Breaking Down Barriers
A Multiphase Approach to Transforming Your Scheduling Practices and Unlocking Lifelong Opportunity for Students
Steven Gering, EdD and Wendy Watson, EdD
Phase 2: Building a CCR Mindset
“Recent research in economics to understand school effectiveness in the United States finds that schools that develop a culture that assumes all students can learn at high levels are best at raising the achievement of students from marginalized backgrounds. Teacher expectations create a reinforcing cycle. Teacher beliefs about students’ growth potential shape those teachers’ actions, which then, in turn, impacts students’ growth, feeding back into teachers’ beliefs about students.”1Gupta, Niharika and Sameer Sampat. “How Teacher Expectations Empower Student Learning.” Brookings, 2021, Washington, DC.
Addressing students’ and staff members’ mindsets is a crucial step in improving educational outcomes, especially in cases where data trends reveal low overall levels of academic intensity and postsecondary direct enrollment. By focusing on mindset development, schools and districts can create a learning environment that fosters a growth mindset among students and staff.
In John Hattie’s highly influential book “Visible Learning: The Sequel”, he states “how teachers, leaders, teachers, parents, and students think matters most.”2Hattie, John. “Visible Learning: The Sequel.” Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, 2023, New York and London. And two strategies that have some of the largest effect size are the following:
- Teachers estimates of achievement.
- Teachers’ collective efficacy about their impact.
The job of teachers is to ensure that every student grows, no matter where they start. If teachers do not believe that students can succeed in intense coursework or that instructors impact student outcomes in these courses, then it is important to focus on this as an area of growth and professional development.
Table #5: Key Metrics and Data Trends Possibly Indicating a Likely Need to Focus on Building College and Career Mindsets
There are key metrics that every district should be measuring and monitoring. Low levels of academic intensity and postsecondary direct enrollment are often indicators of the need to focus on staff and student mindsets associated with college and career readiness goals.
TYPE OF INDICATOR – LEADING
Metric used as a predictive measure of future performance
Students not successfully completing intense patterns of coursework can be a strong sign of a weak postsecondary culture. When this is the case, there is often a need to address mindsets and beliefs around the importance of challenging coursework and the importance of pursuing postsecondary education or training.
Postsecondary Direct Enrollment
TYPE OF INDICATOR – LAGGING
Metric used to measure past performance
Student direct enrollment in postsecondary programs of study including apprenticeships, trade school, technical school, and two- and four-year programs of study are important metrics to assist in monitoring overall college and career culture and staff and student mindsets. Students not enrolling in postsecondary programs within 12 months are far less likely to complete degrees and programs of study later in their careers.
The collective voice of teachers and counselors, who are key stakeholders, is critical to the successful implementation of strategic scheduling strategies that serve to enroll underserved students in intense coursework. Staff input is also needed for implementing support strategies that will keep students enrolled in challenging courses and ensuring their academic success. Authentically engaging students, staff, and parents is critical for ensuring that students are appropriately advised into classes where they can be successfully challenged. It is important for schools to develop a plan that addresses the following:
- Staff Mindsets: Ensure that adults embrace the importance of students not only enrolling in advanced coursework, but doing so successfully, as a pathway to high growth, high-wage employment opportunities.
- Student Mindsets: Address student mindsets around their potential to enroll and succeed in intense coursework and the importance of pursuing training or education beyond high school.
- High-Quality Advising: Ensure all students and families have access to the necessary information to make informed choices.
Building a College and Career Ready Mindset
Schools fostering a CCR mindset among staff are more likely to implement strategic scheduling plans, enhancing course intensity outcomes. However, hurdles arise when providing all students access to challenging college preparatory coursework due to varying staff mindsets and beliefs (see Table #6).
Staff expectations create a feedback loop impacting student beliefs, student achievement, and teacher beliefs. A disconnect often exists between student/family aspirations and staff expectations of their students. Educators frequently lack understanding about postsecondary training beyond high school and the importance of rigorous pre-graduation pathways. Addressing this expectation gap is crucial in sustained professional development to align staff with CCR goals.
Table #6: Staff Mindsets and Quotes From the Field
The selected staff mindsets listed below are commonly manifested in high schools from across the country and are possible indicators of deficient CCR mindset.
SAMPLE STAFF MINDSET
TYPICAL QUOTES FROM THE FIELD
Not all students need intense coursework.
“Those hands-on students do much better when they are in classrooms where they can be actively engaged.”
Students are not prepared to benefit from intense coursework.
“These students would do much better if they are with other learners like them. Let’s create a course for students who have similar academic profiles so we can really pace the curriculum for their needs.”
Student-submitted course requests should be honored as is.
“The courses were all open for any student to enroll. They made their choices on the form, and if they wanted to sign up for different courses, they could have done so.”
Students are already completing intense coursework.
“All of our courses are rigorous and intense. They will be prepared no matter what they take.”
Collaboration on the rationale behind strategic scheduling initiates a discovery phase where staff members understand the need for collective efforts to impact student outcomes. This ongoing process involves addressing cultural norms to maintain and asking essential questions include the following:
- How are student body demographics reflected in honors and dual-enrollment courses?
- How do gatekeeping systems in the school potentially disenfranchise students from choosing a CCR pathway?
- What information do students and families need to assist them in navigating the course selection process?
- What role does social support play in the course selection process?
To engage staff, administrators should clarify the mission, allocate resources, and develop a yearly plan with multiple engagement opportunities. Successful strategies include the following:
- Scheduling consistent staff collaboration time.
- Creating regular student advisory sessions.
- Involving parents and students in the process.
This initiative typically commences in late summer or fall, with leaders engaging staff to empower them with tools to influence student mindsets around academic press.
“Academic press focuses on the extent to which school members, including teachers and students, experience a normative emphasis on academic success and conformity to specific standards of achievement. Academic press affects student achievement in at least two ways. First, it can provide specific direction for student work and academic attainment. It points students and teachers to what they need to accomplish. Second, academic press creates incentives that motivate students and teachers to achieve at higher levels.” 3Lee, Valerie E., Julia B. Smith, Tamara E. Perry, and Mark A. Smylie. “Social Support, Academic Press, and Student Achievement: A View from the Middle Grades in Chicago.” Chicago Annenberg Research Project, 1999, Chicago, IL.
Developing a culture of academic press is a complex task and often requires efforts over multiple years. Leaders can use a number of methods to enhance academic press. One method is for staff to read and discuss research that lead to students developing an academic press mindset. Articles should include information on how schools have removed barriers for student enrollment in challenging coursework along with providing support for students to successfully complete the work. It’s also a time for introspection for teachers and counselors to look carefully at the school’s data from Phase 1 on college-going trends with the student body, especially as the data applies to historically underserved student populations.
Myth vs. Reality
MYTH: Staff members need to build strong relationships with students first. After relationships are built and there are strong connections, then we can focus on rigorous academics and intense curriculum.
REALITY: Students learn more in schools that combine high levels of social support and academic press. “Conversely, even in the presence of strong social support, students will not learn much unless the school presses them to achieve academically.”4Lee, Valerie E., Julia B. Smith, Tamara E. Perry, and Mark A. Smylie. “Social Support, Academic Press, and Student Achievement: A View from the Middle Grades in Chicago.” Chicago Annenberg Research Project, 1999, Chicago, IL.
Building a College and Career Ready Mindset With Students
In addition to addressing staff mindsets, there is often the need to address student CCR mindsets and beliefs. Students are highly influenced in their CCR aspirations by their peers.5The Century Foundation. “The Benefits of Socioeconomically and Racially Integrated Schools and Classrooms.” The Century Foundation, 2019, retrieved on 9/28/23 from https://tcf.org/content/facts/the-benefits-of-socioeconomically-and-racially-integrated-schools-and-classrooms/?session=1. Therefore, it is important to directly build student background knowledge on the following topics:
- The importance of pursuing postsecondary education or training beyond their K-12 experience.
- The importance of completing intense patterns of coursework and not taking the junior and senior year off.
- The role of effort and hard work and the importance of using available resources in order to successfully complete challenging coursework.
Students will ultimately play a large role in course selection and enrollment, and their willingness to challenge themselves directly impacts their academic journey. Therefore, it is critical to spend time building student understanding, belief, and mindsets. This is often an overlooked part of CCR efforts in secondary schools because it is not part of any curriculum area. Because these types of conversations and exploration do not explicitly fall into typical course content, it is important to carefully carve out regular, sustained opportunities. This investment will have massive benefits that impact overall school culture, student outcomes, and CCR goals.
Best Practice in Action
Developing a Schoolwide CCR Culture
School leaders who use part of the school day or week for students to take standardized tests will find it advantageous to simultaneously host spirited college and career awareness events for students to familiarize themselves with technical, two-year, and four-year colleges. Time is carved out for students to participate in a variety of CCR information sessions: listening to guest speakers talk about financial aid; exploring careers online; hearing presentations from college or military advisors; or traveling to technical, two-year, or four-year schools for tours of the facilities. This demonstrates a school’s commitment to providing personalized support and advising for students’ postsecondary pursuits.
Quality Coaching and Advising
To support the systemic work of cultivating staff and student CCR mindsets, the rationale for a robust, personalized student advisory system becomes abundantly clear. Unfortunately, districts and schools typically invest far too little time and information into their coaching and student academic advising. The process of selecting courses and navigating to postsecondary programs of study/training is incredibly complex and time-consuming leaving schools with limited options for providing personalized counseling to students and their families regarding postsecondary goals.
One significant challenge is that counselors are challenged to oversee caseloads of 300 to 400 students and do not have the capacity to consistently engage with individual students. However, teachers and counselors partnering together as CCR advisors is a vital concept in building students’ growth mindset for academic press. For example, schools could organize an advisory system where 15 to 18 students are grouped together and assigned to one teacher for academic and CCR advising on a consistent basis over the course of four years. Alternatively a modified schedule can be created to extend a class period to allow for personalized guidance. Counselors take on a leadership role to make sure teachers had the appropriate information related to college and career readiness. Students can have personalized conversations with staff members who knew them well. Families can not only trust the staff to spend quality time with their child for postsecondary advising, but also rely on having personalized conversations with their child’s advisory teacher.
Initially, teachers may doubt their ability to appropriately advise students about academic press and course-taking patterns that build a CCR culture. But when administrators commit time and resources to provide all staff with pertinent postsecondary information and empower counselors in leadership roles as postsecondary coaches, then teachers become experts and powerful allies in delivering CCR information to students and their families while helping them make informed choices. The important concept to keep in mind is the goal of ensuring that all families have access to the same foundational information to make the best decisions for their students.
When schools have low levels of student course intensity patterns, it often indicates that there is not a culture of academic press within the school. To address this, it is often necessary to have a three-pronged approach centered on the following areas: high-quality student and family coaching, student mindsets, and staff mindsets.
It is imperative that school and district leaders ensure families are aware of the need for all students to have a strong academic foundation and complete intense coursework. Additionally, it is important to address student and staff belief systems. For students, it is important to get them to buy into the goal of accessing stretch courses. If this is not addressed, the course registration process often results in students actively pursuing the path of least resistance, which often includes lower levels of course intensity. This is particularly evident in the latter years of high school when schools usually provide students with the most choice in their course selection.
Finally, it is important to garner staff support and buy-in for students to enroll in stretch coursework. Teachers are influential role models who can provide cues for students on a daily basis with thousands of interactions. Students will consequently pick up on these messages, which can have powerful effects on students’ course-taking and the overall school culture.
Phase 3: Course Refinement and Strategic Communications
All too often, schools dust off the course catalog and request form a few weeks before registration, make small revisions, and roll out the process to students. In these settings, students receive a 50-page catalog to read through, and they receive very little guidance on how to make these meaningful, consequential decisions. The result is student course requests that look exactly like previous years.