“You cannot have a better school if you don’t have better teachers,” says Harry Wong. “Teach the teachers to be effective and you will have student achievement.” An acclaimed motivational speaker and the award-winning author of over 30 publications, including the bestseller, The First Days of School, Dr. Wong offers his blunt assessment of the mistakes schools are making in their efforts to improve. In this interview, he explains that the key to success for school districts is to invest in their teachers and their effectiveness, and to develop a culture where everyone knows what the goals, missions and beliefs of the school are and everybody is working towards those. The following is an abridged version of our interview with Harry Wong.
Q: What is your overall vision for a successful school?
Dr. Harry Wong: I’m interested in talking about how to get students to learn and achieve. Students do not learn from a qualified teacher. They learn from an effective teacher. What a principal needs to do is hire for qualification and then train the teacher to be effective.
The three characteristics of an effective teacher are number one: they need to be an extremely good classroom manager. Number two: they need to know how to deliver the subject matter. And number three: they need to have very, very positive expectations for the kids.
Q: What do effective principals do to establish a positive school culture?
Dr. Harry Wong: The primary role of a principal is to establish and nourish a culture. Culture can be defined as what we as a group believe in, and what we do to support and nourish that culture. And so if you ever visit an effective school or an effective classroom, there is a culture. Everybody knows what the goals, mission and beliefs of the school are and everybody is working towards that.
In an ineffective school, they have no culture. So what do these principals and people do? They buy programs. There is no coherent vision as to what they want to accomplish. And so, the very best thing that we can do for an administrator is to give him or her the professional development tools to train his average teacher and just make them a little better, and you’ll see a greater impact across the district than any program initiative will ever bring.