Characteristics of Resilient Schools

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

“Just believe in yourself, and you will realize that even those small steps taken in the right direction can produce great results.”

Dr Prem Jagyasi

In my previous post I introduced the idea of three dimensions to help educators and school leaders think about the characteristics of resilient schools. In this post I want to expand on these little more and introduce some questions that may be used to guide further thinking.

The three dimensions are:

  • Culture
  • Structure
  • Practice

Each dimension is explained in summary in the sections below, and then introducing the three characteristics within each of them.

The culture of an organisation is defined by the collection of values, expectations, and practices that guide and inform the actions of all who are involved in it. A healthy culture is developed and sustained when there is a purposeful and collaboratively owned vision, together with a set of guiding values/principles. It develops as a result of the buy-in of participants to the vision of the organisation and the leadership provided to pursue it.

The three characteristics in this dimension are:

  • Clearly articulated vision, beliefs and purpose: Are our school’s beliefs and vision sufficiently future-focused, and do they adequately reflect what is required in order to build towards resilience?
  • Strong parent and community relationships: To what extent do we consider parents/whānau and community as partners in supporting the learning of our students? How does this happen?
  • Emphasis on collaboration and collectivity: Has our practice shifted to where staff are working collectively to support learners – or do they continue to operate in isolation, with one teacher and one class?

In designing for resilience it is critical for schools to develop coherent systems, structures, and practices that can allow teachers and learners to transition seamlessly between on-site and home-based learning, so that communication, schedules, and continuous learning all align to move learning forward and effectively support members of the school community.

The three characteristics in this dimension are:

  • Transparency and coherence at all levels: Can we genuinely say that all of our planning and teaching is available to everyone involved (teachers, students, parents/whānau) and that the experience of the learner is consistent regardless of their position in the school?
  • Effective use of digital tools and environments: Are the digital tools and environments we are using fit for purpose, and are we using them consistently and appropriately across the whole organisation?
  • Operating as part of an education network: Do we routinely connect with a variety of others to provide the breadth and depth of learning support for our staff and students or are we relatively self-sufficient in how we operate?

For many decades educators and schools have been left to their own devices in terms of the pedagogical practices they employ. Some schools have focused on a particular approach or model to be used across the school, while others leave it to the preferences and beliefs of individual teachers. In many contexts a variety of approaches may be observed, drawing from a range of beliefs and theoretical foundations. In more progressive environments we’re more likely to see practices that rely less on only teacher based, instructionally-focused approaches, to the adoption of teaching methods focusing more on questioning, demonstration, explaining, practical, collaboration methods, and are more activity-based.

The three characteristics in this dimension are:

  • Focus on wellbeing and academic success for all learners: Are our programmes and approaches to teaching and learning designed to recognise both the academic and personal wellbeing needs of our learners?
  • Emphasis on learner agency: Are our learners sufficiently enabled to be self-managing in their learning, and to pursue their learning in the ways that suit them?
  • Coherence and adaptive approaches to curriculum and assessment: Do we have a school-wide approach to curriculum and assessment that is consistently applied, and which allows scope for adaptation and flexibility to respond to emerging needs and opportunities?

In the publication detailed below you will find even more information about these characteristics, together with a simple set of tools with questions and indicators to help you assess where you are in your development as a resilient school and to help guide you to where you want to be.

This post is the final extract from my recently published paper Being Resilient: Characteristics of Resilient Schools. This paper provides guidance for school leaders as they seek to work with their staff and communities to design the systems, structures and processes required to ensure they are able to continue providing high quality learning experiences for their students in the wake of any disruption they experience, be that short or long-term, impacting all or some of their staff and/or students.

Download your free copy here.

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