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Becky Felts' Column for Aug. 31

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More effective teachers start with good leadership
I am a firm believer that a teacher’s working conditions are a student’s learning conditions. A good principal can create a culture of achievement and empower the teachers. More effective teaching starts with good leadership at the building level.
From Good to Great
According to Oklahoma Best Practices What Works printed by the Oklahoma Commission for Education Leadership in 2005, here are some key attributes of high-challenge (low-income, varied ethnicity and limited English proficiency) high-performing schools in Oklahoma:
• Instructional autonomy. In the past, the school principal has been viewed as the instructional leader. Today, teachers are assuming ownership of the development and application of the curriculum while principals are becoming facilitators of instruction.
• Encouragement. In great schools, the principal looks for the strengths of each teacher and builds on those strengths.
• Shared accountability. Accountability is shared by both the principal and the teachers across all disciplines including special education and English language learners.
• Instructional support. The principal provides time for teachers to plan together and provides instructional support such as support personnel to help in the classroom.
A Model that Works
The National Center for Educational Accountability named Huston 4th-5th Grade Center in Blackwell, Oklahoma as a high performing school based on their challenges and achievements in 2005. During the time of the study, nearly 70 percent of students qualified for free or reduced lunch.
Consistent Higher Performance
Huston Center Elementary School was higher performing than demographically similar schools in mathematics, reading, U.S. History, and science in an analysis that included all fifth-grade achievement data from 2002 to2004. Huston Center Elementary School demonstrated overall performance ranks of 97.1 in mathematics, 94.4 in reading, 85.1 in U.S. History, and 98.7 in science on state tests.
According to the case study, it started with the leadership of their superintendent. District teachers referred to her as someone who truly understood instructional leadership. Her leadership style included team-based curriculum development and shared responsibility for student success. The assistant superintendent identified people and programs whose methods and materials were researched-based and pertinent to the challenge of educating a changing population. Teachers district-wide worked as grade level teams. Teachers were in and out of each other’s classrooms sharing best practices. Eventually, Huston teachers started vertical curriculum planning with another grade center. District support was listed as a key ingredient for teacher retention and appreciation for instructional support was abundant.
Last year, the Huston Center Elementary School had a total Academic Performance Index of 1486.
For more information on the Huston case study, visit
For years we have had models in our state of collaborative and effective relationships between superintendents, building principals and teachers that are centered on student achievement.
In a time where the pressures of “reform” and testing are at an all-time high, we must remember the key to transformational learning is for school leaders to trust, support and build the capacity of the teachers.
-Becky Felts is president of the Oklahoma Education Association

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