1. Is failure a real and regularly option and experience for kids at your school?
The school I taught at last year and the school I teach at this year offer very different cultural perspectives on failure options. Yes, they are different demographics but it is more than that. Both have “plans” in place to “address” failing students, but the action on these plans look very different and one, my current school site, positively eliminates failure as an option for students.
2. If so, what impact do you believe that is creating? If not, what structures have been put into place to accomplish alternatives?
First, the Student Success Team ( SST or other schools call Student Study Team) meets monthly to review EVERY identified students who need support in any area, academic, behaviorally and/or social/emotionally. The team consists of academic coordinator/administrator, school psychologist, interventionist, special education teacher and general education teacher meet with parents to discuss student’s identified needs and plan specific strategies to support the student. We also have a school counselor two days a week to meet with students informally and an intern therapist to meet with students who have been referred for more mental health support. As a third “tier” support provider, I coordinate/refer multiple services in addition to my own as an Education Specialist. While mine is the most restrictive environment I work on opportunities where my student can spend as much of their nonacademic time as possible in the general education setting. I do this because not only because it is my responsibility to find these opportunities for my students, but because I assume that they each have the potential to be exited back into the general education classroom at some point, whether after a year with me or not until high school, my instructional practices are to prepare them for this, career and college readiness as well.
Structures outside of the staff are in place to support students as well. The parent’s club has formed a session of the “Math Club.” They pay a willing teacher to organize a program to be a pre-intervention support for students who are struggling. The list of interest is so long, they have to have two shorter sessions to give more students the opportunity to attend.
3. What conditions exist that make it too late to learn and reach competency in your school? Can you give an example?
While my school does not make it too late to learn, I would say there are cases with similar factors where there are repeated situations that may appear that way. My school has a lot of parent involvement and it is celebrated. However, there are some cases where parents interrupt their learning. By the time students are in 5th and 6th grade preparing for junior high school, there is an expected level of independence and responsibility expected of the students that some parents are ready to allow. We have several students in these grades whose parents are on campus everyday finding ways to to be in the classroom and insisting that their child needs more support, or special education even though they do not qualify. Last week, one mother requested that the school pay her to be her son’s 1:1 aide (and he doesn’t even qualify for special education.) It appears to be a pattern in these grades because the parents struggle with the gradual release of responsibility, making it extremely difficult for the teacher to provide this for them in the classroom.
4. What would you do, if anything, to introduce/enhance “never too late to learn” structures in your school if you were the school leader?
To address the need for parents of 5th and 6th graders to be part of the gradual release of responsibility, I would design a blog or teacher reference to offer resources to parents to learn how they can best support their child in taking more responsibility in their learning. Introducing parents to goal setting sheets that can also be adaptable for homework and behavior is also a way to provide a home to school connection.
My district does not offer professional development around evidence based instruction so I drive to a neighboring county to attend Anita Archer’s workshops every Fall. Even if she reviews practices that I have learned, a refresher course gets me excited to take advantage of every instructional minute. As a leader, I would encourage the use of some of the funds raised to rotate groups of teachers to participate in these workshops as her instructional practices, such as this year’s, reach classroom management and effective instructional practices to reach every student and identify needs.
5. What can you do in your present position to create “never too late to learn” structures in your current practice and those of your peers? Are those things in your sphere of influence? I can send home my student self-check sheets for parents to understand where we are working on responsibility and accountability as it is an issue in my class. Often times, students with disabilities are more “overly supported” at home because there is also habits and behaviors involved due to years of compensating for the disability which is often not needed. The reflection sheets I created are geared towards 5th and 6th graders so I can also share them with other teachers to support provide another resource. Parents can then reward them based on the self-reflection and reaching the student-set goals towards on-task behaviors and task completion.
6. Commit to 5 things you are willing to do this semester that will make your school increase learning opportunities:
1. Distribute my “Successful Student Self-Check” to 5th/6th grade teachers.
2. Communicate with parents about their students taking an active role in their learning. 3. 3. Suggest Anita Archer’s resources/website/video and workshop to administration/staff.
4. Start conversations for after school curricular enrichment club like the math club for struggling students. (This school does not participate in GATE or AP.)
5. Now that our school safety/emergency procedures are in place, it is time to discuss service cycles with administration.
1. What role does school play in building students’ agency and identity? With the majority of crucial developmental years spent in school, this makes school a great part of building students’ agency and identity. The home environment shares in this influence on agency and identity, but each offer a different role. School offers evidence for students to see the fruits of their labor and expand a diverse options of exploration of interests as well as relationships. School teaches them about the important role they play in society, the opportunity to identify with it and how to navigate with a gradual release of responsibility to the student from kindergarten to high school.
2. How aware are you and your colleagues of the impact our choice of words have on developing students’ agency and identity? Can you give examples? “We had a class meeting.” These words are often heard when teachers are discussing current topics, solutions, concerns or conflicts in and outside the classroom. As a school we have come to use class meetings as the primary format to build students’ agency and identity. Students can request a class meeting or the teacher facilitate class meetings to have discussions about everything from challenges with new curriculum and exciting new technology to bullying incidents and controversial political news. My daughter is a fifth grader at the school where I teach, she came home and reported a discussion they had in class during the presidential campaign. My daughter has been very concerned with the outcome of the election because she feels very strongly about some of the hot topics, immigration is one of them. She reported to me that a classmate shared a perspective that helped to understand the opposing perspective and I swelled with pride as she elaborated. She explained, “a girl in my class is in favor of Trump because her parents are immigrants from Canada and worked really hard to become citizens and she doesn’t think it is fair that other people don’t have to do that. I can see why she feels this way, that’s what Vovo [Portuguese for grandpa] had to do. But I still don’t agree with what Trump wants to do.” In response I said, “that was very brave of that student to share her opinion and I am glad you have class where it is safe for her to do so and for you to discuss both sides.” My daughter agreed. The following week she told me that she loves politics, she finds it fun and interesting. I know as a parent I could not give her that opportunity, sure we discuss opposing views, but she experienced it, in school and discovered that she loves it. I cringed. (She would not have learned that from me.) With these opportunities school plays a role in developing a respectful and tolerant diverse group of students as they build agency and identity.
3. What would you do, if anything, to make using choice words a more conscious and accountable school wide practice if you were the school leader? The power of positivity: While class meetings offer a framework for using choice words, I find that it is usually used to discuss and address issues around negativity in a healthy way. As a leader, I would like to expand choice words to expand to offer more positive language. The focus on language has come a long way as you rarely hear teachers use the word “smart” anymore. However, for students to know all the positive things they do, language needs to move from generic praise to behavior specific praise across the campus. In his book, “Transforming the Difficult Child, the Nurtured Heart Approach” Howard Glasser describes the approach as offering “video moments.” For all children, despite challenges, to learn exactly what great things they can do and do often, giving students a positive picture of themselves from the educator’s perspective demonstrates that no matter what mistakes they make, adults see them in a positive role doing great things often. I would train teachers to set a goals to increase their positive to negative/redirection feedback to students.
4. What could you do, if anything, to make the use of choice words a more conscious and accountable personal practice as well as one embraced by others on your site? Are those things within your sphere of influence? As a Special Day Class teacher, I teach in a sensitive environment and I calculate my word choice, timing, strategies, movements, etc. to create a safe positive learning environment for students with specific learning disabilities, mental health disorders and high functioning Autism. While I am careful to word choice in my classroom, I haven’t been as mindful when it comes to colleagues. I am buried in paperwork during my lunches and rarely share time with my peers in conversation outside of the Special Ed team. I need to make efforts to because it is within my sphere of influence.
5. Commit to 5 things you are willing to do this semester that will make your school choose words wisely?
1. How is the challenge of making stakeholders feel welcome to your school (or place of work) connected to your school mission?
With the mission involving a “ committed family joined in school to home learning” the obvious welcome of students and their families and their involvement is not the greatest challenges since it is embedded in the mission. The principal is the most welcoming, outwardly sensitive and caring person on campus which then trickles down. To a certain extent.
2. What did you do to assess which stakeholder group (or subgroup) could be more effectively welcomed? And what did you find?
In addition to my own experience as new to this campus, along with my fourth and fifth grade daughters, the welcome is fresh in our experience having been only a couple months ago. Because I came from a negative school culture at my previous site which started from day one, I experienced a “secret shopper” assessment to compare the first week of school. I moved in over the summer when no one was on campus and I had only met the principal and Resource Teacher who recruited me for the position. I found that the office manager practiced very few welcoming practices which was consistent with me and my husband who came separately as a parent. However, after that discouraging encounter I received many hellos, smiles and introduction stops which was a new experience for me, but only time would tell the first day was ahead.
On the first day I met a senior volunteer the students and staff call “Grandma Gert” who made cookies and described why she loves coming to campus. Other parents and grandparents were on campus visiting and joining in welcoming each other back to school. While the first week may have been very crowded for the first week of school greetings, I still see many of those parents and grandparents volunteering and making regular appearances during school and other functions. A special welcoming event was organized before Back to School Night, intended not to review rules and procedures, but simply have a potluck barbecue for families and staff to come together around dinner and get acquainted or reacquainted.
Perhaps the most telling was my 4th and 5th grade daughter's reports of this school compared to the other school they attended located a few miles away. They shared glowing reports of how nice everyone is and that they wonder why this school is so much friendlier than their previous school. However, it is my daughters who include my students in the general education recesses. Despite the friendly welcoming culture of this school, my student with disabilities are examples of the challenge of Welcoming Some or All? section of the second chapter of How to Create A Culture of Achievement in Your School and Classroom. It is a true indicator of how deep the welcoming extends when looking at the minutes of students in my Mild/Moderate Special Day Class spend with their grade level peers in general education. It is not a surprise that it is difficult for me to get them to leave the stairs in front of my classroom door at recess.
3. Future Sphere of Influence: What would you do to improve welcoming this group if you were the school leader?
As the school year is full swing and I am better acquainted there are two main areas where I see welcoming can be improved. New teachers need a special welcome and introductions beyond the assembly. Perhaps it is because the school is a friendly welcoming place that it gets overlooked, but there is no official welcome for new teachers with pertinent information. It is left to their grade level team to show them along the way I guess? There needs to be a systematic welcome for new teachers and other service providers who serve multiple sites.
4. Current Sphere of Influence: What can you do in your present position to enhance welcoming these stakeholders?
I can offer my feedback to administration prior to hiring another teacher to suggest a welcoming system for new teachers and start an awareness campaign for inclusion.
Current Sphere of Influence: Commit to 5 things you are willing to do this semester that will make your school a more welcoming place:
1. Start with recesses. I can have class meetings with my students about how to participate in unstructured activities at recess.
2. I can send resources to the general education classes in my students’ grades 3-5 to educate teachers and students on inclusion as well as learning disabilities, Tourette's Syndrome, anxiety disorders/selective mutism and Autism.
3. Send thank you notes/messages to families after IEP meetings as a follow up.
4. Take an active role in the Sunshine Committee to facilitate welcoming and shared information for new teachers, and all teachers.
5. Create a social story iMovie resource made available for all students for who struggle with shifting to a welcoming mindset.