The Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago has been a long-standing partner in education reform for city school districts across the country. Andrew Schmitz is the assistant director of professional learning for the 5Essentials at UChicago Impact, a nonprofit organization situated within the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute. He shares how schools can improve student outcomes by implementing the 5Essentials.
I would imagine Hyde Park/University of Chicago have a lot of coffee shops. Do you have a favorite? Are you a coffee drinker?
I am absolutely a coffee drinker and like any good college campus, University of Chicago has a plethora of coffee shops. My favorite is Robust Coffee Lounge on 63rd Street; it has a great balance of people from the university, community members and students from nearby schools.
Talk about your background, as both a student and as an educator.
After beginning my education career as a seventh-grade English/language arts and social studies teacher on the South Side of Chicago, I transitioned into an instructional coaching role and then became an assistant principal.
Sports played a big part of my life when I was a student. After-school opportunities are often limited in low-income communities, and I wanted to ensure my students had the same chance to participate in extracurricular clubs and sports teams. I started a middle school rugby team that would eventually win two state championships.
Two years ago, I began my work at the Urban Education Institute, on the 5Essentials team, working to provide leadership coaching and school climate and culture support.
How were the 5Essentials developed and how do they help schools improve?
The 5Essentials is a research-based framework and survey that outlines a comprehensive set of practices and conditions that make schools much more likely to improve student outcomes.
Researchers from the University of Chicago developed the 5Essentials after studying schools and collecting data for about two decades. In the book “Organizing Schools for Improvement,” the researchers codified their findings and found that schools that are strong in at least three of the five essentials are 10 times more likely to improve student outcomes.
The 5Essentials survey assesses a school’s culture and climate and provides insight into strengths and weaknesses on the five key factors that research shows are predictive of school success: Effective Leaders, Collaborative Teachers, Involved Families, Supportive Environment, and Ambitious Instruction.
School and district leaders use their 5Essentials data to better inform their school improvement plans and help identify key strengths and areas for growth. Regardless of context, all schools need reliable data on the factors that can truly help them improve.
How do you support schools to use their 5Essentials data to drive school improvement?
We provide leadership-team coaching and professional learning to schools through the lens of the 5Essentials framework, informed by a school’s survey results. This coaching includes on-site, embedded support provided to school-leadership teams through regular coaching cycles and interactions and our professional learning sessions build the mindsets, knowledge and skills educators need to sustain long-term improvements. Our goal is to align our work to current school improvement efforts and to develop the capacity of a school’s leadership team.
What’s been the most striking thing you’ve learned as an educator about what makes schools work for kids?
I could probably write a three-volume textbook on this question! But, if I have to narrow it down, there are two things on my mind:
A well-rounded school leader who is decisive, humble, organized, and a learner and who has a solid foundation of knowledge and skills across key areas of instruction, student culture, building management, and managing adults.
And kids need to trust the adults in the building and feel a sense of belonging. Adults need to proactively and consistently work to build positive relationships with students and families and build a culture in which kids feel special and noticed.
What do you look forward to most about summer in Chicago?
Chicago has incredibly unique neighborhoods with distinct cultures and atmospheres, and the city defines 77 different community areas. I really enjoy exploring new neighborhoods and getting a sense of their identity. I’ve been in Chicago for 11 years and am not even close to visiting all 77!