You're thinking of starting an ESL school, or already operate one, but would like to see it be more successful. But what makes a successful language school? How can your school join the ranks of the best? The answers may be found through the scientific method — observing, asking questions, forming an approach, acting, and analyzing your findings. Then, you evaluate the process and its conclusion and start again! Through this trial and error method, you will find the method that works for your school, make money, and, most importantly, bring your students to success.We at Your Agora are here to get you started with facts and observations, but it’s up to you to act and learn from what you have learned here and your trials. The future of language schools is bright. If you’re ready to do the work, your school may stand among the leaders of the industry.
Let’s get started with the observation. What are the features of a successful school? Which of these aspects does your school already have or lack? It’s important to recognize these elements and form a plan that takes them into consideration. Think about the characteristics shared by the most prosperous schools in the education market. According to research, these schools implement the following:
Successful schools exist due to their commitment to the surrounding community — the faculty, students, and parents. By engaging with the community in an active and authentic way, these schools pave their path to success.
The best schools know that their efforts must reach beyond the classroom. They frame learning in a way that involves not only the students themselves, but also the parents and community members. What does the parent and community involvement look like? It emerges from support and monitoring of student’s studies at home and volunteer work around the school.
Teachers play their own role in student engagement by deliberately forming their lesson plans to compel students into active learning. This results in students making the effort to get deeply involved in the learning process.
According to multiple research studies, engaged students:
Experience improved academic achievement and satisfaction
Are more likely to persist through academic struggles
Earn higher standardized test scores
Have better social skills
Are less likely to drop out of school
In contrast, disengagement:
Lowers cognitive performance
Increases disruptive behaviors
Causes habits of academic avoidance
Exacerbates learning, behavior, and emotional problems
Ensuring that students care about the material and that they know how much you and their teachers care about them and their education is critical. To increase student engagement, a study in Journal of Classroom Interaction suggests that teachers should create cognitively demanding tasks and environments. What makes teaching material effectively challenging? It’s all about what the academia calls the academic press, which is a combination of the student working hard and the teacher displaying passionate engagement with the subject.
Doug Lemov, in “Teach Like a Champion,” offers five great tips for setting up a challenging classroom with high but manageable standards:
- NO OPT OUT: A sequence that begins with a student unable to answer a question should end with the student answering that question as often as possible.
- RIGHT IS RIGHT: Set and defend a high standard of correctness in your classroom. Reinforce effort but hold out for top-quality answers.
- STRETCH IT: The sequence of learning does not end with a right answer; reward right answers with follow-up questions that extend knowledge and test for reliability. This technique is especially important for differentiating instruction.
- FORMAT MATTERS: It’s not just what students say that matters but how they communicate it. To succeed, students must take their knowledge and express it in the language of opportunity.
- WITHOUT APOLOGY: A belief that content is boring is a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is no such thing as boring content. Find the way to teach the material students need to master without watering it down or apologizing for teaching it.
Positive School Culture
“School culture is the set of norms, values and beliefs, rituals and ceremonies, symbols and stories that make up the 'persona' of the school” — Dr. Kent D. Peterson, Department of Educational Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Safety and security — the two factors at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Your students must truly feel the two essential ingredients in order to engage in deep and meaningful learning. But, isn’t safety and security a given in a school? You may be surprised, but student safety and security go beyond having guards or anti-weapon policies. They also mean that the students feel emotionally safe in an environment that promotes self-worth and personal accomplishments.
That’s where a positive school culture enters. It seeks to find a balance between encouraging students to take academic risks and undertaking challenges, while protecting the students’ emotional well-being. The balance is delicate and may have dire consequences if broken, as a highly demanding academic environment has a very negative effect on students. In fact, excessive academic pressure promotes “high levels of anxiety, both generalized and acute, increasing levels of stress, of depression and worrisome levels of what I would call perfectionism,” says mental health expert Pat Hunt.
How can schools foster a healthy culture for their students and staff? Education experts at Ignite suggest that the first step is finding consistency in actions, practices, and behaviors through a common language that drives the change you wish to see. They have created a list of attributes of both toxic and healthy school cultures, allowing you to take the first step toward positive change:
In a school with a positive culture, Dr. Peterson says, “There's an informal network of heroes and heroines and an informal grapevine that passes along information about what's going on in the school ... [A] set of values that supports professional development of teachers, a sense of responsibility for student learning, and a positive, caring atmosphere” exist.
A positive school culture:
emphasizes accomplishment and collaboration
fosters a commitment to staff and student learning.
On the other hand, in a toxic school environment, “teacher relations are often conflicting, the staff doesn't believe in the ability of the students to succeed, and a generally negative attitude prevails,” notes Peterson.
A toxic school culture:
blames students for lack of progress
breeds hostility among staff
Effective School Leadership
In a time when schools are held accountable to the highest standards, effective school leadership is crucial for a school’s success. Offering leadership and guidance for the staff, fostering expectations for students, and establishing social norms for teachers and parents should all be a part of the school leadership structure.
How can such a structure be implemented? A number of studies on effective school leadership focus on three specific factors:
1. Organizational Knowledge
The base of effective leadership is organizational knowledge — understanding and supporting what aspects comprise your school. This includes having the knowledge of individual student needs, the strengths and weaknesses of instructors, details of the programs and curricula, personal data, and schedules.
What are the practical applications of this knowledge? The data-driven understanding of your school gives you a clear picture of the instructional ability of your teachers, student skill gaps, the status of the available resources, etc. It may be used for effective decision-making including resource allocation, professional development, funding and procurement.
2. Use of Data
The data aspect of effective leadership goes back to organizational knowledge. However, this key factor focuses on using the data inside and outside the school to improve instruction. The process includes an ongoing analysis and assessment of data. This may include holding data meetings to help a school form effective instruction, identifying and monitoring students that need intervention, and providing school leaders with the opportunity to modify instructional programs as needed. When student data is closely examined on a frequent basis, teachers understand the importance of driving improvements directly on performance indicators.
Scheduling is one of the key factors behind the success of high-performance schools. Effective scheduling not only maximizes the number of available staff, but gives teachers the needed time for instruction, while providing activities and tutoring for students in need. Allocating time for data meeting must also be of high priority — it allows teachers to set and implement instructional decisions for their classrooms. A lack of proper scheduling for these meetings results in a missed opportunity to improve student outcomes.
You’ve observed the practices of successful schools and made a clear assessment of how your school stands among them. What now? It’s time to find the right approach for your school and to act! Don’t worry, we’ll help you get started.
Your plan of action may be broken up into three categories. The three factors that you can and should focus on now are Attendance, Attachment and Achievement. By addressing these factors, you combine the example of successful schools with practical strategies.
Chronic absenteeism, defined by the student missing 15 or more days per school year, affects up to 14% of school populations. Missing school has a negative impact not only the student’s academic achievements, but on the school’s performance. Solving this prevalent problem involves designing and implementing evidence-based strategies that reduce excused and unexcused absences. The key to resolution is engaging the child through collaboration between the parent, the school and the local authority.
Set clear expectations of students, families and school staff-roles. Develop an understanding in your school and the community that support student attendance.
Establish an attendance policy based on an investigation of the underlying causes of poor attendance. Consult teachers, pupils, families, education welfare social services, administrative staff, governors and senior management when developing the policy.
Record attendance through an electronic software, whenever possible. Electronic attendance registration enables a better monitoring. It will also allow you to identify of long-term trends in absence which can be used to further develop school policy and practice.
Reward good attendance. Track absences, follow-up with truant students, and provide incentives and rewards that recognize good/improved attendance.
Emphasize the responsibility and role of parents in partnership with the school. Communicate the positive achievements and improvements. Ensure that parents feel welcomed at the school and have easy access to staff.
Care, support, and mutually-defined expectations establish meaningful connections with the students and their families. Attachment includes a positive school culture, family and community engagement, as well as student-focused instruction and activities.
Facilitate positive relationships among key stakeholders (student-teacher, teacher-family, and school community) to foster collaboration and caring communities.
Create a welcoming school environment. Hire responsive office staff that will welcome visitors, students and families. All adults should model respectful communication and positive peer relationships for the students.
Provide accessible resources such as after school programs, family support programs, mentoring, sports, recreation activities, which may be done in cooperation with community groups.
Address issues of bullying and student harassment (with clearly established policies), so that students, staff and families feel safe.
In Activating the Desire to Learn, author Bob Sullo discusses a body of psychological research that states that humans are motivated from the “inside out.” He points out that schools that implement practices around the celebration of achievement truly motivate students to become engaged with their studies. It is the school’s responsibility to not only provide the tools and resources for the completion of courses, but to celebrate students’ accomplishments to push them to become lifelong learners. Student achievement may also be encouraged by the following:
A relevant, rigorous and culturally competent curriculum. Provide data-driven instruction.
Setting the norm of high expectations for academic achievement. Every student is important and every student is expected to do well.
Addressing different learning styles through flexible instruction. Meet the educational needs of all students and tutoring for students who may struggle academically.
Hold an award ceremony to recognize student achievement. Awards should be thoughtfully considered and based on the student’s personal growth, character, and achievements.
When you implement some of the strategies for your school, it’s crucial to keep close records of the process. The final step of the scientific method is determining what the results of your experiment show and deciding on the next actions to take. Incorporate the evidence and experience of other schools to advance your own. Keep in mind that many iterations may be required for your school to confidently establish a method for success. However, with perseverance and the right research, your language school will exceed the expectations of both you and your students!
Let us be your helping hand. At Your Agora, we built an online platform that makes the lives of ESL teachers a bit easier. With a collaborated library of teaching material, user-friendly tools for scheduling, and automatic scheduling, Your Agora is there to make your language school more efficient and proactive in student learning. With plenty of research and a team of teachers from all over the world, we created a software that will advance you toward your goals!