Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Power of the Team
As a school principal, I have had the privilege of watching masterful teachers change lives in their classrooms.  There is the fourth grade teacher that gets reluctant boys to be so excited about writing that they write stories in the car while traveling on vacation.  There is the second grade teacher that wraps her arms around a student that is hurting because of issues at home. There is the art teacher that helps a student discover a hidden talent.   The teachers I have the privilege of working with have taught me that together we are so much stronger that we ever could be alone.
In the past year and a half, my current staff has undergone a major restructuring in the pursuit of personalizing learning for our students.  We organized ourselves around Learning Communities made up of multiple grade levels. We thought we were reorganizing to benefit the students, which Learning Communities certainly does, but it has also brought us together as a staff.  ‘I have never worked closer with a group of teachers’, says one teacher.  Another teacher emails me to say how pleased she is to work with her Community because they respect one another, build upon each of their strengths, and lift each other up. Her email goes on and on with specific examples of how powerful the Community of teachers has become.

I feel like it is my job to encourage and support teachers in the classroom. My teachers taught me that I cannot do that alone, but through the Power of the Team, the power of Learning Communities, we can do that together.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

It Takes a ... Community

It Takes a Village Community

Educating children in this day and age is hard.  Gone are the days of teaching to the middle, or covering the curriculum.  We  personalize instruction for individual students.  We involve students, and parents, in the learning process.  This is hard work when schools are still organized the same way they were when the assembly line and mass production began- 25+ students per one teacher.

It would be wonderful to have smaller class sizes or more staff members available to work with kids, but a windfall of extra cash being infused into education is not very likely.  We are blessed to be part of a school district in a community that supports their schools, but even then it takes all of us to personalize learning for students.

For example, our Explorers Learning Community involves everyone twice a week as they build in an enrichment/intervention thirty minute block of time into their daily schedule.  All classroom teachers grades 2-5, special education teachers, special education aides, and students all work together to further student learning.  There are seven small, math intervention groups being taught at the same time.  Younger and older students are paired up and work to push each other's thinking.  Students not directly involved in a small group for intervention or enrichment are practicing their skills on ST Math, playing math games, or working on extending a learning project.  Assessments are used to determine the make up of the groups, and students are shuffled around as their learning needs change.  Some students even come from other Learning Communities to join the intervention groups. It takes the whole Learning Community to personalize learning for each of the one hundred students.

 Our other Learning Communities personalize learning for students in their own unique ways too.   The Discoverers review math assessment data and share students for mental math groups called Number Talks twice a week.  Our math coach takes a group of students who need challenged mathematically and helps to stretch their thinking. Our Seekers Community has various Voice and Choice activities where students sign up to learn about specific content.  The most recent Voice & Choice activities were led by parents with expertise in the science field.  The kids were enthralled to learn about astronomy, rocks & minerals, and animals from our parents experts.  The Panther Cubs welcome kindergartners in first grade as appropriate.  They meet together for R Factor and joint counseling lessons.

The old adage 'It Takes a Village' is very true in education.  We have just adjusted it to our structure in our school- 'It Takes a Community.'

Thursday, January 19, 2017

What do we want To BE

SDE.jpgWhat do you want To Be? Most of us have a To Do List, but how many of us have To Be Lists? I learned about a To Be List from a colleague last school year.  The idea is that we create a list of what we want To Be first.  This list then determines our To Do lists.  We focus our actions and our time on doing things that align with our values and what we want To Be.

This idea of a To Be list resonates with me.  I like the focus on what's most important both daily and long-term. I want To Be Supportive- of my staff, my personal children at home, and others that are part of my life.  I need to make sure my time is not taken up with so many To Do’s that I miss opportunities to be supportive to those around me.  It occurred to me that this idea of a To Be list can go beyond a personal list.  We are using it to focus the work of our elementary school.  What type of school do we want To Be?

During the 2015-2016 school, my first as principal at my current building, we were encouraged to consider what it meant to be an innovative elementary school.  What type of school do we want To Be?  We decided that we want To Be a school that personalizes learning for all students.  That means allowing students voice and choice in their learning, as well as allowing students to move through their learning at their own pace.  We determined that in order to truly personalize learning for students we needed To Be more flexible.  We found that our schedules and organization by chronological grade levels can prevent us at times from allowing students to grow. Some students are ready for additional concepts while others need more time where they are at.  Developmentally we all grow at different rates.  Why not allow students the time they need to progress and learn?  Students are not at a certain place just because they are all 9 years old.

So this  2016-2017 school year instead of organizing our schedules- lunch, recess, special area classes, etc- around grade levels, we decided to organize ourselves by vertical grade level teams- a K and 1st grade Learning Community, and three 2nd thru 5th grade Learning Communities.  These Learning Communities teach subject areas at the same time.  Eventually we hope to be able to view our communities as a group of four teachers teaching one hundred students, rather than by specific grade levels.  Students being able to grow at their own pace, receiving personalized instruction along the way.

We are already becoming what we want To Be this school year.  Our Learning Communities are sharing children to explore common interests, to work on projects, for intervention and extensions in content areas, and even to lead school-wide assemblies.  Relationships with multiple teachers, and a variety of students are being built every day.  

We believe in the power of relationships.  This is another thing we discovered we want To Be- in relationship with each other.  Remember a favorite teacher?  What was it about them that you remember fondly?  Most likely it had something to do with your relationship with them.  One of our district’s tag lines is Power of the Team.  We want To Be in relationship with one another as we teach, learn, and grow.

We have begun our journey as Learning Communities- To Be in relationship with one another as we personalize learning for all students.  Follow us and see where we go next.