One of my leadership mentors, Patrick Lencioni, says, “Most organizations exploit only a fraction of the knowledge, experience, and intellectual capital that is available to them.”

We’re not most organizations. At the San Francisco Unified School District, we know the people who serve our students and families every day hold a wealth of knowledge, and we are committed to supporting and celebrating the collective intelligence our teachers and site leaders bring to solving what can seem like intractable problems.

This week, we celebrated school teams that won our annual Impact and Innovation Awards. These awards — supported by the citizens of San Francisco and developed by both the district and the teachers union — enable schools to improve outcomes for our students. They also show what we can achieve when we all work together.

Let me tell you about a couple of the 22 award-winning schools.

Celebrations motivate students

The staff at Cesar Chavez Elementary see a large number of their students’ families struggling with poverty and a fear of displacement given current events related to housing and immigration. These stressors can cause students to be less engaged in school, resulting in poor academic achievement.

When teachers asked students what the school could do to improve, they learned students were especially excited about projects and celebrations they could share with their families.

So, this spring the school organized its first learning showcase for students to share their learning with their families. It was a huge success and the school plans to continue to build in more regular celebration events.

One fifth grader I heard from said, “When I showed my research [to the teachers and parents and 4th and 5th graders], I felt proud. I felt I did a good deed for the school.”

This sentiment supports a body of evidence that students are more engaged and motivated when there is a tangible celebration of learning. More importantly, teachers are also motivated to orient their lessons around learning projects with clear demonstrable outcomes.

Teachers study math lessons together

Teachers from three SFUSD schools — Muir, Hillcrest and SF Community — came together to implement a practice known as Lesson Study. Started in Japan and now recognized worldwide, Lesson Study helps teachers improve their instruction by having them systematically examine and assess students as they engage in actual lessons.

Our teachers looked at their students’ productive struggles, academic conversations and problem solving in order to reflect on what students are learning. By collaborating across three schools, they were able to gain a deeper understanding of the vertical alignment of the common core mathematical standards.

Participants have said the Lesson Study practice has dramatically improved their teaching by giving them new insights into how to engage students. Our  teachers felt it was so valuable they even hosted two districtwide Lesson Study events where teachers from across the district engaged in professional development around teaching mathematics, including observation of a live public lesson.

San Franciscan’s tax dollars foster school improvement

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the passage of the Quality Teacher Education Act (QTEA), a parcel tax which funds many important priorities for our students, including the Impact and Innovation Awards.

The Impact Awards program is structured to recognize schools implementing effective practices that help move our students, staff and schools toward the SFUSD’s strategies for success outlined in our strategic plan, “Transform Learning. Transform Lives.”

The Innovation Awards enable schools to identify and address an equity challenge at their site, then empower them with a human centered design process to develop and implement a solution that accelerates progress toward the SFUSD’s Vision 2025.

In a recent Examiner article, you may have read about Civic Center Secondary, one of our award-winning innovation schools. The staff there enacted creative ways to improve student engagement and positive relationships in order to improve student attendance, resulting in cutting student absences in half.

Remarking on his school’s efforts, Maurice Harper, principal of Civic Center said, “Change happens to us but innovation is something we do together.”

Vincent Matthews is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

Vincent Matthews
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Vincent Matthews

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