Spring Woods High School
Situated in Houston, near one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city, Spring Woods High School faced what many other schools face: an increasing discrepancy in the performance of their disadvantaged and minority students. While being one of the richest districts in terms of property wealth, the district also had the highest level of illiteracy among the recent immigrants in the Houston area. The discrepancy in student achievement and the changing student population underscored the need for action at Spring Woods.
"After exploring a number of programs and theories," says Eloise Hambright-Brown, director of Accelerated and Compensatory Education at the school, "we needed a backdrop to bring it all together. That is why we were interested in culturally responsive learning." The staff worked with the culturally responsive teaching and learning program developed by consultant Margery Ginsberg and co-author of Diversity and Motivation: Culturally Responsive Teaching. The staff has eagerly embraced the unique characteristics of their students and has learned to enhance instructional strategies to meet the needs of all students.
The program began, when Schoolwide Leadership Cadre, an inquiry-oriented group of key stakeholders (including the principal, assistant principal, teachers, parents, community members, and central office staff) decided to explore issues underlying student success. This team was responsible for planning, implementing, and strengthening the schoolwide program. The cadre participated in an intensive training in the four features of the culturally responsive framework. Their enthusiasm was contagious. The cadre became in-house staff developers, in addition to their regular teaching responsibilities. They learned to refine their strategies and provide training to their colleagues on staff development.
The cadre has release time every other month to provide training and support to their colleagues. Title I funds, district staff development days, staff meeting time, and conference time are all pooled together to provide the resources to support their release time. The district provides five staff development days within the school year for all staff members to engage in learning.
To promote implementation, teachers identify a partner or buddy teacher with whom they agree to work to refine their use of the framework. Partners are required to work with each other six times during the school year. As partners learn strategies, they try them out, and dialogue with their partners about what they are doing and learning. A partnership rubric was developed to guide the observations and partner dialogues resulting from the observations. With these partnerships among staff members, there are many strategies that teachers learn from one another, according to Hambright-Brown.
Collaboration among teachers is one key to success at Spring Woods. The partnership has led to other ways teachers learn from each other, as well. Teachers are examining student work together and discussing how their work with students is being impacted by what they are learning. The annual poster session on "best practices" highlights successful lesson plans and student work. Evidence collected from observations is being collected to share across the school.
Now that teachers understand the academic needs of culturally and economically diverse students, their focus for staff development efforts at Spring Woods is shifting to literacy. The cadre is taking what it learned about culturally responsive teaching and learning and applying it to literacy. After a retreat, cadre members are planning to build literacy across the curriculum using a motivational framework. Professional learning teams will focus on instruction, examine student work, and conduct peer coaching to focus more on literacy.
The school's administrators are intimately involved in every step of the process. They participate in training, serve as members of the cadre, deliver training, observe teachers, and offer support. Their involvement emphasizes the importance of the changes underway and conveys a message of support.
Over the last few years, data suggest that teachers' efforts are paying huge dividends. Student behavior, motivation, and attitudes are improving. Teachers are implementing more culturally appropriate instructional strategies and student achievement is improving. Scores have increased dramatically (22.2 % to 77.3 % in math; 23.1% to 86.1% in reading; 10.9% to 85.2% in writing). Even the passing rates of low performing students are steadily increasing on the state tests. Through careful analysis of student performance data and schoolwide planning, positive changes are occurring for teachers and students at Spring Woods.