Let’s Get On With It!
Dallas Elementary school is a small school to the east of Kamloops. The school was established in the 1960’s and has seen many additions in its fifty plus years of existence. This year is my first year at the school and it has been a journey in discovering the culture of the school.
A teacher shared with me her views of what the school stood for. She stated “(Dallas School) is a wonderful school with a wide variety of students from farm kids, to lower, middle, and upper class respectful kids. We celebrate, nurture and accept the eccentric individuality of everyone. We are a passionate staff who are willing to take time out of our schedules to ensure students have opportunities to participate in a wide variety of activities, such as Girls Club, Chess Club and numerous sports teams, etc. We are willing to do this because we realize these activities create a positive school culture inside and outside of our classrooms. We allow student’s the opportunity to take on school responsibilities to allow for self growth and ownership of our school.”
I find this to be a great introduction to Dallas and the people that spend their time within its walls. However, the task I was given was to help this underperforming school find its academic focus and regain its stature as a good school. It was nice that the school prepared a plan the year before to help me find the way.
At first glance this powerpoint slide with the plan for the year seems a bit incomplete. “Let’s get on with it” is a brief statement but in reflection it contains multiple meanings and implications for the school. Simply put, the previous principal realized that the school was stuck in a rut and it needed to get moving forward. The teachers recalled conversations and promises for collaboration time and a move to project based learning, but in reality there were fifteen divisions struggling to get on with learning.
The focus for how to get started this year began with scanning the school through the lens of the spiral of inquiry. Through the spiral framework we have taken action towards a focus on foundational literacy skills. We created a structure for mentorship in the development of the Daily 5 in primary classrooms. There are two teacher specialists working with classes to build the Daily 5 skills into the everyday learning in each class. The school also purchased a second Levelled Literacy Intervention kit to assist primary students to reach the reading expectation level for their age. Finally the long awaited creation of collaboration time for teachers to meet as a larger group to further develop Daily 5, share best practices, and create a better understanding of the new curriculum. The collaboration time was accomplished by having buddy classes occur twice a month, when the classes are paired up one teacher will oversee the students in literacy centers with the older students modelling and working with their younger buddies. One session will allow all primary teachers to meet, the next all intermediate teachers. The first two collaboration times were completed in March, and focused on core competencies and student self reflection.
As I look back int he school year, it is clear that there where many ups and downs. I guess that is what happens when you are getting to know the community and pushing their thinking. The task for the final two months of the year is to engage with students and ask the tough questions about how they view their learning. In a school were 59% of the students in grade 7 say they do not enjoy coming to school there are some obvious questions to ask.
- Can every learner name at least two adults in the building who believe he or she will be a success in life?
- Are learners engaged in physical activity at the beginning of the day?
- Do learners have the opportunity to express themselves in a variety of ways?
- Do learners, regardless of their age, have the chance to teach someone else and to make a contribution to the community as a whole?
- Can they describe in their own words what they are learning – and why this important?
- Do Aboriginal learners see themselves reflected in the curriculum – and in the literature they are reading?
- Do learners understand themselves as learners? Are they self-regulated? Are they becoming increasing meta-cognitive?
- Do learners see and understand the connections across content areas?
- Are all learners stretched through demanding, engaging and challenging work?
- Are learners engaged in high quality, well-organized cooperative learning on a regular basis?
In June the plan is to have a group of students present to the staff about their viewpoint and thoughts on learning. Adding the student voice creates a great action theory: if we add students voice to the learning process then learning will become more meaningful and students will feel valued (given that we actually listen to them).
I am looking forward to the end of this year, but not to the beginning of the next school year. School District 73 is a conservative district and moving forward with innovation can be challenging. Given the changes to the structure of schools for September I fear that our focus on literacy and student engagement will be lost in the messiness of returning to 2002 contract language. To prepare for the unknown in September I am setting priorities based on our hunches that we continue to develop as part of our spiral. These assumptions and hunches are solidified through the discussions and readings in the TELP program. At our school we are changing the computer lab to a classroom to ensure that we keep an effective learning space for our music program, early literacy events, and our after school program for students (changing the computer room rather than our community room space). We are adding time to our teacher librarian to ensure that all students and teachers have a chance to learn and interact with information, technology, and content. We continue to give priority to teacher collaboration to further develop our literacy focus, best practice, and student engagement. Creating learning spaces that allow for better engagement, focus, and perseverance (updating the library to a learning commons, declutter classrooms, improve displays in the hallway, and creating a welcoming environment for all who enter the building). Most importantly sharing our learning with parents to enhance their understanding of the good things that we do at the school, how we value their children, and our commitment to developing students to be good citizens that understand the importance of a growth mindset.
This reflection is more about my school and not the course works that we have been dealing with over the last few months. In reality every day at my school the course work and professional conversations are evident in the decisions and conversations that occur. TELP is helping to focus my thinking and develop a view of education that makes sense for the learner. The decisions that we are making for next year will have a huge impact on student learning. Just reducing class size is not going to be enough to create the change that is needed at Dallas Elementary. What is needed involves a bigger picture of learning and caring that is emerging this year and needs to be kept in the forefront in the years ahead. I feel daily the impact of TELP and how it is helping move the school forwards. I believe TELP has confirmed many values I already held, but by solidifying the values in research and best practice it has been a easy conversation with staff. As I walked around the school last week I could see little changes that have improved the tone of the school. We have always valued students but now we allow students to do more of the heavy lifting and are holding them accountable for their learning. It is a positive trend that the 15 divisions have been waiting for, they just needed to be allowed to “just get on with it”. As a staff we are more energized with doing less better.
It is easy to state “let’s just get on with it”, the difficulty was to know what to start with and what exactly it was that we wanted to do. Albert Einstein said “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole live believing that it is stupid”. Dallas Elementary is starting to provide meaningful tasks layered with better assessment thus providing a view of learning that allows us to know where the students are at, and more importantly, what they need to further develop into young adults.