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High Poverty, High Performing Schools: How do they do it?

What does a school in rural Kansas, Queens, New York; Worcester, Massachusetts and inner city New Orleans all have in common? They all have proven that it is possible for schools of poverty to achieve outstanding success in making sure that all students not only learn, but learn exceedingly well.

Learning-Focused had the privilege of attending the 2014 Education Trust Conference “Become the Change: Closing Gaps in Opportunity and Achievement” where these hard-working high poverty, high minority, high performing schools were recognized for their outstanding success and given the opportunity to share the “secrets” to their success.  It’s not surprising that while each school is unique in some ways, they all shared common patterns in what they did that allowed them to far surpass typical schools.

Effective Teaching

The administrators of these schools all agree that a laser like focus on quality instruction is crucial to student success. John Capozzi is principal of Elmont Memorial High School outside of Queens, New York, where graduation rates are in the high nineties and forty-five percent of students receive advanced designations on their diplomas. Capozzi attributes the school’s culture of success to the teachers. “Our teachers believe that how they teach directly affects student achievement. We understand and embrace the importance of teacher effectiveness in the classroom.” With Effective Teaching as the cornerstone of Learning-Focused, it is clear that more than any other instructional model, Learning-Focused cultivates a culture of highly effective teaching in your school. Mr. Capozzi strongly believes in the power of professional learning to support effective teaching. He calls himself a “teacher of teachers” and ensures that after professional development and every observation, teachers get meaningful feedback that moves them forward in their learning. At Elmont, teachers play a vital role in professional development with faculty members leading monthly professional development sessions for the staff. “Professional development occurs every month, every week, every day,” says Capozzi. Schools that take advantage of the Learning-Focused resources and professional development that enable school leaders and teachers to become experts within their schools tend to have higher achievement. Learning-Focused Training of Trainers, Learning-Focused Facilitator Training, and the Learning-Focused Strategies in Action books provide teachers and school leaders with the knowledge, skills and resources to implement effective job-embedded professional development.

High Expectations

All of the schools considered high expectations of themselves and of their students as key to their success. Principals talked about building the culture of the school around high expectations with the adult culture driving the student culture. When teachers operate from a fixed mindset that students are doing the best they can do based on their backgrounds, student achievement suffers. These high performing schools all embrace a growth mindset and a belief that students can always “do more.” Karin Chenoweth, Writer-in-Residence at the Education Trust has spent ten years studying what she calls “It’s Being Done Schools.” One of the patterns she points out is that the adults in these schools have an expectation that their students will learn and they make it a priority to master the skills and knowledge necessary to teach students well. High Expectations is one of the 4 Dimensions of Learning-Focused. It is vital that teachers understand what high expectations means for their subject and grade level, and plan and instruct accordingly. Everyone thinks they have high expectations, but truly understanding specifically what it means in day-to-day teaching is paramount for student success. Teachers using the Levels of Learning framework of Learning-Focused, can demonstrate by the artifacts of their student assignments and assessments that high expectations is more than a token objective.  Drew Charter School is located in what was at one time the most crime-ridden zip code in metropolitan Atlanta. Formerly one of the lowest performing schools in the state, it has now doubled its proficiency rate and proven that success does not depend on your zip code. At Drew, the curriculum emphasizes authentic problem-solving with units built around in-depth inquiry, authentic application, collaboration and public service. As an example, students used standards-driven science content, research-skills, and problem-solving skills to develop solutions to Atlanta’s difficulties in dealing with winter weather conditions. Teachers plan collaboratively and intentionally to integrate the curriculum to make it meaningful for their students. Learning-Focused provides schools with a proven framework that ensures all lessons are grade level appropriate and that students deepen understanding by moving through the four levels of learning in each lesson.

Support for All Students

Bethune Elementary School is a 100% free and reduced lunch school in inner city New Orleans. In 2014 98% of their sixth graders scored at basic and above on state tests and 44% scored at advanced levels. In this high poverty school teachers clearly understand the critical importance of systematic vocabulary instruction to close the word gap.  Every day all students are engaged in actively learning content vocabulary needed to be successful academically.  Teachers use interactive games, graphic organizers and other hands-on strategies to engage students.EdTrust

To be exemplary, students who are 1, 2, 3 grades or more behind in reading, math, and other subjects need to be caught up using specific acceleration practices, not just receive remediation.  With Learning-Focused, your school can accelerate achievement by addressing the root causes that struggling students face through planning for possible struggle points during instruction while still providing challenge for those who need it.

“With kids, you can’t stick to one way of teaching vocabulary,” said dynamic kindergarten teacher, Sherice Walker.  “I take their games and make them my own,” Sherice shared. Take, for example, Hot Potato. Instead of tossing around a “hot” potato until the music stops, kindergartners each have a word on a piece of paper that they read as they pass it along to the next student. When the music stops, Sherice calls on a student: Who has the word ‘grin’? When did you grin today? And she asks another student: What made you grin? And another: How do you grin?   “You’ve got to be rigorous in content, but relevant in your approach,” says Sherice. The latest research shows us that students must know approximately 95%  of the words they hear and read for successful comprehension. Learning-Focused Lessons maintain an emphasis on consistent and pervasive vocabulary instruction which is a building block for student success and offers a variety of resources for Vocabulary Instruction to support a school-wide commitment to close the achievement gap and raise achievement for all students

Continuous Improvement

It comes as no surprise that strong leadership was a major factor in the success of each of the schools highlighted. All of the principals validated the conclusions of a 6-year study in 9 states, 45 districts and 180 schools:

To date, we have not found a single case of a school improving its student achievement record in the absence of talented leadership.”

Louis, Leithwood, Wahlstrom & Anderson (2010). Learning from leadership: Investigating the links to improved student learning.

With Learning-Focused , not only do school leaders actively participate in all professional development, but as part of the Continuous Improvement dimension of Learning-Focused, they learn more about leading from the country’s highest achieving school leaders. Advancing Schools: Lessons from Exemplary Leaders, Monitoring for Achievement, and School Leader Coaching are just a few of the resources and support that Learning-Focused provides leaders to help them inspire their teachers.

A lunch keynote featured a conversation between Ed Trust’s Sonja Santelises and Susan Bunting, Superintendent of Indian River School District and the prototype of a talented leader. In Indian River 65 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-priced lunches and 16 percent are English language learners, and yet student achievement is regularly among the highest in the state. Indian River began implementing LEARNING-FOCUSED as their instructional framework over ten years ago, and they continue to provide professional growth opportunities to support their teachers and school leaders in maximizing their effectiveness.

A common theme heard over and over from the principals of the high performing schools was a resounding claim: “We have made great gains, but there’s room for improvement. We’re not there yet.”  The principals of these schools not only want students to be proficient on state tests, but also to have opportunities to graduate from high school and have postsecondary choices such as college and meaningful work.

These schools also recognize the singular importance of collaboration in making those gains. Principals talked about pooling the expertise of all staff members to help all students be successful. In her opening address, Kati Haycock, President of the Education Trust, also underscored the importance of collaboration:  “Alone change is possible; together, it is inevitable.”  LFS EngagED is an online collaboration platform for educators that embracing exemplary practices. LFS EngagED has powerful apps and resources for collaboratively planning effective lessons, assignments, assessments, and curriculum maps.. LFS EngagED Members can use the thousands of resources to plan, monitor, and increase the quality of their implementation of exemplary practices.

These schools that have figured it out are a reminder to us all that it is not programs or political agendas that bring about success. It is a strong focus on effective teaching, high expectations, support for all students, and continuous improvement. And that is how they do it.


A Master Teacher’s Professional Growth

A Master Teacher’s Professional Growth

 Master teachers are so effective because they are life-long learners who are constantly deepening their knowledge and honing their skills through professional development, collaboration, excellent resources, and high levels of support.

The best continuing education programs allow teachers the time to apply what they are learning in the context of teaching in a real classroom with professional, experienced support. With the LEARNING-FOCUSED Teachers Academy, your teachers will experience direct support while they implement what they learn in their classrooms, making immediate improvements in student learning.

Professional development best practices are designed to be ongoing, experiential, collaborative, and connected to and derived from working with students. The LEARNING-FOCUSED Teachers Academy is completely designed with this premise, which serves as the foundation by which teachers evolve and grow professionally and student achievement improves exponentially.

Why should you provide your with teachers with the Learning-Focused Teachers Academy? 
Your Students Deserve the Best!

Did you miss the last part of this series?  Click here to view it now.

Download our brochure on developing a culture of mastery to discover more. Find out how you can start cultivating master teachers in your school today!

Stay Connected with Learning-Focused


Practice Makes Perfect


What are the Top 5 reasons why LEARNING-FOCUSED Direct is the best way to receive professional development for your students’ success? Last week we shared Reason #5.

This week we are sharing Reason #4… 

Reason #4: Practice Makes Perfect

What is one thing that traditional professional development lacks?
It is hard to think of just one isn’t i

Certainly one thing is the ability to practice your new knowledge or skills as you learn. Learn everything you can in six hours and then figure out how to practice and implement it on your own. 

That works sometimes, but is that the best way?

With LEARNING-FOCUSED Direct you have the opportunity to learn content AND practice at the same time. Only through
learn how to plan Activating Strategies that connect to your lesson’s Learning Goals, and then stop and actually plan them for your next lesson.

Have you ever said to yourself, I wish I had brought my ______ to today’s training?


With LEARNING-FOCUSED Direct you have the ability to learn and plan with all of your resources readily available – in fact, we encourage it.  The opportunity to plan as you learn ensures that your professional development will increase your effectiveness.

Reason #3: Have a guess about Reason #3? We will tell you next week!
Here is a hint – No Shoes.

In case you missed it, Reason #5 is here.


3 Characteristics of an Effective (Master) Teacher

3 Characteristics of an Effective (Master) Teacher

Teaching is a complex endeavor that involves planning and organizing for instruction, implementing instruction effectively, constantly monitoring and supporting student progress toward the learning goals, and making adjustments as needed.

1. Plan and Organize for Instruction

Even though state and national standards determine what students should learn, effective teachers are able to translate those standards into a plan for how students learn it.
The Learning-Focused Teachers Academy
provides the framework for planning the most effective lessons as well as the support and resources teachers need to stay organized and prepared in order to provide the best instruction possible.

2. Implement Instruction Effectively

Effective teachers use proven, evidence-based strategies to engage all students and challenge them to think at high levels. They purposefully plan assignments that are both rigorous and engaging.

In the Learning-Focused Teachers Academy, teachers develop and practice their skills using techniques that involve all students as active participants in their learning.


3. Monitor and Support Student Progress

Effective teachers are proactive by anticipating when individual students will need additional support or additional challenge in their lessons. The Learning-Focused Teachers Academy provides a framework that encourages teachers to plan highly effective lessons that are supportive of all students and yet manageable for teachers with classrooms of diverse learners with a variety of learning needs.

Did you miss the last part of this series?
Click here to view it now.

Download a brochure on developing a culture of
mastery in your school.
Find out how you can start cultivating master teachers
in your school today!

Top 5 Reasons that Online Professional Development is Better for Increased Teacher Effectiveness

Research has shown that effective teaching is one of the most important factors for high student achievement. In addition, the most effective teachers continually learn new knowledge and skills to implement in their lessons and instruction.

Effective teachers  are needed in order for all students to be successful.

What do you think about when you hear the words professional development? The majority of time this has meant that a group of educators meet in a room, learn all they can, and then apply it to their classroom or school. Recently, professional development has changed. With the increase in professional development opportunities through webinars, social media, and online courses, educators now have more choices of how to continue their education. 

For example,  LEARNING-FOCUSED Direct is a powerful online learning platform that will increase teaching effectiveness while providing additional benefits not available through traditional professional development. 

So what? you ask, is it just one more way to receive training online? 

Join us as we share the Top 5 reasons why LEARNING-FOCUSED Direct is the best way to receive professional development for your students’ success. 

Reason #5:  Purchasing Freedom

Think about the best hamburger in town. It is probably around ten bucks isn’t it?
Well, for that same price you can participate in a 
LEARNING-FOCUSED Direct online course!

All LEARNING-FOCUSED Direct courses are only $10.

Unlike most online courses, LEARNING-FOCUSED Direct gives you the freedom to learn and gain knowledge and skills through an exemplary course and still have room in the budget.  Whether you are an administrator who is providing professional development to your entire staff, or a teacher taking a course on your own for knowledge and 
re-certification hours, 
LEARNING-FOCUSED Direct lets you use your money for more.

Group pricing and site licenses can drop courses to as little as $5 per course. Just think, for the cost of a sandwich you can get professional development that will increase teacher effectiveness and make a real impact on your students.

Reason #4: Have a guess about Reason #4? We will tell you next week! Here is a hint – think math homework.

Download a LEARNING-FOCUSED Direct Brochure 
or go to LearningFocused.com for more information about the most effective professional development possible.

Maybe you have already taken a LEARNING-FOCUSED Direct Course?
Tell us about your experience on Twitter @learningfocused #worryfreepd
to get a free Strategy Specific Course!

Stay Connected with LEARNING-FOCUSED


Got Effective Teachers?

Got Effective Teachers?

Ask any parent what has made the biggest difference in a child’s education, and you will not hear about textbooks, programs or even school board policies. Inevitably you will hear stories about effective teachers who unleashed a child’s potential as a learner and leader.

Impact of an Effective Teacher


In an era of tight budgets, it is crucial that educational leaders put their dollars where they will get the greatest return on the investment, and nothing has a greater impact than effective teaching.  For over 25 years, LEARNING-FOCUSED has been at the leading edge of the most important initiative a school or district can implement – ensuring solid curriculum and effective instruction in every classroom. Empower your teachers with the innovative courses, dynamic training, and transformative coaching of the  Learning-Focused Teachers Academy.

Look for more information about the characteristics of an

Effective Teacher in our upcoming email series.

Can’t wait to learn more? Download our brochure now,

take a look at our previous email series here,

or contact us to start cultivating master teachers in your school

Stay Connected with Learning-Focused

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Part 4: Shifting from the Typical to the Exemplary

Hopeful School’s shift to Exemplary

Instead of simply telling her teachers show up at a mandated training, the principal took steps prior to the training to prepare her teachers for making the most of the training in order to meet their school goals. She reviewed the workshop’s learning goals and agenda, discussing how this training will give them the strategies they need to achieve their goals. Next, she set the expectations with her staff based on what they were going to learn.

Then, the principal attended the workshop with her teachers. During the workshop, she actively participated in the activities to ensure that she has the knowledge and skills necessary to conduct walkthroughs and monitor each teacher’s implementation effectively. This also allowed the principal to answer any implementation questions such as, “Are we really supposed to do that?”, “How are we supposed to do that?” and “When are we supposed to do that?” during the workshop.

Immediately following their training on Acceleration, the principal of Hopeful School established collaborative planning times, reminded teachers of the instructional focus goals, set timeline dates that correspond with the growth benchmarks for implementation expectations, and developed Look Fors and Ask Abouts with teacher input. Several teachers were not in attendance during the training, so the principal also utilized correpsonding online courses to ensure that the few teachers that missed the workshop received the same information and training. 

During the first 6-8 weeks of implementation, the principal and leadership team conducted walkthroughs and 5x5s as a means of providing support to teachers and determining areas of need for continued professional learning. This high level of initial support helped them move their implementation from basic knowledge to the highest quality strategic use. Additionally, every time the principal met with a teacher or team (passing in the halls, in her office, etc), she would ask them for specific details about how they used Acceleration in their last lesson or specifically how they were going to use it in their next lesson, ensuring teachers that the instructional goals are a primary school-wide focus. 

During collaborative planning times, classroom teachers and Acceleration support teachers met in grade level teams to plan for the next 2-4 weeks of lessons. Classroom teachers used Acceleration strategies with all of their students, with remediation strategies distributed throughout their lessons as needed for some students. Acceleration support teachers used Acceleration strategies 1-3 days in advance of classroom lessons with students the classroom teachers identified as struggling or may struggle with the concepts and content of upcoming lessons. They didn’t pre-teach (which would be boring and unsuccessful), and instead they used specific Acceleration strategies.

In addition, faculty meetings, when held, were changed from business meetings to meetings that focused on quality of implementation and strategies for supporting each other and their students. Teachers shared their experiences and strategies in order to help all get better.

The principal disregarded data and reviewed student subgroup information with instructional teams. Grade level administrators facilitated planning days to provide teacher support, resources for teacher success, and to gauge teacher capacity to move to the next steps of implementation. Teacher leaders also participated in walkthroughs.

This collaborative planning and implementation support from the principal continued for the first 6-8 weeks of implementation. At the end of the 6-8 weeks, reflection meetings were held to change the instruction focus goals from Guided Practice to Expected Practice. The expectation was set that the teachers will be Monitored for Quality, instead of simply attempting the strategies they learned.

During the next 3-4 weeks of implementation, the principal and leadership team continued to conduct walkthroughs and 5×5’s, but they started using implementation rubrics to ensure that teachers were implementing the Acceleration strategies with quality. Additional support through e-learning, coaches, and plc meetings was provided to teachers as needed. I

At the end of this implementation period, the principal and teacher leaders, based on the implementation plan created immediately after the workshop, changed the monitoring from Increasing Quality to Implementing with Quality Consistently. At this point forward, teachers would be held fully accountable for consistent, pervasive, and quality use of the strategies they learned in the training. Monitoring of the instructional focus goals was now a part of the evaluation process.

In exemplary schools, continuous improvement of implementation of an initiative is ongoing, and by following an exemplary implementation framework, Hopeful School has been continuously improving, even after reaching their goals. As soon as test data was available, teacher and administrative teams reviewed the data, discussed what worked and what didn’t work, and reviewed/revised the implementation plan. Lesson plans were often revisited for alignment with areas of need identified in test data as well as the grade level expectations set by their standards.


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