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Campus Leadership

Student Interviews to Drive School Change

By: Joe Marks

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to interview students from a school that we serve. The purpose was to learn more about how the school was developing and improving its systems to impact student achievement.

In many cases, we tend to set-up student interviews that are light hearted and easy on the ears. The human interest stories are moving and generally tell us that things are going well. The questions are focused on students’ achievements and interests.

We needed to go deeper though. What were the gaps? Where could we (the administrators, the teachers- the adults) do better?

The Student Interviews

To do this, we set out to gather input directly from students form all backgrounds. We asked the campus principal to select two distinct groups of students: those who were struggling academically and those who were excelling. We were very intentional in keeping the groups separate to be sure that all students would have an opportunity to participate. Empowering the student voice was the goal - we wanted all of the students to speak freely. We assembled the typical questions:

  • What do you like about your school?
  • What subjects do you like?

But, we also aimed for deeper questions:

  • How do your teachers support your needs?
  • What can they do to improve?
  • What challenges are you having in school?

The Student Responses

The results were truly eye opening and left an indelible impression: In the group of high achievers, I learned that the students were generally really happy with school. They loved their teachers and enjoyed participating in all kinds of activities. They played sports. They had plans to go to colleges and universities. They knew their teachers really cared about them. They smiled and laughed. They had high expectations of themselves and they were eager for opportunities.

In the other group, the responses were different. One student struggled with attendance and had few interests in school. Another really did not feel that teachers cared about her. They didn’t consider teachers to be much of a support system for their needs. They depended on their peers and on themselves alone. One student was from Mexico and only spoke Spanish. Only one young man really ever smiled and he spoke of how important it was to push himself because it was all up to him.

Both groups were open and honest with their answers. When you compare both groups there is a stark contrast in their responses. However, their honest, telling feedback would have gone unnoticed simply because we haven’t taken the time to ask the questions.

What We Learned from the Student Interviews

Here were the “Aha’s”

  1. Our thoughts on high achievers were pretty much confirmed. They are active and have plenty of support.
  2. The struggling students don’t feel supported.
  3. The struggling students don’t participate in school activities.
  4. The teachers don’t know enough about the students that need their help.
  5. The adults don’t have a full understanding of how they are perceived by all students.

Ultimately, Ask yourself:

  1. Do I truly know who my students are and what they need?
  2. How can I start engaging all of my students in proactive discussions that will benefit them and me?

Campus Leadership

But, What is the Root Cause?

By: Joe Marks

Your program or initiative isn’t going well and you aren’t seeing the progress you were hoping for – what’s next? Conducting a root cause analysis (RCA) is a productive method to get to the real issues that are holding up progress. The RCA will give real, tangible facts to work from rather than hunches or feelings that result in haphazard outcomes.

Three Tips to Conduct a Successful Root Cause Analysis

  1. Use a Structured Process
  2. Go Beyond Surface Level Symptoms
  3. Be Objective

1. Use a Structured Process

Processes will prevent you from straying from your goal. This should include collaboration and input from your stakeholders. There are different types of RCA processes like The 5 Whys and Cause & Effect Diagrams (a.k.a. Fishbone diagrams). See what works for you.

2. Go Beyond Surface Level Symptoms

Often, symptoms of a root cause can be confused for the actual issue itself. The unintended consequences are that the interventions and adjustments applied are focused on the wrong thing resulting in lackluster outcomes. For example, a program was purchased to impact student achievement. Achievement levels aren’t improving as anticipated. It’s determined that the program is the root cause. So, it’s thrown out and another program is purchased to replace it. Then the cycle continues. Going beyond the surface level symptom, can help you discover why the program was not delivering the results you wanted.

3. Be Objective

When tackling the RCA, it is important to remain objective. Stakeholder input is important to getting multiple perspectives and seeing the full picture. Don’t assign blame and keep an open mind. Also, objectivity allows you to make critical changes where they are needed and stop doing the things that aren’t working.

Reaching your final goal is rarely achieved without a few bumps and course corrections along the way. Get back on track and on your way to better progress with these simple guidelines to focus your efforts!

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