As the year progresses, the pressures of the redesign are also increasing. Instead of realizing our dreams, we are at the point where we are trying to make decision. This weighs heavily on the redesign team as well as all the staff at EES. In light of that I wanted to take an opportunity to discuss this from a two sided perspective both as a teacher and a parent. I wanted to walk you through a day in the life of my children. I have a kindergartener and a fourth grader.
A day in the life
When my children arrive at EES, they are greeted at the door by staff members and members of our student leadership team STUCO. This is intentional. We want students to know from the very moment they arrive at EES, they are welcome and wanted. Monday mornings we even have they Mayor and other leaders within our community to welcome and visit students!
Our redesign team is considering creating Friday Families where students would have a “Family” made up of a student from every grade level in order to develop a peer group and a to offer leadership for our younger students. I like that my kindergartener will have the opportunity to meet students from each grade level so they can help him throughout the day, and greet him when they see him. I like that my fourth grader can be a helper to younger students and learn leadership skills while doing it.
When Jag Time, our whole school morning greeting time, starts we want to make sure that we’re beginning our day by modeling consistency, and working with students’ energy. We use a morning song to “wake” students up, and to have a little fun first. We honor our country by having a student walk the flag in and saying our nation’s pledge of allegiance. We are trying to ensure that students learn flag etiquette. We move into a school pledge and announcements so that students affirm ownership of the school and have awareness of what is going on beyond their own classroom. Mr. Allen, our principal, has a morning message related to the Key of the Month. This is a social and emotional lesson that helps students learn skills that can help them be successful. Finally, Mrs. Simmelink uses a song to help students exit to their individual classrooms.
We are exploring ways to develop strong relationships between students and with teachers. That is our top priority. One of the first ways we do that within the individual classrooms is by beginning the day with a morning meeting. We are using a four-part model called responsive classrooms. As a parent, one of my top concerns is that my student’s needs and abilities are well known by their classroom teacher. I’m trusting my child with an adult for a long time and I want that adult to have their best interest as a top priority. Morning meetings have helped establish stronger relationship not only with my children and their teachers, but also opened the doors to conversations between students that has helped them grow socially.
Moving further into the day, my younger and older child’s day may begin to look different. This is also where our redesign team is still in the process of debating how to move forward. To begin, the redesign team’s commitment throughout the whole process has been to keep the needs of the child our top priority. Each thing we discuss is filtered with that mission in mind. As of now no decision have been made on the following ideas, but here are some things being discussed.
We feel strongly that to benefit the students, providing more time to establish strong relationships with teachers is important. We are exploring different ways to design classrooms.
We have talked about some of the following ideas: multi-age grouping, this would help us spread some of our larger classes between more teachers. It would also benefit students who need peer leaders. An added benefit is that it would allow students to receive content and highly trained instruction from two grade levels. If a student were advanced, they could receive information and skills from the older level, and if they needed to strengthen skills, they could have content from the level they need.
Some concerns we have would be the logistics of how it would work. We are also wondering if the benefits are enough greater to outweigh the great things we are currently doing.
Another type of classroom design is called looping. In this format, the teacher would work with students for two years to form strong bonds with students and families. The way this would look would be if my son had one teacher in kindergarten, that teacher would also be his first grade teacher. He would be in the same classroom, with the same friends, and have the same teacher. This challenges our teachers because they would be responsible for becoming experts in two different grade levels.
Our upper grade levels are exploring similar options with similar advantages and concerns. One additional strategy we are in conversation about is a style called vertical looping by department. This is a unique method where a teacher would teach multiple grade levels by subject.
For example, my daughter might work with one math teacher for third, fourth and fifth grade, but a different teacher for those grades in English language arts, science and social studies. Writing skills would be embedded in all subjects. This method blends advantages from some of the other structures mentioned.
Students would have the same teacher in each subject for multiple years, and those teachers would become highly skilled in that subject. Additionally, the teacher may be able to better equipped with providing instruction at the level the student needs.
Teaching skills through projects
Another large area of conversation centers on the format in which we teach. Our school and community has identified “soft skills”, civic engagement, and problem solving as significant areas in which we need to prepare students.
To address that focus, we want to explore the project-based learning opportunities. Teachers have received training from Buck Institute, the leader of Project Based Learning methods. Next year, that may look different for my kindergartener and my fourth grader.
My kindergartener is still learning the basic skills needed for his entire educational career. He has to learn to read, understand numbers and many more skills that need direct instruction. The projects he will participate in will utilize those skills, but will also work on developing the connect he has to the community, the school, his class, and help him learn how to become aware of his own needs.
My daughter’s projects will be very different. She will be leveraging the skills she has in order to solve real world problems and present solutions to authentic audiences.
For example, a project demonstrated at our training was redesigning a learning space for our school and present to our principal. While that was a training tool, it was similar to what projects might look like for our students next year.
We are exploring other learning opportunities that leverage technology for our students development in ways that we have only begun to explore.
As a parent, I’m excited about this opportunity. I picture my kindergartener using blocks to build a cube and recording himself explaining what he did, how he did it, and why. The teacher can be working with students elsewhere and view the video later to check his work. If his makes a mistake, that provides an opportunity for the teacher to review his work, make corrections and enhance his skills.
This is different because while he may need to work on that skill, other students may have already advanced passed that need. Instead of reteaching the lesson to all the students, my son would receive the instruction he needs, while the rest of the class can receive the skill they need. This method is called personalized learning. Our younger grades are looking for ways to develop personalized learning.
However, our redesign team also recognizes that our primary teachers already do amazing work utilizing this method. We are looking to strengthen what they are already doing well, not replace it with something drastically different.
My fourth grade daughter may be using a platform called Summit Learning. This is a tool that empowers our upper elementary teachers by providing tools to teach in a similar method as described.
The advantage is Summit Learning has teams of educational experts and trainers that help create the infrastructure and provide data collection. It’s a tool that packages many of the things we already do, and adds options to diversify opportunities. It also strengthens the connection parents have to the work their own child is doing.
While I know this is a large concept, I can honestly say, both our upper and lower elementary opportunities excite me. I strongly believe that these methods will allow my children’s teachers to adapt lessons for my children in ways that I can’t yet imagine. We are harnessing tools and blending their usefulness with our already strong methods to create a learning environment that better centers around the individual learner.
These are the major components that we are in process of working on. We are still in the decision making process, and not many final decisions have been made.
Our team meets for hours each week and we debate each option thoroughly, because we feel a great responsibility to do what is going to have the best impact on not only all of our students, but each of our students.
We value the thoughts and feedback we get, and do our best to address them in our meetings. As a parent, who is also a teacher on the redesign team, I can say that the things being discussed, proposed, and decided have been made with students as the focus, and that makes me proud of our work, and excited for next year.