[The following is an excerpt from TrustED®: The Bridge to School Improvement]
Trusted school leaders are disciplined in protecting teachers from anything that would distract them from fulfilling their primary role of supporting student learning. There are three major distractions to teacher success, which school leaders must actively ensure are minimized to the greatest extent.
1. School Plant Distractions
School leaders must plan and manage the school campus’s physical elements, from heating and ventilating systems to safety features, based on a model of optimum achievement desired and lowest costs possible. This is a challenging balancing act that, when performed well, is a discipline that protects teachers and students alike from being distracted from learning.
Every school is unique in the makeup of student populations and communities and physical location and surroundings. Before providing specific solutions and directions, a detailed analysis must be conducted of each school’s environs. Once those factors are identified, and contextualization is made, plans can be developed to establish optimum-achievement at the lowest possible costs.
The question that school leaders need to ask regarding the various requisite school plant systems (e.g., heating and ventilation) is, “How does this system impact learning?” For example, research shows that whenever possible, ventilation systems should be controlled separately within each classroom, as the ability to control classroom temperature can have a measurable impact on teachers and students’ performance.
Another example of how facilities support or detract from learning is lighting. Studies conclude the more natural light is entering the classroom, the better. Students with high natural light levels outperform their peers by 20% in math and 26% on reading tests.
In sanitation and plumbing, schools typically and rightfully are concerned with toilet facilities that are adequate for students. The restroom equipment is sized and positioned appropriately for the age of the students utilizing those facilities. An area that is often overlooked, however, is air sanitation. Schools’ poor air quality is the source of numerous problems for students, faculty, and staff. For example, asthma is the leading cause of absenteeism, responsible for more than 20 million missed school days in the U.S. per year. One study has shown that after installing an electromagnetic air cleaner in classrooms, absenteeism dropped from 8.3% to 3.7%.
From the perspective of someone who has personally suffered significant hearing loss, is dependent on hearing aids, and lives with chronic tinnitus (as does 5-10% of the American population), the research regarding the poor acoustic quality of schools is deeply disturbing. Not only does excessive and constant noise result in eventual hearing loss and other impairments, but it also diminishes learning. High levels of background noise, much of it from heating and cooling systems, adversely affects learning environments and comprehension. One major study identified that many classrooms have a speech intelligibility rating of less than 75%. In other words, students with normal hearing can understand only 75% of the words read from a list.
2. Technology Distractions
High-tech audiovisual tools in the classroom today are the blackboards of generations past. Data projectors, mimeos, smart boards, document cameras, iPads, and more have contributed to a very different classroom experience than even a decade earlier, especially as the costs for these tools continue to decrease. However, having the infrastructure to support technology-rich classrooms is another major challenge for school leaders, which can distract from learning rather than support learning.
As the demand for technology in the classroom grew in the U.S.A., one study.. [continue reading]