Instructional Improvement

In a typical high school, principals are overloaded with a multitude of tasks that leave too little time to direct the complex, developmental process that is required to transform instruction in ways that will dramatically improve student learning.

The NCS model places an emphasis on developing and supporting shared leadership among staff so that teachers have multiple opportunities to contribute beyond their own classroom. Tapping into the skills, ideas, experiences, and enthusiasm of committed faculty and staff throughout the building is a powerful strategy to continually improve instruction that supports learning and growth for all students, including those with disabilities and English Language Learners.

To accomplish this, NCS Coaches help establish and coach an Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) at each partner school that has the capacity, focus, and responsibility to lead continuous instructional improvement. The ILT includes leaders at the school from all academic departments—usually teachers who are interested in helping to define and reach important instructional goals.

Data, Research, and Instruction

The ILT uses data about their school, from test scores to student work, as well as current research to determine a school-wide instructional goal, called a Targeted Instructional Area (TIA). The TIA applies to all disciplines and supports the learning of all students. Examples of TIAs are critical thinking and argumentative literacy. Once a TIA is determined, the ILT engages in a cycle of inquiry to review the research, explore and implement best practices, and share insights that can improve how the faculty approach their work. Each team is supported every step of the way by a NCS Coach who meets with them regularly to discuss how to establish effective conditions, structures, and practices for school-wide instructional improvement. This process develops a collaborative school culture focused on teaching and learning, and it supports teachers to continually improve their practice.

In the past few years, most NCS schools have identified some aspect of adolescent literacy as their TIA to help students handle more complex academic content that will support the higher-order, subject-specific thinking skills required for graduation and success in college. To expand and deepen this work, NCS began a focus in literacy and language development in 2012.

NCS’s approach to working with ILTs is designed to build shared responsibility for reaching common instructional goals in all classrooms. It rests on the belief that adults will perform their best when they are in a safe and challenging environment designed to support them to take risks and grow. NCS supports ILTs to use the Targeted Leadership Consulting model of a professional learning cycle, which includes professional reading, observation and feedback among teachers, and monitoring and modifying classroom practice. The process reinforces collaboration among faculty and is embedded in the day-to-day work.

Each quarter, NCS schools hold an instructional Learning Walk, in which members of the ILT visit classrooms at their school to see their colleagues in action. NCS also organizes quarterly Guided Visits, where members of ILTs from all NCS schools are invited to another partner school to visit a number of classrooms, then meet afterwards to discuss what they observed, give feedback to the host school, and discuss the implications for their own schools. This is a powerful way for teachers to share their teaching methods and to gain insight from their peers.

As an ILT grows and its practices take hold in the school, NCS continues to work with the team to lead  the school in deep layers of interaction around common instructional goals. In this way, the ILT builds a powerful culture of investment and excellence for all students.