The last post was all about how anything bad - or good - starts at the top of a school, with either the principal or the higher powers. This is also the most important sentence and point of this entire series.
Why is that? And how is this true? That's what I intend to explain in this post, because any school (and/or district) that sucks can be fixed with a good leader. Conversely, any good school can become bad with a bad leader. Improvement can start very quickly, with the right people in the right places. If there is a school around you that has a bad reputation and performs poorly, what it means is that the people in charge of that school suck at their jobs. Period.
Principals put the initiatives that schools follow into place. These initiatives (ex. matters of curriculum, things that are important in the school) must be followed by all teachers. Teachers, by and large, are rule followers. In a lot of ways, they're simply students with power. They follow the same bell (and calendar) schedule that students do, and are even in the same classes. The major difference is that they (usually) control what happens. Every school has mandates and initiatives they implement and follow every year. These are put into place by the the leaders of the school. Bad leaders put bad initiatives into place. Teachers have to follow them.
Since everyone is following a bad initiative, everyone is focusing on what doesn't matter. While doing so, major issues aren't dealt with and students aren't properly educated. It looks something like this: If someone is broke, homeless, and hungry, you have several options of how to deal with them. You can give them a room for a night, a meal or two, and some cash. This will shelter and feed the person for a time, but when that cash, shelter, and food is gone, the person is simply back to where they were before they met you.
This is how it is with bad initiatives.
Mandates and initiatives are also called vision. The vision of the leader, which becomes the focus of the school, is apparent immediately. It is very easy - like it only takes five minutes - to see if a school is good and what it focuses on. Is it clean? Are people friendly? If someone bumps into you in the hall, do they say excuse me or push/fight? Are the walls painted and fresh? What happens when the bell rings? Are staff visible? When you walk in the office, are you greeted or talked harshly to?
Good school focus on good things. Bad schools focus on bad things. Failing schools - very often - focus on the wrong initiatives. They'll look at only the surface of a problem, completely missing the root. And then years go by and no one is the better for anything. And then so does another one. And then they change the initiative, and that is also bad. And then a decade has gone by. And then the district is in turmoil.
This must stop. It is unacceptable.