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Successful Schools Are Run by Effective Leaders

By Forrest Broman
Successful Schools Are Run by Effective Leaders

The founder of TIE and Director of Children of Haiti and Refugee Projects (COHRP) shares 14 lessons learned during his many years as a school head in at Walworth Barbour American International School in Israel and Escuela Campo Alegre in Venezuela. Despite the substantial changes we are experiencing in the world of international education, some lessons I learned in my career as school head continue to offer helpful guidance. In 2017, I wrote a book titled Against All Odds that chronicled my years at Walworth Barbour American International School (WBAIS) in Israel and described the reasons behind the school’s success. The book was inspired by many letters from former students indicating the tremendous impact their education at WBAIS has had on their intellectual, personal, and professional development. In his review of the book, Bill Gerritz, formerly Head of the International School Bangkok and several other schools, stated the following: “Told in chronological order, the book tells the story of how to transform a school. It ends with a summary of 14 points. I wish I had them when I was a head. I would’ve posted them on the wall in front of my desk as daily reminders of what really matters—actually not a bad idea for any veteran or soon-to-be head.” In his introduction to the book, Kevin Bartlett stated: “Together, he and his team built a culture of quality, confidence, and compassion at [WB]AIS. They did it by putting progress before popularity, and common sense before current trends.” As I reread these recommendations, or learnings, with further hindsight today, I am convinced more than ever that they are valid and that reviewing and thinking about them could help current and future heads make a stronger impact on their schools and their students. Here they are: A highly competent and motivated faculty No school can have a major impact on its students unless it provides inspiring, effective, and caring teachers. Therefore, time and effort must be invested in the recruitment process. One corollary is that, in the face of many obstacles, teacher performance and student results must be carefully monitored and mediocre staff removed. Avoiding teacher burnout Helping staff continue to grow and sharpen their skills is a hallmark of the best international schools. Ways to do this include giving teachers additional responsibilities and leadership opportunities when they seek and deserve them; hosting staff training and conferences; and taking advantage of the many fine training opportunities in the international school network. Another worthy goal is building a strong sense of community among all staff and creating many opportunities to reinforce this. A sabbatical program can assist a school in retaining its best teachers. Inclusion and flexibility As student needs and challenges seem to expand, the most effective schools will create strong special needs initiatives. The treatment and placement of students should be flexible and appropriate, ignoring fixed or arbitrary rules that limit student progress. High standards for student performance This should be the litany for every effective school: “There is no easy path to superior progress in learning.” Students are capable of learning far more than is usually expected, and learning can take place in a variety of ways. Special events and exciting experiences produce better learning Most students will value and remember the special events they experienced, including playing on teams, participating in after-school programs, going on trips with an educational component and engaging in other out-of-classroom experiences. Virtually every former WBAIS student mentions the annual Hockey Marathon, the Week-Without-Walls experience, being part of a dramatic production, creating our annual yearbook, or participating in the dig at Apollonia. Discipline and expectations A strongly influential school must have a disciplined environment where rules of behavior are enforced consistently and where student behavior is not allowed to distract from the learning of others. This includes strong measures against bullying, against the use of drugs and alcohol, and requirements for classroom attendance. School climate and ethos In order to assess a school’s impact on the personal development and values of students, every school should routinely assess and monitor school climate and culture. A good climate study could reveal whether the students and the faculty are living in the same school, in terms of their perception of the qualities the school does or does not embody. The process also reveals the values and the ethos of the school, providing a unique opportunity to strengthen the school’s impact on students’ choices and personal development. A caring community Another key to success is the strong and consistent demonstration by all staff of a warm and caring concern for the growth and the welfare of all students. There are many ways to produce this ethos, including frequent personal interactions between staff and individual students, watching for problems and addressing them, and finding ways to include every student in the sense of community. All administrative staff can be vital to this effort. Educators are often amazed to learn that one conversation or encounter, however routine or trivial it might have seemed at the moment, was a seminal and memorable event in the life of that student. When teachers, counselors or administrators observe any student under stress, some form of investigation and intervention should be the norm. Facing difficult challenges: popularity or progress International schools face many challenges, but most also have the resources to confront those challenges. And the relative flexibility in their curriculum, teaching practices, student activities and staff recruitment means they should regard themselves as “No Excuse” schools when it comes to excellence. In dealing with mediocre teachers or staff, difficult parents, or student misbehavior, the highest standards must be observed, regardless of the impact on a school leader’s popularity. At critical times and when making important decisions, school leaders must be willing to sacrifice some of their popular standing in the interest of making the right decision for the school’s students, its program, and its integrity. A “work hard, play hard” ethos The busiest and most engaged people in life are the most successful and the happiest. School can be an influential environment to encourage students to work hard, to be engaged in a variety of activities, and to enjoy that experience. Perhaps nothing else is as important to their personal and professional future. Finding ways to infuse both excitement and fun into this process may be the glue that makes it all work. Requiring an understanding and appreciation of at least 20th-century history Far too many high school graduates are not only ignorant of even recent history, but also not convinced that history even matters. No decent secondary school should let its students graduate without at least a firm grasp on the major issues that have shaped the 20th century. Passing a course covering modern world history should be a requirement to graduate from any self-respecting school or university. Frequent and varied writing assignments are essential to a sound secondary education Learning to write in a variety of realistic contexts is the greatest gift educators can bestow on their students. Not only will this skill facilitate their success in college and in their professional life, but also there is no better way to inculcate sound critical thinking skills in students than through editing and polishing their own writing. Writing assignments in any effective program should be routine, varied, and across the curriculum. Size is important I attribute some of our success at WBAIS to the fact that the school remained relatively small and maintained a low student-teacher ratio. Even as superintendent, I was able to engage daily with a number of students and teachers and to keep a feel for the pulse and atmosphere of the school. Once a school exceeds 600 students, this option becomes much harder to sustain. Common sense No profession is more filled with antiquated notions, dogma and misconceptions. The litmus test for every curricular and administrative decision should be common sense. Forrest Broman is former headmaster of WBAIS in Israel and Escuela Campo Alegre in Caracas, and founder and former President of The International Educator (TIE), serves as Director of COHRP which also funds educational programs in Jordan, Greece, and Haiti.

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03/06/2020 - rrickarr
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