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Solutions From Within: 7 Insights To Ignite Positive Change in Schools

March 20, 2024

Educators from coast to coast have long understood the critical nature of school culture and climate. A positive school culture can serve as a catalyst for student success and well-being and teacher satisfaction.

But in today’s world of standards-driven assessments, concerns over school safety, and the influx of politics in education, how do school leaders cultivate, grow, and sustain an environment that is conducive to effective teaching and learning?

Project Ignite, powered by Battelle for Kids, has been working hand-in-hand with educators across Ohio to drive positive change in school culture. 

Through the combination of personalized support and coaching and the evidence-based resources of Battelle for Kids, Project Ignite has witnessed the impactful change that can happen when schools invest in their improvement efforts.

Based on real-life examples of the schools they serve, here are seven key insights from the Project Ignite team to drive impactful change in school culture.

Insight #1 – Elevate Teacher Voice

Elevating teacher voice is not a luxury — it’s a necessity. When teachers are heard, schools flourish. 

Silver Creek Elementary in Toledo recognized the critical role of teachers in shaping the school’s culture and climate as they merged two staffs.

Silver Creek paused professional learning to allow time and space for teachers to voice their needs.  Leveraging data through an educator perception tool and feedback from teachers on building needs, the team drove actionable change through collective problem-solving. As teachers advocated for resources and support, they were empowered and connected to the improvement process.

This intentional approach not only strengthens the connection between data-driven decision-making and instructional excellence but also positions teachers as educational leaders and improves staff morale.

Silver Creek’s journey serves as a powerful reminder that elevating teacher voice can ignite positive change that reverberates far beyond the classroom walls.

Insight #2 – Include the Perspectives of All Stakeholders

“How can you help me if you can’t hear me?” 

In Milton-Union Exempted Village Schools, located north of Dayton, a district-wide commitment was made to elevate not only the voices of their teachers but all stakeholders including students and central office staff.

Students in grades 4-12 were able to complete TheStudentExperience survey, while all teachers and staff were given the Educator Perception survey to complete. 

Both tools are used to identify areas of strength and areas of opportunity for their respective school campuses. The Building Leadership Teams and District Leadership Team used this information to address any gaps in the student and staff experience.

Staff felt empowered and heard, as they appreciated the opportunity to help develop systems of support aligned to their needs. Teachers felt empowered to address student experience needs based on real-time data.

Insight #3 – Engage in Collaboration over Competition 

With the opening of two PreK-12 buildings in the Northeastern Local School District in Springfield, it can sometimes feel like two districts in one. While just 12 miles apart, both campuses have their own leadership team and school culture.

To bridge this gap while also improving the student experience district-wide, Curriculum Director Beverly Walkden was intentional in selecting the Rounds21 offering through Project Ignite.

With the goal of aligning instructional practices across the district, Rounds21 put teachers in the driver’s seat to identify instructional norms and blind spots. Through the classroom walkthroughs and subsequent debrief sessions, each campus was able to clearly identify theories of action to improve their practice and mark their way forward.

Insight #4 – Instill Hope and Belonging in Students

Many families that choose the Quaker Prep Academy (QPA) digital teaching and learning environment have children who possess a lack of hope for the future.

The QPA Building Leadership Team identified this as an area of concern, recognizing that teachers must know how to guide students when they are feeling down and can’t seem to envision a bright future for themselves. 

Through Project Ignite’s Science of Hope series, QPA teachers have embarked on a year-long journey to instill hopeful classroom environments. The professional development was tailored to QPA’s remote teaching and learning environment, emphasizing the importance of belief in one’s ability to navigate challenges and achieve goals. 

The mission is for students – and often their families as well – to persevere in the face of adversity by fostering a mindset of optimism and possibility. By generating hope and a sense of belonging, QPA teachers can inspire change and cultivate a brighter future filled with endless possibilities for the students they serve.

Insight #5 – Success through Student Discourse

Parsons Elementary School in Columbus also selected the Rounds21 offering through Project Ignite. But, unlike the path Northeastern Local took, the Parsons Building Leadership Team chose to leverage Rounds21 to analyze student engagement.

Following their Rounds21 training, the team debriefed and arrived at a conclusion: academic student discourse is the driving force behind student engagement.

The Parsons team is now taking the critical steps to design and define academic student discourse and create a framework within their school, which will ultimately contribute to student success and improvement.

Insight #6 – Job-Embedded Professional Development

For the past two years, Struthers High School, located outside Youngstown, has placed a strong emphasis on teacher leadership by leveraging instructional rounds.

The Struthers team discovered patterns of instructional practice across the school that, if improved, would have a significant impact on both teaching and learning. To achieve this impact, the team determined they would focus on the quality and timing of feedback.  

Several teachers were pulled together as a professional learning team, and these teacher leaders now design and facilitate professional learning focused on feedback to the entire staff.

Their capacity within the high school has grown to the point that the team is prepared to facilitate instructional rounds across the district as other schools develop a readiness to leverage the work.

Insight #7 – Creating Space to Reflect, Recalibrate, Respond

“Communication is key!” is a mantra echoed in every meeting at Bolton Elementary School in Cleveland, fostering effective collaboration and teamwork among the educators.

This emphasis on communication provides a safe environment for reflection, recalibration, and response to ongoing initiatives — a practice regularly embraced by Bolton’s teachers.

Early in the school year, teachers found themselves questioning the relevance of a professional development series. Through participation in a root cause analysis, they realized the necessity of assessing the current state of teaching and learning within their classrooms. 

Only by understanding this reality versus the desired outcome could they develop effective solutions to enhance student success and identify pertinent professional learning opportunities for staff.

By prioritizing communication and reflective practices, educators at Bolton are committed to continuously improving teaching and learning outcomes for the benefit of their students and the entire school community.

About Project Ignite
Project Ignite, powered by Battelle for Kids, provides customized support to school teams seeking to strengthen their capacity for improvement. Project Ignite includes on-site coaching, evidence-based resources, professional learning, and a statewide network to advance student success.