Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Removing "luck" from the education equation

Ask around in the school community, and you're most likely to bump into people who's kids are having an amazing experience at JIS. The teachers are fantastic...the educational program is super...it's all good.

But every once in a while, you'll run into someone with a different story. Struggles with a teacher, a curriculum that isn't all it could be, a worry about falling off-pace with home-country schools.... When those tales surface, the usual response is a sad-but-sympathetic smile, an arm around the shoulder, and a "I'm so sorry... tough luck."

After all, everyone has a bad school year once in a while. And no school can possibly get it right for every student, every year.

But are there things schools can do to minimize the "tough luck" years? Yes!
  • Ensure the school has a strong, standards-based curriculum that's content-rich (and specific) so that all teachers -- even those who might be teaching outside of their subject-area "comfort zones" -- can easily understand what they're teaching and the outcomes they're aiming at.
  • Maintain a strong professional development program for teachers that helps them stay current on best practices and methods of teaching that improve student performance.
  • Create a collegial environment (see April 18th posting, "Organizational Culture: the Elephant in the Room" for a reminder of what that looks like), so that teachers feel comfortable admitting problems (after all, teaching is tough!) and using each other as resources.
  • Develop a professional supervision program that supports teachers by giving them timely, constructive feedback about their practice in a non-punitive, non-threatening way.
These ideas don't break any new ground in the education world, nor at JIS. In fact, these strategies are the bedrock upon which great schools are built. But the question should always be, "are we doing all we can do? Are there areas we could strengthen and improve?" At the end of the day, no student's education each year should depend on luck.


At 10:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a question…..How do I find the curriculum at JIS? I have been to the PIE library looking for the curriculum and what I found was very confusing and incomplete. I’ve been on line and found the curriculum in our home country and would like to be able to compare it to the curriculum here. It’s hard to judge by what is being done in the class room as I never see any graded work come home…all I see is homework.

At 3:13 PM, Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

Most excellent questions! In theory, each JIS library has a copy of the curriculum, but I've also found them to be incomplete. The good news: the school is currently working on getting the curriculum online (as part of the ParentNet). JIS predicts it will be available online by next fall.

In the meantime, as parents we should continue to encourage and support JIS in its efforts to make information on standards and curriculum available to all families.

Your comment also highlights the challenges family's face in trying to evaluate a school's curriculum. Too much to cover in one comment -- so JIS Topics will tackle it in future postings!

Thanks for your comment!

At 1:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wondering...
Will my 2 young children also have the enriching opportunity to learn about Shakespeare in the High School at JIS. Or will this also depend on..."luck?"

At 4:57 PM, Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

Another great question.... but one that's better answered by a curriculum expert at JIS. You're getting at the issue of the curriculum's content, which in the age of "skills-based standards" is often overlooked. Check out the Core Knowledge Foundation's website (http://www.coreknowledge.org)for information about the importance of a content-rich curriculum to develop students'cultural literacy.

At 8:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a blog is a waste and the questions need to be directed to JIS Admin and teachers.

At 1:19 PM, Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

Thanks for your comment....and sorry you think the blog's a waste. It would be great if it weren't necessary! But until that day comes, JIS Topics will continue to explore the important issues that face not just JIS, but all schools trying to improve student achievement.

At 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dissagree with anonymous....The blog is not a waste! How can people wanting to learn and get smarter be a waste? It's people like you that are keeping JIS from becoming the great school that it once was. I think Cheryl is very smart and I for one like to hear her opinions. She also provides great websites on educational issues that anyone interested in their childs education should be reading.


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