make decisions about where we put our greatest effort based on effect size and desired outcomes. In one exercise, Community School Directors and administration teams listed the programs and initiatives in place in our schools with the goal of analyzing the degree of implementation and the impact each had on students’ achievement. Completing this exercise through the lens of both teachers and administrators allowed us to identify areas of success as well as target programs in need of reconsideration or improved focus. In addition to refining school leaders’ efforts, this practice highlighted the excellent opportunities afforded Community Schools and reminded us that we have a common goal of changing the odds for our students.

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Reflecting on the Institute, Granger Principal Amber Clayton agreed. “The difference between this professional development and others is that all our training reminds school leadership of the importance of focusing our energy on areas that affect student achievement the most; however, Steve Ventura gave us the inspiration and tools to do so.”

The key word throughout our Summer Institute was leadership. A program or initiative is the most successful when aligned with the greater goals of the school and implemented with fidelity. Those variables are in the hands of a school’s leadership.

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