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4 Keys to Turnaround: a Guide for Principals

Empowering Students with Direct Instruction

Education leaders tasked with bringing an entire learning community to a place of continued improvement need a strategic instructional plan backed by research. The students of underperforming schools don’t have any time to waste, and each moment in the classroom must be spent engaging with academic content in a way that will reliably improve their performance. In order for these learners to reach their full potential, it is absolutely critical to give them appropriate intervention, remediation, and data-driven instruction.

School leaders, generally the “turnaround principals,” are tasked with driving school improvement initiatives. Turnaround principals can benefit from examining the challenges within their school using four distinct lenses: data, program, scheduling, and staffing. Carefully examining the current initiatives in place, identifying weaknesses, and pivoting to incorporate research-backed solutions into the school’s improvement plan can be the key to empowering every student in a learning community. Below, you’ll find our full Guide for Turnaround Principals, which breaks down each key component of an improvement plan. Keep reading for an overview of each piece, and for some insight into how Direct Instruction — a proven, research-driven instructional method — can support your efforts to refining and improving critical action steps in your turnaround school.

Driving with Data

Data is key to developing an instructional approach that effectively supports individual learners. Assessment data can help educators measure gaps at a classroom level, or help leaders measure gaps and progress at a school or district level. Those student data insights allow you to iterate instruction and measure progress against goals.

The Direct Instruction Advantage: Direct Instruction programs use formal and informal assessment data to inform instruction and group students by skill rather than grade level.

Selecting the Right Program

Here, it’s important to consider how effectively your chosen instructional program is moving student achievement: can you prove progress with tangible data? For turnaround schools, it’s necessary to select an approach that makes the most of every moment, and provides various stakeholders of your learning community with evidence to show an actively improving student population.

The Direct Instruction Advantage: For many turnaround schools, Direct Instruction is an ideal program match. Comprising curriculum programs built from decades of research, it’s a strong, evidence-based method for teaching. See the full guide for core components and details.

Scheduling for Success

Empowering every student to succeed requires educators to carefully allocate resources, schedule strategically, and ensure that each learner is presented with content appropriate to their skill level. For some turnaround schools, implementing Direct Instruction alongside a Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) model might be the key to success in this component.

The Direct Instruction Advantage: In Direct Instruction, students are grouped according to skill level instead of grade level, to ensure that instructional needs are met. See the full guide for more details on how schools make this transition and effectively implement the model.

Staffing and Professional Development

Turnaround principals must have the support of a strong, prepared, and knowledgeable staff to provide students with the instruction they need to succeed. In turn, staff must have the full support of a principal to learn, grow, and thrive. In a turnaround school, effective professional development is absolutely critical to both student achievement and the overall health of the learning community. In the full guide, you’ll find five principles of effective professional development to help shape your planning.

The Direct Instruction Advantage: When implementing Direct Instruction or MTSS, it’s key that professional development is ongoing, high-quality, and job-embedded to ensure that educators feel comfortable with and empowered by the chosen instructional approach.

The students and teachers of Emma E. Booker Elementary, a Title I school in Florida, saw a boost in reading abilities with the introduction of Direct Instruction. See how they experienced the transition in instructional approaches:

See below for the full Guide for Turnaround Principals:

Our comprehensive K-5 reading intervention program, Reading Mastery, is proven to raise reading performance for a wide range of students, including special populations. Learn more below:




Resources, ideas, and stories for PreK-12 educators. We focus on educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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Helping educators and students find their path to what’s possible. No matter where the starting point may be.

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