A Qualitative Account of Program Development in a Demoralized Urban School

Thomas W. Gore, Associates for Renewal in Education

The first of two presentations on different aspects of a program of preventive intervention in a demoralized and disorganized inner city middle school describes the school in qualitative terms by providing an account of faculty and administration reactions to efforts to organize them to improve the school's attendance, parent participation, school orderliness. Despite the clearly unpleasant aspects of working in a school characterized by lack of personal afetyk low morale, and high rates of student misconduct, faculty were initially openly hostile to efforts to involve them in planning to improve the school environment. A process of the gradual introduction of small changes was begun--focusing initially on parent and student involvement in building a sense of community. The process was characterized by a stair step program of a succession of small successes interrupted periodically by discouraging backslides that set the improvement program back. An interpretation of the group dynamic that caused attempts to identify and address problems suggets that such efforts are interpreted as threats or attacks rather than attempts to be helpful, so that planning and the setting of improvement goals was repeatedly thwarted. By a gradual accretion of small successes, faculty were eventually involved in planning and implementing steps to improve attendance--and attendance did increase. The school also became safer and morale improved over time, but progress eventually stagnated due to an unwillingness or inability of the principal to make decisions of exercie leadership. The nature of the problem and the process of improvement are described by reviewing a series of analyses using the critical incident technique and force-field analysis

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Updated 05/20/2006