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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Conducting a School X Ray: Strategic Planning

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger

Schools are faced with tough decisions all the time: if and when to advance a struggling student, what to do with the somewhat gifted, how to arrange teachers' schedules to accommodate teacher needs and still serve student learning needs at the same time. I've worked with lots of school districts, and few of them take the time to sit down and really, concretely look inward.

Conducting a School X Ray

I have been leading schools through this process -- one I call a strategic-planning X ray. We take a look at multiple views of the school -- teacher attitudes, parent and student perceptions, school data, professional development, and teacher interests and expertise. We then get some informal observations from the school community at large by asking such questions as "What do you think works best in this school?" "In what areas should we be most proud?" and "What ongoing issues do you feel should be, but haven't been, addressed?" We spend a few faculty meetings mapping out these issues, prioritizing concerns and strengths, talking frankly about what our particular students need, and analyzing what's working best and why.

We use this information to prepare some simple, concrete, and achievable goals in the form of a basic school-improvement grid. This is the workbook version of a larger school-improvement plan, a document designed to be easily usable, with some basic data-tracking templates, and so on. It's an extensive process, but not a laborious or bewildering one, like some school-improvement studies are.

The definition of overall school improvement I suggest using is one that deals not only with student data but also with school perceptions and the "health" of the school environment. By creating some short-term, concrete goals, the school is able to quickly see schoolwide achievement, which helps foster a sense of commitment to reach the longer-term goals.

I've included a sample school-improvement-plan grid here as a PDF (School Improvement X-Ray). We tweak it all the time, depending on the needs of a school or district, so feel free to download it and modify it for your own needs. Let me know what you think! All feedback is welcome.

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger
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Carol Whelan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Chris, Thanks for sharing your work. At Tulane we are working with a new Charter School System (K-12) and I'd love to share the School Improvement X-Ray with them. Also, Jim is working at the newly developing high school. Are there any technology surveys that you'd recommend or share?
Randy Averso's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
This is very useful angle on data-driven decision-making. It is always helpful to get meaningful tools and templates with which to manage the intensive task of mining available data and making sense of its applications for our practices. Excellent work, Mr. O'Neal - thanks for sharing!
Chris O'Neal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Carol - regarding the surveys, depending on how deep you need to go, I would suggest checking out www.profilerpro.com. First, it's free for basic educational use. Second, there are lots of great surveys already done on everything from self-assessments of one's strength against the ISTE (www.iste.org) technology standards, to skill levels for technology use, to special education expertise, etc. I use their survey tools often.
Michele Baboolal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Chris, thank you for sharing this unique piece of work. I will certainly look at how it can be used here in Jamaica. Will let you know how this progresses.
Terry's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Even though our schools 'numbers' are good, we would benefit greatly from a school x-ray. Our principal would never let it happen. How can we get passed that?
Chris O'Neal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I agree - I think all schools, even with good numbers, benefit from looking inward. I believe it's easy to get into the trap of thinking that once the numbers look good, all is well. As beneficial as standardized testing can be, it can lead us into the mindset that the test scores are our ultimate goal - when, in fact, our goals are much bigger than test scores. I would hope that any principal would be open to growth, so perhaps even starting a very informal dialogue about needing help with your lowest (even if it's not so low) performance area on standardized tests, a common theme of need across a certain grade level, or even requests from students about certain types of projects, etc. might be a way to start a bigger, ongoing discussion. If there is a small team of teachers who all share an interest in beginning a school improvement exercise, perhaps they could be coordinated into having an unobtrusive meeting with the principal to spark the idea of being even better than good test scores. Most principals are certainly interested in innovative teaching practices, and having a good baseline can be the start to that endeavor. Project-based learning, technology integration, etc. are all proven ways to extend learning, even for those students who already perform well on tests. If you're not already doing projects in classes, take a look around the Edutopia website for some great samples and how-tos. Perhaps sharing some of this information with other teachers or your principal could spark the interest, then lead into the topic of examining just where your school is - in a bigger context outside test scores.
Ruth Manna's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Carol Whelan, I don't know if you'll see this post but I'm interested in what Tulane is doing with the New Orleans Public Schools. I'm an elementary teacher in Massachusetts and I'd like my school/school district to help in some way. Don't know what shape this might take, perhaps we could partner with a school. Recently I was in New Orleans for my son's graduation from Tulane and in driving around was amazed at the extent of existing problems. Although there was awareness after Katrina, it seems like the rest of the country has forgotten.
Folwell Dunbar's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Another great introspection tool is the digital camera. I like to walk around campus and take reams of candid snapshots. I then share them during faculty meetings. We identify strengths and challenges in the pictures and look for "Photoshop" opportunities. I find that still images are far less intimidating than video – then again, the latter is truly the Holy Grail of self-reflection…
Chris ONeal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Great thoughts - I love the idea of just the digital camera use - simple, but very effective. I also like what some principals do with their students - a "breakfast with the principal" chat. It's an informal way for principals to keep on the pulse of what's going on in the student's minds and lives! Chris www.edleadersonline.org

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