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«Closing the Achievement Gap advice frOm expert OntariO principaLs • 2 0 1 2 This page has been intentionally left blank Contents A Note to Readers ...»

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OntariO Leadership strategy

Closing the

Achievement Gap

advice frOm expert OntariO principaLs • 2 0 1 2

This page has been intentionally left blank


A Note to Readers 2

Introduction 3

Background 3 Reflective Writing Responses 9 Findings and Organization 10 Theme One: Building Teacher Capacity for Positive Change 12 Influencing Teachers’ Beliefs and Attitudes 13 Developing and Strengthening Teacher Practice 17 Staffing and Assignments 20 Theme Two: Using Resources Effectively 22 Allocating Time 22 Aligning Resources with Needs 24 The Principal’s Role as Resource 24 Outside Resources 27 Hiring and Selection 27 Theme Three: Keeping the Focus on Student Outcomes 29 Collecting and Using Data 29 Sustaining Improvement 31 Theme Four: Building a Culture of Collaboration 34 Theme Five: Harnessing Parent and Community Support 38 Involving the Family 38 Involving the Community 42 Five Big Ideas to Take Away 43 Appendix: Learn More 44 Une publication équivalente est disponible en français sous le titre suivant : Réduire l’écart de rendement.

This publication is available on the Ministry of Education’s website, at www.ontario.ca/education.

A Note to Readers This resource guide includes some text features designed to direct readers to further resources.

The “Learn More” icon in the left-hand margin signals that the word or phrase that is bolded in the text has a corresponding entry in the Learn More appendix at the back of the book. (Just click on the boldfaced term to see the Learn More entry!) Learn More entries provide definitions, commentary, or information on resources related to the boldfaced terms.

Where the OLF icon appears in the margin, it indicates that a connection is being made in the text to the Ontario Leadership Framework.

All references to the Ontario Leadership Framework are drawn from the revised version of the framework, which is being used in draft form in many contexts in the field, and is scheduled to be posted on the Institute for Education Leadership website (www.education-leadership-ontario.ca) in Fall 2012. Wordings in the posted version may change slightly, but the concepts cited in the present document will remain the same.


Closing the Achievement Gap is a resource guide that collects best practices in their own words by expert principals across Ontario working to “close the gap” in achievement among groups of students, a core priority for education in Ontario. It is designed to give principals and other educators across the province support and ideas to use as a basis for conversation on closing the achievement gap in their own schools.

Even though a great deal of good work is being done to improve student achievement, gaps persist among various groups of students – for example, boys, Aboriginal students, students for whom neither English nor French is their first language, and students with special needs. Significant progress is being made, but more remains to be done. Why is this so important? A solid foundation of learning gives students the widest range of choices in school and beyond.

Ontario’s schools serve a diverse student population representing a wide range of cultural, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds. There are seventy-two school boards and four school authorities made up of English public, French public, English Catholic, and French Catholic schools. The diverse needs of Ontario’s students and their families underscore the importance of strategic and skilled leadership to address the achievement gaps that arise.

Background To gather information about leadership practices that have been successful in closing the gap, we – the Ministry of Education – asked directors across the province to identify principals in their school boards1 who they felt were “highly effective”, according to a set of criteria that we set out. We hosted nearly two hundred of these principals each year at the Principal Congress, a knowledge-sharing initiative launched in February 2009 that became an annual event2 (see the boxed insert on pages 5–8). This resource guide is a compilation of the knowledge they have shared.

We were inspired to create the Principal Congress by our Deputy Minister at the time, Steve Marshall, who described gap-closing as a “wicked problem”.

He told us that the expertise to solve wicked problems lies with practitioners in the field and that it was our task to find and use this expertise. The Principal Congress was designed to do just that.

In designing the conference, we wanted to avoid the so-called “drive-by professional development syndrome” of bringing principals together for a one-day conference where participants enjoy themselves if the keynote speaker is engaging, but do not have the time or energy to put what they have learned into practice when they return to their schools. With this in mind, we designed the Principal Congress to be about learning from these expert principals, rather than presenting to them. We invited and facilitated networked learning – learning shared among the participants – before, during, and after the actual event. Most importantly, we decided to require participants to write about their leadership practice before they came to the congress event, using a method called Reflective Writing Responses (see the following section).

All the advice we were given about the idea of having participants write about their practice and submit their writing ahead of time, like homework, suggested that it wouldn’t work, for a variety of reasons: principals are busy and have other priorities; they will not want to come to the congress if prewriting is required;

they are not used to writing about their work.

But we chose to take the risk, make the writing assignment a requirement, and hope that we would receive some helpful responses. It turned out that our trust in participants’ ability and willingness to do the task was well placed. In fact, they far exceeded our expectations. Over 85 per cent of participants did the “homework”; their responses were insightful, thoughtful, and honest; and on analysis, we found that their descriptions of their practice aligned well with the leading research on closing achievement gaps.

1. In this document, the term school boards includes both district school boards and school authorities.

2. In 2012, the Principal Congress was incorporated into the broader forum of the annual Ontario Leadership Congress.

–  –  –

T he Principal Congress was an annual event that brought together two hundred highly regarded principals and a small number of district leaders for a facilitated one-day conference focused on closing achievement gaps. The event was held in 2009, 2010, and 2011. In 2012 it became the Ontario Leadership Congress, which is outside the scope of this document. Further information on the Principal Congress may be found on the Ministry of Education website at www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/leadership/principalCongress.html and www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/leadership/Principal_QuickFacts.pdf.

–  –  –

In addition to principals, we also looked for supervisory officers, directors of education, and leadership association representatives who shared the same characteristics – who were proactive, innovative system thinkers focused on developing and sharing solutions for the challenge of closing gaps in student achievement. Their responses were not analysed and are not included in this document.

Each year, participants were provided with a set of resource materials to consider and draw upon in their reflective writing responses before the congress.

A keynote speaker was invited to speak on a topic related to the area of focus for that year’s congress.

–  –  –

The keynote speaker was Roger Martin, presenting on “Integrative Thinking”. Leaders are often faced with two opposing alternatives that seem at odds with one another. The theory of integrative thinking involves looking at a matter under consideration in a more complex, nuanced way, keeping all factors in mind throughout the problem-solving process, and coming up with a new solution to the problem that achieves multiple objectives, not only objectives that serve one or the other of the initial models.

• Video highlights of Martin’s keynote address are available at www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/leadership/martin.html.

r e s o u r c e m aT e r i a l s * • “Successful Leadership for Especially Challenging Schools” by Kenneth Leithwood and Rosanne Steinbach (in Brent Davies and John West-Burnham (Eds.), Handbook of Educational Leadership and Management (London, UK: Pearson, 2003)) • Reach Every Student: Energizing Ontario Education (2008), available at www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/energize • The Ontario Leadership Framework for Principals and Vice-Principals * All resources are from the Ministry of Education, unless otherwise specified.

The final report for Principal Congress 2009 is available at http://ontarioeducationleaders.ning.com/forum/topics/report-on-principal-congress.

–  –  –

The keynote speaker was Richard Elmore, presenting on “Instructional Rounds”. Inspired by the medical-rounds model used by physicians, the instructional rounds model developed by Elmore and his colleagues promotes shared practice. It encompasses a specific set of ideas about how educational practitioners work together to solve common problems and to improve their practice.

• Video highlights of Elmore’s keynote address are available at www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/leadership/highlights.html.

–  –  –

The keynote speaker was Douglas Willms, presenting on “Student Engagement”. Student engagement is a necessary condition for learning and achievement. According to Willms, student engagement is also a critically important outcome in its own right and may be a more important predictor of success in the workplace than academic achievement is. There are three dimensions of student engagement: social, academic or institutional, and intellectual.

–  –  –

According to Willms, all four elements work together, and if one is absent, learning cannot occur.

• Video highlights of Willms’s keynote address are available at www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/leadership/2011willms.html.

r e s o u r c e m aT e r i a l s • The School Effectiveness Framework (2010), available at www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/framework.html • The Ontario Leadership Framework for Principals and Vice-Principals • The Five Core Leadership Capacities (CLCs) as described in Ideas Into Action: Five Core Capacities of Effective Leaders (Fall 2009), available at www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/leadership/IdeasIntoAction09.pdf • What Did You Do in School Today?: Transforming Classrooms Through Social, Academic and Intellectual Engagement (First National Report) (2009), a report by Douglas Willms, Sharon Friesen, and Penny Milton for the Canadian Education Association, available at www.cea-ace.ca/publication/ what-did-you-do-school-today-transforming-classrooms-through-socialacademic-and-intelle • Leadership Development section of the Ministry of Education website, available at www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/leadership/index.html

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reflective Writing responses Since our experiment to have principals write about their practice has been so successful, we are sharing the methodology we used to design and implement the reflective writing response (RWR) protocol.

–  –  –

The questions we asked became more focused each year. In the first year we asked more generally about participants’ leadership practice around closing achievement gaps; in the second year we asked participants to think and write

–  –  –

Findings and organization Our expert principals identified achievement gaps among a variety of groups, including boys, Aboriginal students, students with special needs, English language learners, and recent immigrants. They saw the key to success as differentiating instruction to meet student needs and providing targeted resources for these groups to better support their ability to benefit from instruction.

What they described as their leadership practice was holistic in nature; they worked to develop an approach to teaching and learning that would benefit all students and to implement an instructional regime that drove all of their work with teachers, again with the students’ needs foremost. Their experience suggested that, in many schools, a chosen instructional regime must be understood, accepted, and practised before more targeted strategies can be implemented.

The synergy of a collaborative teaching and learning environment provided the fertile ground for the best instructional practice to flourish.

–  –  –

Their stories also provide illustrative examples of the Ontario Leadership Framework coming to life. We hope that these examples will become guideposts for those aspiring to engage in leadership practices that make a difference to student achievement and well-being.

In addition to the OLF practices highlighted throughout this resource guide, our expert principals demonstrate a skilful use of “Personal Leadership Resources” (cognitive, social, and psychological) from the OLF. Often their use of these personal resources leads to successful enactment of the leadership practices – problem solving, managing and exhibiting effective emotional responses, remaining optimistic and resilient in the face of daunting challenges, and so on. We hope their stories will be inspirational.

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