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NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNALVOLUME 26, NUMBERS 1 & 2, 201377Transforming High Poverty,Underperforming Schools: Practices,Processes, and ProceduresSharon Williams Griffin, EdDDirector of the Innovation Zone (iZone)Memphis City SchoolsReginald Leon Green, EdDProfessorUniversity of Memphis______________________________________________________________________________AbstractThe role of the principal has changed, and new skills and attributes are needed to lead 21stcentury schools. The authors of this article report the use of practices, processes, and proceduresused to transform a high poverty, low performing school into a high performing school. Theleadership framework for the study was the principles embedded within the Four Dimensions ofPrincipal Leadership theory that informs leadership for change. Documentation of thetransformational process revealed nineteen themes and eight practices that were critical to thesuccess of the principal. Three cultural themes evolved through the use of nurturing schoolpractices. Information from this study can assist practicing principals in understanding thecomplex nature of implementing an effective change model to transform a high poverty,underperforming school in the 21stcentury.Keywords: transformational leadership; four dimensions of leadership; nurturing schools;change models______________________________________________________________________________A critical issue in American public education is raising student achievement inunderperforming schools. To address this issue, among others, the No Child Left Behind Act of2001 (NCLB) mandates that all schools across the United States meet a set of establishedstandards. The act requires that all students, regardless of economics, disability, or language,meet annual proficiency targets in reading and math as measured by achievement testsadministered in their respective states. The proficiency targets increase incrementally every threeyears, with the goal of all students reaching 100% proficiency by the year 2014 (U.S.Department of Education, 2002).In order to determine the school’s status in the improvementprocess, NCLB requires that each state’s education agency receiving federal dollars identify andlabel Title I schools that are not meeting the targets. The labels range from “SchoolImprovement” to “Restructuring” and carry a social stigma that reverberates across schoolcommunities and school districts.At the heart of NCLB is the goal of achieving equity in education, coupled with theaspiration to impact the academic achievement of the most disadvantaged students. What is
SHARON WILLIAMS GRIFFIN and REGINALD LEON GREEN78problematic,despite the act, is that thousands of schools across the nation continue to beclassified as underperforming. According to a June 11, 2008, report from the U.S. Department ofEducation, there are 12, 978 schools in various stages of NCLB School Improvement with noreliable indicator that these schools are improving (Barth, 2002). In that these schools continue toexist, such public castigations send a powerful message that some schools are not good places forstudents to learn. Consequently, many parents exercise their option and move their higherachieving children away from the low-performing schools. Thus, a vicious cycle begins; poorschools become poorer, and their capacity to improve seems futile (Blankstein, 2004).Having transformed underperforming schools and realizing that other educators have alsotransformed underperforming schools, these researchers set out to identify and documentpractices, processes, and procedures that school leaders have successfully used intransformational efforts. From a leadership perspective, the sequential steps that should be takenin a transformational effort are unclear. Therefore, an extensive review of the literature wasconducted. The transformation that occurred at Red Middle School was revisited, and thepractices, processes, and procedures that informed a successful transformation of Red MiddleSchool were documented.Review of the LiteratureFor years,educational leaders have struggled with efforts of transformingunderperforming schools.Over the past three decades, various educational reform initiatives havebeen undertaken with the intent of addressing equity among students who attend these schools.None of these efforts have been truly successful in meeting the challenge, especially for studentswho attend urban, poverty stricken schools. Consequently, thousands of schools across thenation continue to be classified as underperforming (U. S. Department of Education, 2008). Thestruggle is becoming more intense, and the current standards and accountability movement isrequiring principals to become more effective in the transformational process. The latest of thereform efforts surfaced under the title of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.Addressing the Phenomenon of Underperforming SchoolsTo address the phenomenon of underperforming schools as defined by NCLB, schoolleaders across the nation are working to transform their lowest performing schools to preventfacing district, state, and federal sanctions of closure, takeover, or restructuring. All of thesesanctions exacerbate the low performing school’s shaky public perception and sense of efficacy.Schools receiving these labels are the nation’s highest poverty, highest needs schools (Cross,2004).There is no denial of the sense of urgency being experienced by educators since theseschools are badly in need of reform or transformation. The goal is presumably to get theseschools and the people who attend them off the road to perdition and on the road to dignity andrespect as a result of better performance (Fullan, 2006). However, getting off the road toperdition is not an easy task. It involves state leaders working with school districts, districtleaders working with school leaders, and school leaders working in their schools with teachers,students, parents, and communities.However, as challenging as the task might seem, some schoolleaders have experienced success in meeting it. Our review of the literature revealed hundreds of
SHARON WILLIAMS GRIFFIN and REGINALD LEON GREEN79school leaders who have successfully transformed an underperforming, high poverty school intoa high performing school (Brown, 2012; Edmonds,1979;Green; 2010; Jesse, Davis&Pokorny,2004; Schmoker, 1996; Wahlstrom & Louis, 2008; Wang, Haertel, & Walberg, 1994).Effective Transformational PracticesFrom the 1980’s to the present, an increasing body of literature contains evaluativeinformation describing practices, processes, and proceduresused by leaders of successful schools,popularly labeled “effective schools”(Brown, 2012;Edmonds,1979;Green; 2010; Jesse etal.,2004; Schmoker, 1996; Wahlstrom & Louis, 2008; Wang et al., 1994).Some of the practices,processes, and procedures appearing in the literature involve: 1) School leadership;2) teacherexpertise;3) curriculum and instruction;4) community and parental involvement and theirrelationships with the school, and 5) a collaborative /safe culture and climate (Jesse et al., 2004).In addition, various forms of classroom instruction, climate factors, and student attitudes havebeen reported as having an impact upon student learning. Together these categories showed themost promise of improving student achievement. Parent involvement, community influences,and student demographics had a comparatively moderate effect. Other factors related to state anddistrict characteristics, including school and district demographics and school and state-levelpolicies, had the least influence on improving student learning. Understandably so, as thesefactors are somewhat removed from day-to-day life in the classroom (Wang et al., 1994).Although, transformational practices, processes, and proceduresthat have proven to beeffective appear in the literature, a gap remains between what we read and what we do. Currentliterature on educational leadership compellingly communicates that the principal is the key to aschool’s successful transformation. Therefore, the latest reform movement has placed increasingemphasis on the roles of principals, advocating that they should be strong instructional leaders,providing a sense of mission, communicating a clear instructional focus, setting highexpectations for students and staff, fostering a safe climate, encouraging parent and communityinvolvement/relationships, and promoting student achievement (Cotton, 2003).Hershey andBlanchard (1993) postulate, “The successful organization has one major attribute that sets it apartfrom unsuccessful organizations: dynamic and effective leadership” (p.85). A successful schoolmust have a strong leader. Simply stated, leadership of the principal is viewed as the major factorin transforming underperforming schools.Leadership of the PrincipalSchools today face significantly different issues than they did twenty or thirty years ago(Wiles & Bondi, 2001). Historically, moves to reconnect principals to the core business ofschools dates from the late 1970s, and the shift isfrom placing a focus on buildings, buses, andbudgets to placing a focus on improving student learning outcomes. This shift was given aparticular impetus by the findings of research into effective schools and by attempts in the early1980s to conceptualize and promote the view of the principal as an instructional leader. RonEdmonds (1979) promoted the idea that to address underachievement in schools, strongleadership of the principal is required.Given the difficulties inherent in transforming underperforming schools, the question ofwhat makes one principal more effective than another is a valid one that must be answered.In anattempt to answer this question, there have been many studies involving effective principals and
SHARON WILLIAMS GRIFFIN and REGINALD LEON GREEN80successful schools. Leithwood and Montgomery (1982) reported that effective principals stressstudent achievement. Jwaideh (1984) reported that effective principals establish goals for theirschools, support innovation, and exhibit flexibility.In addition to the practices identified in the studies previously cited, the principal ischaracterized as being a strong leader in that he or she is instrumental in setting the tone of theschool, helping decide instructional strategies, and organizing and distributing the school’sresources (Edmonds, 1979; Lezotte, Edmonds, & Ratner, 1974). In their findings, principals arean important motivator in setting an atmosphere of high expectations with a strong emphasis onthe acquisition of basic skills, while maintaining a school with a relatively pleasantatmosphere(Brown, 2012: Green, 2010; Green, 2013). Members of their faculty view them asauthentic in their behavior, and this sets them apart from other principals. Hughes and Ubben(1989) introduced the importance of the principal in this manner: “No enterprise will operate forlong without a competent Chief Executive;the plethora of “effective schools” research has madeit abundantly clear, effective schools are the results of the activities of effective principals”(p.3).Maxwell (2003) writes, “Everything rises and falls with the leader. Change the leader andchange the organization” (p.37).The Four Dimensions of Principal LeadershipWith such variance in the practices, processes, and procedures used to transform anunderperforming, high poverty school, the investigators of this study sought out theories in anattempt to develop a framework to inform the transformation. Green (2010), in his book TheFour Dimensions of Principal Leadership: A Framework for Leading 21st Century Schools,hascaptured the initiatives of the past reform movements and synthetized them into a model thatcontains four dimensions. Dimension I advocates the need for school leaders to understandthemselves andrecognize their leadership style and its effects on the behavior of followers. It alsooffers that leaders should develop an understanding of followers and determine how the behaviorof followers influences their behavior. An effective leader is visionary, a person of strongpersonal and professional beliefs who is able to articulate his or her vision to others and inspirethem to embark on the change process. Dimension II requires leaders to understand thecomplexity of organizational life, recognizing its culture, climate, structure, and the interactionof people who make up the organization. Dimension III, entitled building bridges throughrelationships, asserts that school leaders need to focus on building relationships with allstakeholders as it is these relationships that enhance the potential for effective leadership.Dimension IV, engaging in leadership best practices, sets the stage for change. The school leadercommunicates the vision for the school, assesses current conditions, and identifies thediscrepancy that exists between current conditions and the vision. When these four dimensionsare simultaneously implemented by the principal, Green (2010) postulates that low performingschools can be transformed into high performing schools.A second theory was used to frame the study related to school culture. The NurturingSchool Theory (Green, 2001) advocates that school leaders focus on building relationshipsbetween themselves and teachers, between teachers and teachers, between teachers and students,and between the school and the community. This theory details the types of relationships neededto foster goal attainment.If 21st century reform efforts are successful in meeting the challenge of transforming
SHARON WILLIAMS GRIFFIN and REGINALD LEON GREEN81underperforming schools, the efforts of principals must focus on values, beliefs, strengths, andother personal aspects of individuals functioning in the schoolhouse. As a result, a shared visioncan be developed, and that vision must be pursued by leadership that is distributed throughoutthe organization. Ultimately, relationships are of primary importance, and they must exist in amanner that fosters collaboration in the implementation of leadership best practices that enhancestudent achievement (Green, 2010).The literature review allowed the researchers to identify practices, processes, andprocedures that school leaders have previously used to effectively transform highpoverty,underperforming schools into high performing schools. Given that one of the researchersof this study has been credited with effectively transforming a high poverty, underperformingschool into a high performing school and has a first-hand account of the practices, processes, andprocedures used during the transformation initiative,this study was also designed to report thepractices, processes, and procedures used. Specifically, through this research, one goal was togain a broad perspective of how educational leaders successfully transform high poverty,underperforming schools into high performing schools and thus,test a change model.Statement of the ProblemPublic education, in the nation as a whole, is at a critical point. Thousands of schoolsacross the nation continue to be classified as underperforming. According to a June 11, 2008report from the U.S. Department of Education, there are 12,978 schools in various stages ofNCLB School Improvement with no reliable statistics to indicate that these schools areimproving. Notwithstanding, some principals are transforming high poverty, underperformingschools into high performing schools. However, the practices, processes, and procedures they areusing vary. What is needed is a structural model that contains practices, processes, andprocedures that can be replicated. Therefore, this research was designed to testa modelcontaining practices, processes, and procedures that appeared in the literature, as well as thoseused by one of the researchers of this study to transform an underperforming middle school intoa high performing middle school.MethodologyResearch DesignThe design of this study was a developmental, qualitative methodology, utilizing aframework of autoethnography to provide the part of the researcher’s life story that contributedto the transformation of a high poverty, underperforming middle school into a high performingmiddle school. From the perspective of the principal, the researcher described leadershippractices, processes, and procedures that she implemented at Red Middle School during theschool years of 2005-2008. Personal reflections and reflexivity related to data sources aredescribed so as to elucidate the process by which she applied principles of two leadershiptheories aimed at transforming the high poverty,low performing school into a high performingschool.Specifically, the research was designed to answer the Global Research Question: What
SHARON WILLIAMS GRIFFIN and REGINALD LEON GREEN82practices, processes, and procedures did the principal use during the transformation of a highpoverty,low performing middle school into a high performing middle school, and how did theyinform and influence the transformation of the school? A secondary purpose was to test the useof the principles embedded in Four Dimensions of Principal Leadership and Nurturing SchoolTheories as a change model.SubjectsThe school in the study was a public middle school located in an urban district in theSoutheast United States. A pseudonym (Red Middle School) was used to distance the faculty,students, and staff from the focus of the study. The focus was on the researcher’s leadership styleand the practices, processes, and procedures that she used while serving as principal.Red Middle School.In April of 2005, I accepted an appointment as principal of RedMiddle School five weeks before the school year ended. As a direct result of the NCLB status,the school was deemed failing and was fresh started. The school was freshly started because thestudents had not made average yearly progress (AYP) for three consecutive years, a ruling of theState Department of Education.The initial visit to Red Middle School.I was afforded the opportunity to observe RedMiddle School during the last two weeks of the 2004-2005 school year. Red was known bymembers of the community as a school characterized as violent- a school where limited learningtook place. The school suffered from behavioral issues that were compounded by students’ entryinto early adolescence without programs to support their emotional and physical growth. Uponentering the building, I immediately noticed the deterioration of the building. The paint on thewalls of the building was peeling, and the iron steel beams holding up the building and doorswere starting to rust. As I continued to walk down the hallways, I noticed that the lockers wereeight different colors with gang graffiti on the doors. Gang graffiti and carvings also existed onthe walls of the building. Lighting in the building was so bad that I wondered how students evensaw their papers to write. There was only one light working in each fixture in the classrooms andthe hallways. It was obvious that the climate of the school was so bad that it was affectingstudent achievement. I immediately began to wonder why a school had been allowed to get insuch a grave condition.As I continued to observe the internal environment of the school, I noticed even the exitsigns were leaning and falling off the walls. I was told by current teachers that over the past twodays, there had been five fire alarms pulled. When the tardy bell rang, there were as manystudents in the halls as in the classrooms. In frustration, children ran through the halls, threwbooks, and engaged in fights. I knew I had to do something to change the culture and climate ofthis school. As I continued to observe the conditions of the school, I began to document thedevastation and concluded with nineteen pages of needed repairs. Additionally, no routines wereestablished at Red Middle. Crises were handled as they arose. The morale of teachers, parents,and students had deteriorated with the expected results of increased disciplinary problems. Forobviousreasons, Red Middle School was failing its students and community. Improving thephysical condition of the building became an immediate priority.The community.The Red Middle School student body was composed of childrenfrom
SHARON WILLIAMS GRIFFIN and REGINALD LEON GREEN83five different communities within a five mile radius. Only 15% of the students attending RedMiddle Schoollived within walking distance which means that 85% of the students rode the bus toschool. A large number of students lived in one of six low-income area apartments. According to the2000 census, the neighborhood population had decreased by 4.7% since 1990. The population was12,686 in 1990 and 12,066 in 2000. The community was 95.3% African-American; 3.5% Caucasian;1% Hispanic;10% American Indian/Eskimo, and 10% Asian. There was a wide range of occupationsrepresented in the Red Middle School community. White-collar jobs were held by 43.90%, while56.10% were blue-collar workers. School age children were present in 76% of the homes in thecommunity.Parent/Guardian demographics.Information describing Red Middle parents closelyparallels community information with a few exceptions. In the Red Middle community 98.6% ofthe parents were African- American; 0.56% were Caucasian, and 0.84% were Hispanic. Inreviewing records of the student body, I learned that 21.7% of students live with both parents;34% of the students live in a single parent home; 27.2% live with a parent and a step-parent, and17.1% live with someone other than a parent. It was estimated that 62% of the parents were nothigh school graduates, and 42% were employed with 82.5% of parents living at the poverty level.The average household income was $23,735, and the median income was $33,849.Data CollectionData were collected from three primary data sources which included a reconstructedlibrary of documents and artifacts, my personal notes and journal, and a published video thatdocumented practices, processes, and procedures used during the transformation period. In thewriting process involving recursive introspection and reflection, data continually emerged. Sucha process is known as reflexivity (Anderson, 2006; Vryan, 2006). Each draft of the narrativeclarified meaning, thus refining my own understandings as if they were new data. The finishedproduct is a text describing events and situations which occurred in the setting, as well as thecultural beliefs, values, and understandings that guided my actions in the setting. The finishedproduct also reflects and describes leadership practices, processes, and procedures used totransform the school culture, as well as how I was influenced by the culture. Using theautoethnography methodology, I was able to develop a description of transformational leadershipat Red Middle, reflect upon it, and derive meaning from the process. The process enabled me todevelop and refinemy theoretical understanding of a social system and to understand thepractical applications ofthe interaction of elements functioning in the system (Anderson, 2006).Tacit, as well as explicit knowledge about the role of the principal in the change process, wasgained.Determining the Needed ChangeReflecting on my observations of the internal and external environments of the school,interactions that occurred between and among the teaching faculty, and an analysis of studentdata in the areas of discipline, attendance, and academic achievement, I realized that changes hadto be made in four areas: (1) environment of the school and classroom; (2) professionalismamong administrators, faculty/staff; (3) student/teacher relationships, and (4) the way studentsfelt about themselves.Through acomprehensive planning process which included teachers, students, parents,
SHARON WILLIAMS GRIFFIN and REGINALD LEON GREEN84and members of the community, a school improvement plan was developed. The conceptualframework of the plan appears in Figure 1. From my past experience in school leadership,interaction with my follow researcher, and my study of leadership practices, processes, andprocedures, I knew if this framework became reality, the needed transformation would occur.Each of the components of the plan was informed by one of Green’s (2010) fourdimensions. Dimension I, Understanding Self and Others, informed processes and proceduresthat were used to enhance professionalism among administrators, faculty, and staff. DimensionII, Understanding the Complexity of Organizational Life, informed processes and proceduresneeded to bring about changes in the internal and external environments of the school.Dimension III, Building Bridges through Relationships, was used to inform the changes thatwere needed in the relationships between teachers and students, the school and the central officepersonnel, as well as the school and the larger community. Dimension IV, Engaging inLeadership Best Practices, informed the selection of practices that guided the entire changeprocess. The framework for the School Improvement Plan is listed in Figure 1.FindingsThis is the multifaceted question the researchers answered: What practices, processes,and procedures did the principal use during the transformation of a high poverty,underperforming middle school into a high performing middle school, and how did they informand influence the transformation of the school? The researcher analyzed documents and artifactscontained in the reconstructed library, as well as her journal, and reviewed the videodocumentary. Seven practices emerged as those that were most influential during thetransformation process. They were: 1) Effective School Leadership; 2) Collaboration; 3)Effective Data Collection; 4) Ongoing Professional Development; 5) Knowledge of theCurriculum; 6) Effective Monitoring of Programs, and 7) Facilitating a Reliable Support System.
SHARON WILLIAMS GRIFFIN and REGINALD LEON GREEN85Figure 1. The framework for the school improvement plan.Figure 1 illustrates how changes had to be made in four major areas for studentachievement to occur. Conceptually, the research revolved around a new definition of a schoolleader. Green (2010) described a 21st- centuryschool leader as one who collaborates with otherindividuals and groups to create, manage, and implement an instructional program that meets theneeds of all students, as well as articulate a vision for the future of the school to all stakeholders.Following the theoretical framework, the Four Dimensions of Principal Leadership (Green,2010) and the Nurturing School Theory (Green, 2010) data were collected and analyzed.After identifying the practices used, the researcher again reviewed and analyzeddocuments and artifacts from the three (3) data sources to discern the processes that she used tobring about specific results: the sequential actions that had been taken by her and individualsunder her leadership to facilitate the transformation process.This analysis revealed five processesasbeing most influential during the transformation process. The five processes were: 1)Communication; 2) Sharing Leadership Responsibilities; 3) Supporting Teacher Leaders; 4)Developing a Collaborative Culture, and 5) Making Data-Driven Decisions.A third review of the documents and artifacts was conducted to identify specific rules(procedures) that were used to govern the behavior of all stakeholders during thetransformational process. Six procedures emerged as those that most informed and influenced thetransformation of the school. Those six were: 1) Communication; 2) High AcademicDr. Reginald Green- TheoristNEIGHBORHOODCONDITIONS(High Priority)NURTURING SCHOOLSTheoretical FrameworkSCHOOL FACILITYAge and Condition ofBuildingEnvironmentof school/classroomProfessionalismamongadministrators,faculty/staffStudentTeacherRelationships(Positive)Students’FeelingsAboutThemselves(PRIDE)AestheticsLightingNoiseLevelSafety/SecurityCleanlinessof FacilityThermalConditionsCharacterDevelopmentSchool FacilitiesContribute to Mission ofthe SchoolClean and well-maintained schoolfacilities communicate amessage of responsibilityand respectADVANCEDSTUDENTACHIEVEMENT
SHARON WILLIAMS GRIFFIN and REGINALD LEON GREEN86Achievement; 3) Organizational Structure; 4) Involvement of Others; 5) Gifts and Awards, and6) A Nurturing School Environment.Once data relative to practices, processes, and procedures were acquired, the researchersanalyzed the data to determine if key themes would emergedenoting specific ways the principal’sbehavior was informed and influenced during the transformation process. From this analysis, 19themes emerged describing the leadership behavior of the principal. The themes teased from thecollective data were: 1) Accomplishment; 2 ) Affiliation; 3) Awards; 4) Belief in People;5) BestInstructional Practices for Children; 6) Commitment; 7) Communication; 8) Confidence; 9)Excellence; 10) High Achievement; 11) Involvement; 12) Leadership; 13) Motivation; 14)Principled Teaching; 15) Recognition; 16) Rewards; 17) Strengths and Saliency;18) StudentAchievement, and 19) Vision.These themes were consistent with the practices, processes, andprocedures that emerged as being most influential in the transformation of the school. They alsosupported the practices, processes, and procedures noted in the literature as those previously usedby change agents who were successful in transforming underperforming schools.The practices, processes, and procedures, and the themes teased from the collective datawere consistent with those revealed during the literature review. They also aligned with theprinciples of Green’s (2010) Four Dimensions of Principal Leadership. Over a three-year period,they were used by the principal to improve the academic achievement of students, increaseattendance, and reduce the incidences of discipline at Red Middle School. The academicachievement of students increased each year. There was also a significant increase in student andteacher attendance. The increases in student achievement and student attendance and thereduction in incidences of student discipline can be graphically viewed in Tables 1 and 2.Table 1Growth in Academic Achievement and Attendance2005-2006FRESH STARTSCHOOLTarget: (85%)93%% at/Above ProficientTarget: (80%)77%% at /above ProficientTarget: 93%71%2006-2007STATE/LEATarget: (89%)(85%)% at /above ProficientTarget: (89%)(84%)% at/above ProficientTarget: 93%(95%)2007-2008IMPROVINGEPICGOLD-GAINSCHOOLTarget: (89%)(92%)% at /above ProficientTarget: (89%)(93%)% at /above ProficientTarget: (93%)(94%)2008-2009GOODSTANDINGTarget: (89%)(84%)% at/above ProficientTarget: (86%)(91%)% at/above ProficientTarget: (93%)(94%)
SHARON WILLIAMS GRIFFIN and REGINALD LEON GREEN87Table 2Reductions in Student Suspensions2005 3952006 2982007 1652008 86DiscussionThe educational leadership profession has made progress in identifying practices,processes, and procedures that school leaders can use to transform high poverty,underperformingschools into high performing schools. This study not only reveals some of the practices,processes, and procedures previously reported in the literature,but it also reports the experienceslived by a transformational leader who transformed Red Middle School. She practiced theprinciples of transformational leadership and collaborated with the faculty and staff throughoutthe transformational processes. By exhibiting this behavior, she was able to influencecollaboration between and among faculty and staff members.Effective Practices for use in a Transformation InitiativeAs has been frequently reported in other studies using a transformational leadership styleas described by Bass & Avolio, (1994), she effectively collected data and analyzedit to informdecisions regarding instructional issues. This practice was an essential element in theimprovement of student achievement. In addition to data analysis,to increase teachereffectiveness, she monitored programs, the instructional process of teachers, the performance ofstudents,and providedon-going professional development for teachers. Specific activities wereimplemented to ensure that faculty and staff were knowledgeable of the curriculum andrecognized it as being essential for the improvement of student achievement. To ensure thesuccess of teachers and students and to encourage the use of effective instructional strategies, areliable support system was put in place at every level.Effective Processes for use in a Transformation InitiativeA major contributing factor to the transformation of Red Middle School was theprocesses used by the principal of which communication was the most essential. The principalcommunicated a consistent and clear message of a vision of high expectations for all studentsand that failure was not an option. She shared leadership responsibilities and motivated teachersto assume and perform school-wide responsibilities for instructional improvement. Shedeveloped teacher leaders, empowered them, and provided them with the support that theyneeded as they assumed leadership roles.
SHARON WILLIAMS GRIFFIN and REGINALD LEON GREEN88Developing teacher leaders was a critical part of the transformational process as itfacilitated the process of establishing a collaborative culture wherein activities were conductedwith a common instructional focus. As a result of the establishment of a collaborative culture, thefaculty became engaged in data-driven decision making which focused on measurable targetsthat lead to enhanced student achievement.Procedures That Govern the TransformationCommunication was paramount to effectively transforming the school, and a variety ofcommunication mediums had to be used to keep all stakeholders informed. All members of thefaculty were asked to engage in two-way communication. They were also asked to develop andfunction with a mindset that high academic achievement for all students was the ultimate goal.Following this procedure enabled the principal to create a school climate that was conducive tolearning for all students.In addition to establishing a system of effective two-way communication, anorganizational structure was created that supported the needed changes for a safe and orderlyenvironment to exist. Procedures were put in place to govern that structure, and all faculty, staff,and students were asked to follow those procedures. Teachers and students were asked to placevalue on the need to involve others in the process of change and to empower others by activelyengaging them in the school improvement process. To this end, signs conveying the importanceof engagement were posted throughout the school.The faculty and staff defined a nurturing,student-centered school environment, anenvironment where students advanced through scientific, mathematical, and analytical teachingmethods, according to their levels of intellectual abilities. Procedures to establish such anenvironment were created by a faculty committee and distributed to all faculty members. Theseprocedures were accepted as norms, posted in the hallways, and reviewed in faculty meetings.Of great importance, a practice that paid great dividends was when the faculty and staffcelebrated successes and acknowledged outstanding performance of teachers and students andthe achievement of goals. Set procedures were established to govern the issuing of awards torecognize the faculty and staff for excellence in educating students and for students whoperformed in an outstanding manner.ConclusionSeveral studies have revealed leadership practices, processes, and procedures that areeffective in transforming a high poverty, underperforming school and positively impactingstudent achievement (Blankenstein, 2004; Waters, Marzano, & McNulty, 2003). Over a three-year period, the transformational leader in this study used the identified practices, processes, andprocedures to improve the academic achievement of students, increase attendance, and reducethe incidences of discipline at Red Middle School. In general, the study revealed that (1)leadership of the principal; (2) collaboration among the faculty and staff; (3) structuring theschool organization in a nurturing manner; (4) using data to make instructional decisions; (5)aligning the curriculum using appropriate student interventions, and (6) implementing a focusedprofessional development program for all personnel influenced the transformation of the school.The result of this transformational leadership initiative was the emergence of three
SHARON WILLIAMS GRIFFIN and REGINALD LEON GREEN89cultural themes which mark the work in the school and provide directions for other changeinitiatives. Those three themes are: a strong sense of community; a focus on learning and settinghigh expectations for all students, and exhibiting caring for the well-being of faculty, staff,students, and members of the larger community.A Strong Sense of CommunityTo transform an underperforming school to a high performing school, the school leadermust develop a strong sense of community. A strong sense of community exists when trust,respect, and positive interpersonal relationships are permeated throughout the organization.Collaboration occurs between and among members, and all stakeholders feel a sense ofbelonging and empowerment (Edmonds, 1979; Raywid, 1993).At Red Middle School, the establishment of a sense of community became the foundationfor school improvement. It began with the principal exhibiting behavior that showed respect forthe faculty, staff, students, members of the external community, and the practice of schooling.Norms were established and posted throughout the school to govern the behavior of teachers,students, and stakeholders. Accepting these norms and behaving accordingly, individualsdeveloped respect for one another. Members of the external school environment were drawn intothe internal environment and made to feel a part of the school.The principal quickly realized that some students needed support to assist them inovercoming barriers to learning. At Red Middle, the principal removed barriers to learning,established a support system for students, and this system was reinforced by everyone connectedwith the school. Once barriers to learning are removed, studentscan develop a sense ofbelonging, become engaged in school activities and assume responsibility for their own learning(Wehlage, Rutter, Smith, Lesko, & Fernandez, 1989).If a strong sense of community is desired, positiveinterpersonal relationships must existamong faculty, staff, students, and members of the community. These relationships must bepresent in every facet of the organization, and the development of these relationships are not achance happening; they areplanned, and the planning starts with the principal.The principal hasto have an understanding of self and others and use that understanding to enhance his or herskills and attributes and the skills and attributes of the people with whom he or she works andserves (Green, 2010). At Red Middle,all stakeholders were connected through a shared visionand common goals. The principal exhibited the type of behavior that indicated a belief in people,trusting in their judgment, and placing them in leadership roles that were aligned with theirability. Interpersonal relationships were important as meetings had to occur wherein issues thatrelated to the common good of the school were discussed and addressed.At Red Middle, a sense of community existed. The school was structured for effectiveteaching and learning. The principal was an instructional leader who sets high expectation for allstakeholders.Faculty morale was high; absenteeism was low, and teachers had greater jobsatisfaction. Students attended school regularly, committedfewer discipline infractions and wentto class on time. They acquired an interest in scholarship, became engaged in school activities,and took responsibility for their own learning. Adhering to the principles of transformationalleadership, leaders can create a new sense of community, one in which all students and teachersflourished (Bass & Avolio, 1994).
SHARON WILLIAMS GRIFFIN and REGINALD LEON GREEN90A Focus on Learning and Setting High Expectations for All StudentsA major endeavor in the turnaround initiative is establishing a climate of highexpectations for all students (Edmonds, 1979). In schools where there is a climate of highexpectations for all students and the faculty and staff create opportunities for students to meetthose expectations, academic achievement is enhanced (Brook, Nomura, & Cohen, 1989;Edmonds, 1979; Howard, 1990; Levin, 1988).This was evident in several of the themes thatemerged during the analysis of the data from Red Middle. The principal and facultydemonstrated that they believed in the capability of the students, set standards, and putprocedures in place to ensure that students would meet those standards. The principal believed inpeople, involved the faculty in the decision-making process, and did what was best for students.Such behavior from the leader conveyed a belief to the faculty and staff that they had thecapability to assist the students of Red Middle in achieving the expectation that was set for them.It has been clearly demonstrated that high expectations--with concomitant support--is a criticalfactor in fostering the academic achievement of high poverty, underachieving students(Edmonds, 1979; Mehan, Hubbard, & Villanueva, 1994).It was evident from the beginning of her tenure as principal of Red Middle that shebelieved in the ability of the students to learn. She did not label the students as at risk or unableto learn; rather, she looked at the conditions of the school and communicated to the students,faculty, and the larger community high expectations and a vision for learning.The challenge wasestablishing a climate in which learning could occur. Once the climate was established, studentswere provided an opportunity to learn. Expectations were set for them; they accepted theexpectations, became intrinsically motivated and active participants in decisions that affectedthem. In essence, they assumed responsibility and ownership for their own learning. Kohn (1991)argues that schools that are successful in promoting the academic achievement ofunderperforming students build on the student’s intrinsic motivation. Students are activelyengaged in a series of rich,real world activities embedded in experiential curricula that connect totheir interests, strengths, and real world activities (Anderman & Maehr, 1994; Weinstein et al.,1991).For high achievement to occur, school leaders must build relationships, establishperformance standards, and hold all stakeholders responsible for the achievement of thosestandards (Green, 2010). Leadership must be distributed through the organization,and the facultymust be motivated to accept that responsibility. For this practice to be effective, a highly focusedprofessional development program must be operational, one that enhances the skills andpractices of the faculty, enabling them to function at a high level and persevere until the desiredchange occurs.Exhibiting Caring for the Well-being of Faculty, Staff, Students, and Members of theLarger CommunityTransformation is most likely to occur in an underperforming school when leadersestablish effective lines of communication that illustrate that all stakeholders are respected andcared about (Wahlstrom & Louis, 2008). The art and technique of effectively using words toimpart information or ideas is a critical element in the transformational process. There is nosubstitute for effective communication. Through effective communication, school leaders canshare the vision for the school, assess current conditions, and identify the discrepancy that exists
SHARON WILLIAMS GRIFFIN and REGINALD LEON GREEN91between current conditions and the vision (Green, 2010). Through effective communication,school leaders can build relationships that convey a sense of caring for the well-being of allstakeholders.In addition to communicating effectively, it is imperative that school leaders create anurturing school environment. In such an environment, relationships are developed, andresponsibility is shared. In order for responsibilities to be shared, trust must be pervasive.Teachers must feel supported by the principal and a valued part of the organization. It is theresponsibility of the leader to create an environment that is conducive to teaching and learning,one in which professionalism exists among administrators, faculty and staff, and positiverelationships exist between teachers and students (Cotton, 2003). In such an environment,students feel good about themselves and become engaged in learning. Through these practices,everyone develops a sense of caring about the well-being of everyone else.Using the practices, processes, and procedures revealed in this study, it is the hope of theresearchers that readers who are leaders of underperforming schools can use them to transformtheir schools into high performing schools. If this occurs, they will join a number of othereducators who have brought equity to the educational process and closed the achievement gap.ReferencesAnderson, L. (2006). Analytic autoethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 35(4),373-395.Anderman, E.M., & Maehr, M.L. (1994). Motivation and schooling in the middle grades. Reviewof Educational Research, 64(2), 287-309.Barth, R.S. (2002, May). The culture. Educational Leadership,59(8), 6-11.Bass, B.M., & Avolio, B. (1994). Improving organizational effectiveness throughtransformational leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Blankenstein, A.M. (2004.) Failure is not an option: Six principles that guide studentachievementin high performing schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.Brook, J. S., Nomura, C., & Cohen, P (1989). A network of influences on adolescent druginvolvement: Neighborhood, school, peer, and family. Genetic, Social, and GeneralPsychology Monographs, 115(125145), 303- 321.Brown, A. (2012). Turnaround schools: Practices used by nationally recognized principals toimprove student achievement in high poverty schools (Unpublished doctoral dissertation).University of Memphis, Memphis, TN.Cotton, K. (2003). The schooling practices that matter most. Alexandria, VA: NorthwestRegional Educational Laboratory.Cross, C.T. (2004). Political education: National policy comes of age. New York, NY: TeachersCollege Press.Edmonds, R.R. (1979, October). Effective schools for the urban poor. Educational Leadership,37(2), 15-24.Fullan, M. (2006). Turnaround leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.Green, R.L. (2001). Practicing the art of leadership: A problem-based approach to implementingthe ISLLC standards. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill- Prentice Hall.Green, R.L. (2010). The four dimensions of principal leadership: A framework for leadingtwenty-first century schools.Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
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SHARON WILLIAMS GRIFFIN and REGINALD LEON GREEN93Weinstein, R., Soule, C., Collins, F., Cone, J., Mehlorn, M., & Stimmonacchi, K. (1991).Expectations and high school change: Teacher-researcher collaboration to prevent schoolfailure. American Journal of Community Psychology, 19(3), 333-363.Wiles, J., & Bondi, J. (2001). The new American middle school: Educating preadolescents in anera of change (3rd ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.AuthorsSharon Williams Griffin, Ed D. is Director of the Innovation Zone (iZone) for Memphis CitySchools in the Division of Academic Operations, Technology, & Innovation- Memphis,Tennessee.Reginald Leon Green, Ed. D. is Professor of Educational Leadership in the College ofEducation at the University of Memphis. Dr. Green teaches courses in educational leadershipwith a focus on instructional leadership, leadership dispositions, school reform, and models forturning around low performing schools.His research interests include school leadership, teambuilding for effective teaching and learning, superintendent/board relations, school districtrestructuring, and the effects of nurturing characteristics on the academic achievement ofstudents.