Chantilly High School, in Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, has always performed well on standardized assessments. In 2012, they voluntarily participated in the OECD Test for Schools to determine how they compare to schools globally. The results pointed to some unexpected realities about students’ abilities to analyze and apply information, their reading skills and behaviors, and student-teacher relations. The school used the results as a framework from which to develop school improvement plan goals and a school-wide focus on critical reading, critical thinking, and strengthening relationships in the school.

To achieve its newly set goals, Chantilly took a number of actions, including purchasing a research-based reading program, creating a fiction bookroom, adding classroom libraries, and selecting a school-wide common book for summer reading. The school also hired a resource teacher to support teachers in the classroom, facilitate collaboration among teachers, model instructional strategies, and demonstrate how to develop higher order questions. Critical reading and critical thinking were implemented across content areas; the English department standardized its assessments by using rubrics that promote deep reading, and math and science test questions no longer focus on multiple choice content but rather include more short answer questions that require critical thinking. Additionally, the principal began including critical thinking tips in the weekly newsletter, which have been successful in prompting teachers to think about the ways in which they can integrate critical thinking into classroom instruction. Teachers have also shared strategies and successful practices with one another.

Lastly, Chantilly looked for ways to support teachers in strengthening relationships and engagement with students. At the start of the year, teachers were given a list of tips on how to build relationships with students, and the school scheduled more events and activities among the faculty to enhance morale and provide opportunities for teachers to socialize outside of the school setting. As a result of these efforts, Chantilly has seen more deliberate professional development planning around its areas of focus, more intentional instructional planning on teachers’ part to support the three school foci, and school staff reporting improved working conditions.