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Harbors of Hope: The Planning for School and Student Success Process

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Discover a proven way to deal effectively with the white waters of change in education, and create a culture of hope in which students receive the support they need to achieve success. The authors’ extensive experience with effective schools research and the power of the professional learning community combine to create a uniquely hopeful approach that results in effective and efficient schools.

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Part 1 Harbors of Hope: Schools With Character and Competence

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When preparing to write this book, we decided to focus on practical plans and actions that lead to improved learning outcomes for all students. Rather than begin by quoting research findings, we decided to share real examples of schools that we would consider to be Harbors of Hope. Sacred Heart Community School in Regina serves children in an inner-city area on the Saskatchewan prairies. With clear vision and staff commitment, this elementary school significantly improved learning outcomes for students and gave them hope for success in their educational futures. Lawrence Heights Middle School in Toronto also had a history of low performance and behavioral concerns. Through the introduction of carefully planned activities, the staff was able to positively impact all students. Monticello High School in Charlottesville, Virginia, was opened in 1998 and had difficulty attracting students because parents feared it would fail to match the performance of other schools in the district. The staff promised their community academic success and over a 2-year period did what was required to keep that promise. We consider these schools to be Harbors of Hope and have provided more in-depth information about them in the sections that follow.

 

Part 2 Strategies for Creating Harbors of Hope

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During the 1980s and early 1990s, the common view in effective schools research was that the principal was the key to shaping school culture and effecting reform. The literature from that period reflects an assumption that a school’s principal, by holding high expectations and directing teachers’ activities, would cause teachers to work cooperatively and would thus create an effective school. In other words, the principal was the shop foreman ensuring that workers were toeing the line.

Early improvement efforts tended to focus on structural rather than cultural issues. Attention was given to things like altering schedules, revising class composition, and implementing new programs. The movement to site-based planning during those years was an attempt to give schools the authority for local decision-making. None of these strategies had the desired impact because nothing was done to alter the culture at either the school or district level.

Current research has shown that although the principal plays an integral role in the school improvement process, getting better is everyone’s responsibility. Robert Marzano (2003) concludes that “although it is certainly true that strong leadership from the principal can be a powerful force toward school reform, the notion that an individual can effect change by sheer will and personality is simply not supported by the research” (p. 175). To be substantive, change efforts must be supported by both administrators and teachers. This is possible only when people are working within a strong collaborative culture based on shared values.

 

Part 3 Appendix

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Appendix

One of the many steps taken by Sacred Heart Community School in Regina, Saskatchewan, toward becoming a Harbors of Hope school was the creation of a “Brain-Activating Oasis” that would focus on individual learning. The staff identified 13 brain-activating strategies and techniques to be used in the oasis. This appendix provides a brief summary of these 13 strategies.

The staff determined to change their view of their role as teachers. They redefined themselves as “inventors of work worth doing” and used an integrated curriculum approach to make this a reality.

The Sacred Heart staff worked from the premises that much of learning is incidental, and that when people experience feelings of safety and belonging, they are more able to learn. The staff recognized that school environment and atmosphere have a huge impact on students’ ability to learn, and they made it their goal to create a school that is friendly and inviting.

At Sacred Heart, most of the classrooms do not look like traditional classrooms. There are few desks to be found. Students work at a variety of tables, on couches, on cushions, or in easy chairs. Plants help to bring nature inside. Fish, pets, and other items of interest add to the environment and afford more opportunities for learning. Teachers are often found working with small groups in a variety of locations. The unique class combinations provide stress-free settings where multi-age teamwork can flourish and negative peer pressure is minimized. An integrated thematic approach to instruction is used, allowing for large blocks of dedicated time. Often several classes work on the same theme so that students can learn from interactions beyond their classroom and grouping can be more flexible.

 

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