Be an Instructional Encourager

By Jill Collins
June 2014, Volume 37, Issue 10

Every day is a new opportunity to practice “perfection” at my school, Eastern Pulaski Elementary School in Winamac, Indiana. Serving nearly 600 K-5 students, our school has embraced the philosophy that in order for our students to achieve their personal best, we must maintain high expectations for daily classroom work.

Just like a team, our instructional coaches (our teachers) know that how students “practice” each day will have a positive impact on how they will “play” during the championship game (high-stakes state assessments). We believe that every day is game day and we must ensure that we maximize every instructional minute.

Here are four ways we encourage students to do their personal best every day.

Establish Expectations

Our schoolwide approach to personal best effort begins on the first day of school. Each teacher invests energy during those first few days of school to establish clear, specific classroom procedures and expectations. Teachers teach procedures for just about everything, including how to line up, pass back papers, walk in the hall, participate in small group time, and so on. Students are also given an opportunity to practice.

This investment of time pays big dividends throughout the year. Teachers can handle classroom management processes in a very positive way, protecting their instructional minutes with fewer classroom disruptions. If students have trouble with these processes, teachers intervene early to offer them additional opportunities to practice throughout the year.

Reinforce With Consistency

Sharing the same behavioral expectations in all classrooms creates a school culture of consistency. Eastern Pulaski Elementary has embraced a schoolwide common language for student behavior. We want our students to REACH for their best: Respect/Responsibility, Effort, Active Listening, Common Sense, and Honesty. REACH is posted in every classroom and provides a positive framework for what we expect our students to do, rather than a list of rules or “don’t” statements. We strive to help ensure that each student is in a position to be successful.

Reach Out to Parents

As the principal, or the instructional encourager, I believe that celebrating student progress is key to student achievement. I am proud that at our school, all teachers commit to contact each student’s family with positive news during the first nine weeks of school. The teacher can make a phone call home or send a postcard or email. When the initial contact from school involves the teacher sharing good news about a child’s classroom effort, it sets the tone for a positive school-to-home partnership. This is especially key for those parents whose own school experience may not have been positive. Ensuring that the initial parent contact is positive also helps to create a trusting relationship that, if and when an academic or behavioral concern arises, parents know that the teacher is considering the best interest of their child.

Spread the Good News

“Catch them being good” is a schoolwide theme. We have a Positive Recognition Office Referral program, and I see three times more students each year for that than for all other discipline issues combined. (That’s some great data!) Students may be recognized for their classroom performance, outstanding improvements, exceptional effort, excellent attitude/respectfulness, teamwork, active listening, or trustworthiness. When students are sent to the office with their positive referral, they have a chance to call home and share the good news. This not only makes students’ days, but their parents’ too, and our whole school knows that hard work is celebrated and encouraged.

As the instructional encourager at your school, I challenge you to ask yourself this tough question: Would you feel comfortable placing your own child or grandchild in any randomly picked classroom at your school? If the answer is no, how can you commit today to ensuring that teachers are intentional in their planning to ensure every instructional minute is maximized just as if it was game day? How can you inspire your teachers today to only accept personal best effort from every student in their class?

Helping your teachers create a more structured learning environment that maintains high expectations can lead to long-term success at your school, with every student reaching their full potential. Perfect practice today will lead to excellence tomorrow.

Jill Collins is principal of Eastern Pulaski Elementary School in Winamac, Indiana.

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