Thursday, April 28, 2011

A New Challenge!

Two new, non-Engish speaking students are moving into our school system and my classroom next week. I'm very excited about the challenge, and thinking about how we'll help these girls feel comfortable while they learn.

As soon as I get the paperwork, I'll send out an email for volunteers.  We have a mom at our school who speaks the same language, and is eager to help out.  I also have a couple of dual-language speakers in my class who speak the same language so I'll enlist their help with making signs and thinking of ways that we can all help the students understand.

I'll also think about some ways that we can have a two-way language learning opportunity happening in the classroom.  I know that the experienced language-teacher, parent volunteer will teach the English speakers her native language, and help the non-English speakers learn English.  I've also asked the tech integration specialist for a couple of additional iPads or notebooks to give the girls one-to-one access so they can access Google translate for "conversations" with other students, and research in their own language that can be easily translated and read in English using the computer.

What else? If we have time, we may begin a whole study of the girls' native country.  Since it's the end of the year, and we've met most of our goals, I think I'll be able to carve out some time for this teachable geography moment.  I'm sure I'll be blogging more about this new challenge.  Please let me know if you have any helpful ideas.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Learning Fractions in a Flipped Classroom

I used the fraction unit to explore the concept of the flipped classroom.  In a flipped classroom, students do most of their "learning by reading/watching at home" and their active, collaborative learning in school.

I thought about this as I planned the unit.  Students studied at home using online videos and tasks.  Then in school, students mainly worked on collaborative fraction projects including the creation of story problems, charts, graphs, illustrations, and interactive white board presentations.

Presentations were completed using Google presentation and/or Google docs.  The table feature on Google is great for making fraction bars.  Then the presentations were easily downloaded to pdf, then uploaded to ActiveInspire flip charts to facilitate students' interactive white board lessons.  This is a video snapshot of one project.

Today, after a couple of presentations, I asked the students what they thought.  Some commented that it was much better to present, than to sit and listen.  Others thought that it was helpful to learn about fractions from many different voices.  Still more liked the interactive aspect of the students' lessons.  On the other hand, some students questioned the efficiency of learning -- were they learning enough and was this process too slow?  All good questions and all good thinking.

When students taught they experienced the same challenges teachers face.  They were challenged by just-right pacing, keeping track of all the lesson materials and ideas, and making sure their charts, graphs, and data were accurate.  I had the luxury of sitting in the back of the room watching, only participating when guidance or an important correction were needed.

Will I continue to foster flipped classroom efforts.  Definitely! I like the idea of active, engaged students who are empowered by their classroom learning.  I was excited by the number of children that worked on these projects for added hours at home (thanks to Google docs).  One girl exclaimed today that she had worked for more than two hours one night on the project. Another girl, who was about to go on vacation and miss the project, decided to collaborate via phone and computer to complete the project in two-days time rather than in the six-seven scheduled in-school periods so she'd be able to present to the class.

Did students learn as much or more about fractions throughout this process?  I'm about to examine their assessments right now to find out.  It seems like they got a good dose of fractions, and terrific experience with 21st century skills of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking skills and communication.

I'll continue to revise and refine my flipped classroom techniques.  I'll also continue to investigate and learn from colleagues at my school and through my PLN.  Thanks for listening.  I welcome your thoughts and ideas related to this project, and/or the flipped classroom model. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Welcoming New Voices in the Classroom

Today a parent visited our classroom.  He shared his thoughts and experiences related to his career as a writer.  He keenly began his presentation by asking students questions about their writing attitudes, processes, and opinions.  As each child spoke, he affirmed their thoughts.  I enjoyed and learned from each provocative question, presentation detail and student response.

It's important for educators to welcome new voices into their classrooms.  Voices of parents, community members, and others impact students' lives and broaden their perspectives.  Those same voices also allow teachers the chance to sit back and listen to their students' thoughts, opinions and questions without the pressure to quickly respond, direct or facilitate.  This is just one more way to deepen your students' educational experience.

Student Blogs

My fourth graders blog each week.  Two - five students pose questions or topics each week, and others are invited to share their responses.  Recently one of my students sent me a video of his wonderful talent as a piano player, and that prompted me to ask students to blog about their talents and passions.  I've copied their responses, but deleted names, icons, and pictures to protect their privacy.  This is a typical fourth grade blog response thread in my classroom.  Our blogs are posted on our private NING social network which students sign on to with parents and/or guardians.

Comment by teacher
Hi,  I just read your comment.  Thanks for sharing your talents and passions.  When I was young I used to play "Olympics" in the backyard.  My friends and I would create gymnastics' routines and perform for each other.  We had lots of fun.  Thanks again for posting. - Ms. Devlin   ________________________________ Comment by student
Hi !   I LOVED your piano playing.   I want to play the piano someday, too.   Do you love it?   How many songs do you play?
I love to play the trombone.  The fast slides are really fun!  
I also love doing gymnastics!  You get to learn new moves and keep doing them faster.   The more you practice, the faster you get better!   At first, I did back bends on a hill.   Then I tried kicking over with some help.  After lots of practice, I could do it myself.  
Comment  by student
I LOVE to write and learn and talk about sharks. I also like to draw sharks too! I have tons and tons of books and pages of shark facts that I have written. I get the facts on the internet and from books. I have pictures of sharks, books about sharks, and a million facts. I could just study sharks all day long! When I'm older, I want to be a scientist that only studys sharks! I think my talents are being good  with animals and being creative. Because I think that I draw really good and I don't know why, but every animal I see, seems to like me!

Comment by teacher
I am so lucky to teach such a passionate class.  Thanks for sharing. ________________________________________

Comment  by student
I have so many. I play viola and piano, I do soccer and swimming, I love gymnastics, and I like reading and writing fiction stories. I also like baseball and playing with my sisters and cousins. I also love technology. I use computers and phones and everything else. I love figuring out new things on computers! ___________________________________

Comment by student
all I really do is play the bass and do ti-kwon-do
Teacher Response:
You are wonderfully creative too,  I love the way you visualize a big project, then get right to work completing it step-by-step.  You're super at technology too.  I'm sure you have many more wonderful talents and passions.  One exciting part of life is that you're always discovering new things about yourself, that's why people often refer to life as a journey.  Thanks for joining the conversation. - Ms. Devlin ___________________________________

Comment by teacher
Thanks for sharing.  One person can't have all talents and interests, but we can learn from each other and enjoy each others' talents. I hope more students will post to this thread. _____________________________________________

Comment by student
I canoe a lot. I can unicycle. I just reached the limit-8 ft. I also have helped teach ____ in Mr. M's class and ____ from the same class. The unicycle training goes Trixie the Trainer, Mountain Unicycles, 5 feet, 8 feet, and in between  all that the Talent Show. Currently I am the only one out of me ___ and ____ who 8 foots, but there are lots more tricks that I can learn.

Comment by student
Did you know that I am a numismatist? that means coin collector, I have a wide collection of Quarters,dollar coins and pennies. I have just finished my 50 state quarter collection. Every year starting in 1999 the US mint came out with four different states on the quarters until 2008. It ran in the order the states came into the United States so they started with Delaware and ended with Hawaii. Each state quarter has something famous about that state on it. Like Arkansas has the countries only diamond mine, it is called the Crater of Diamonds, it is also the only diamond mine in the world that is open to the public. You can take any diamonds you find. The Arkansas quarter has a diamond on it to represent it
The one below is from my collection.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


What do you treasure most?  How do you care for your treasures?

My family is my greatest treasure.  From the time I was a little girl, I dreamed of having a family.  I drew picture after picture of my little children living in interesting mountain, island, city and country locations.  I named the "children" and created a myriad of adventures for my imaginary families.  I also enjoyed reading books about families.  My favorite childhood books included A Sundae for Judy, Children of Noisy Village, Jubilee and Mrs. Mike.

Later, as a preteen, when caring for my little brothers, I'd pretend that I was the mom and they were my children.  I'd take them on walks, create games, read to them and, to their chagrin, regularly play school in the the basement of our little green house.  I felt a kind of magic when I was with children, a sense of peace and creativity.

As a teen, and in early adulthood, I wanted nothing more than to be a wife and mother. I was hoping to marry a man who would be a great dad.  That was so important to me.  Serendipitously, I met that man. We married, and went on to have three sons.  Parenting those boys has been both joyous and challenging.  Like parents everywhere, I want the best for my sons.  I also want my sons to live their life, be who they are and follow their dreams.  I support my boys' energy, drive and desires, while also guiding their direction towards peace, love and strength.  I marvel at their unique gifts and talents, and anguish when they meet struggles, big and small.  I wish I could be all things for them, but I know I can't. Like them, I'm only human; I can strive to be the best, but I'll never be all things.

So that's how I take care of my treasures.  I guide and support.  I marvel and anguish.  I love those shining stars to the best of my ability.  Now, after many weeks of passionate, driven work in the ed-tech evolution, it's time to polish that treasure box and enjoy the treasures within.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Online Journals

Next year, I'd like my students to journal online.  Each week, I'm going to ask students to complete a myriad of journal assignments including free writes and specific writing assignments.  Why online?

  • Online is easier to read.
  • Utilizing spellcheck and other online tools will help students to become better writers and spellers.
  • They will be able to transport their writing easily to multi-media compositions.
  • Students will be able to "journal" with video, podcast and other creative venues.
  • Students can easily add images to their writing.
  • Students will utilize different fonts and colors to their journal to illustrate their thoughts and ideas.
  • I can quickly and thoughtfully comment on students' writing.
  • I won't need to lug home a large canvas bag of journals.
  • If students still want to draw and or write by hand (which I still enjoy at times), they can simply PhotoBooth or scan their work and add it to their journal.
  • Students will be able to quickly access their writing for story assignments.
  • Students will access their journals in places near or far, and keep their journal year to year if they choose.
  • Students will add important links to their stories, lists and entries.
I'm leaning towards using Google sites for student journals, but I'm exploring other venues too.  I plan to try the journal out this summer so I'm ready to employ the process in the fall.  Let me know if you have thoughts or ideas related to this.  I know that students' writing will develop substantially with this venue.  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thinking About Homework?

Rather than listing the unsuccessful, dissatisfying homework strategies I've used in the past 24 years, I'll focus on the routines that are positive.
  1. Differentiated Homework: Students learn at different rates.  One-size-fits-all homework does not work for a heterogeneous group of elementary school students.  Homework with multiple entry/completion rates/levels is best.
  2. Online Homework:  Strategic, student-centered online homework is an efficient way to practice skills.  Programs like "That Quiz" offer teachers easy-to-assess "grade/completion" reports for quick student review.  
  3. Blogs: blogs foster writing in natural, thoughtful ways.  Students are usually eager to share their thoughts, and they have the opportunity to read classmates' thoughts too.  Teachers can easily engage with students using blogs as well as assess student learning and writing skills.
  4. Video review:  Assigning video viewing via Discovery Education or other venues is a good way to develop student knowledge.  Students could then comment about the video on a class blog or online commenting form.
  5. Writing:  Keeping an online journal or portfolio that teachers can view and comment on is a nice venue for homework.  Google docs/blogs could serve as the medium for this type of work.
  6. Commenting on published work:  Students could view and comment on classmates' work as part of homework using online discussion threads.
  7. Online Book Groups:  Students read selected pages each night and comment as we move through book after book.  Of course, we'd have some in class follow-up, but this would help everyone prepare for the real-time discussions.
This blog is meant to start the discussion, and foster decisions about classroom homework for next year's class.  I'd like to create a homework pattern, one that I can introduce to parents and students at the start of the year.  As Khan suggests, I'd like homework to be mainly done via the computer, thus leaving class time for project work and essential skill practice and learning.  

I want to think more on this.  Comments and thoughts are welcome.

Student Challenges

"Every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams beneath our feet; and we should tread softly"  - Ken Robinson

Students present challenges.  They come to school with diverse learning styles, family situations, interests, strengths, and challenges.

The goal is to create a program that responds to their collective and individual needs.  Careful, thoughtful planning helps an educator create a strong program, but even with that planning, challenges exist.

Educators want the best for each and every student.  We want children to feel comfortable and at-home in their learning spaces.  We want to facilitate students' learning related to the curriculum, standards, and life-long learning.  At times, challenges exist -- challenges that require greater thought, innovation, and care.

It's important to enlist the help of family members and staff when a student is presenting a challenge.  It's important to step back and survey what's working, and what's not. Together, educators and family members should evaluate, organize and implement those goals.

Children will always present challenges.  It's our job as educators to establish a relationship with each of our students.  It's also our job to plan an optimal schedule for those students -- a schedule that promotes scholarship and respect for all.

And as the quote above suggests, ". . .we should tread softly."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What Makes a Great School?

A leader that recognizes educators' strengths and talents makes a great school.  My school has a leader like that.  Rather than trying to make every educator fit into a "same box," he takes the time to get to know us, then supports and encourages our educational strengths.  He also supports collaboration and cooperation, and keeps the focus on what's best for children.

Today I saw his leadership in action.  It was the fifth grade play performance.  Our amazing music teacher, with the help of a talented teacher-writer/actress, parents, the principal, and fifth grade teachers, crafted, organized, rehearsed, and presented a tremendous pirate musical production with approximately 80 fifth graders.

Proudly, every fifth grader took part.  There were many, many speaking, singing, dancing and stage parts.  The children shined as they worked together to sing songs, perform a dance step, act out a joke, and tell the funny, child-friendly pirate story.  The children in the audience were entranced.  21stC teaching was alive and well as it was apparent that children were learning in collaborative, creative ways that fostered communication and critical thinking skills.

Our thoughtful, bright, caring leader allowed teachers to create and present this production.  He lauded the teachers' efforts, creativity and commitment.  It was a moment that all teachers, families, and students were proud of -- everyone likes to work in a great school.  Our leader makes that possible.  

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Guided Social Media

I've been using a social network with my class for three years now.  It's an effective teaching practice. Next year, colleagues have decided to do the same.  I believe that "guided social media" is the way to go in fourth and fifth grade classrooms for many reasons.

  1. Students will use social media in a safe, productive way with family member/teacher oversight.
  2. Teachers and family members will help to guide a child's language, decisions, and postings.
  3. Mistakes in judgement will become teaching points as we help students navigate this medium.
  4. Students will learn about social media etiquette and cyberbullying.
  5. Students will better understand the vocabulary and processes related to social media.
  6. Similar to Facebook, each student/family will manage their own page.
Guided Social Media Fosters Academic Growth
  1. Students write often thus developing writing ease and fluency.
  2. Students read each others' posts and links.
  3. Selected student work will be posted for all to view and share.
  4. There will be 24-7 access to students and teachers for clarification and conversation.
  5. Teachers will have the ability to broadcast messages to all students and families.
  6. Exchange of classroom content opinions, facts and ideas.
  7. Students and families who speak English as a second language will be able to access translation tools if necessary and/or view projects and student work multiple times if needed.
  8. Students who are absent or away will have ready access to classroom events and learning.
Project Implementation
  1. Organize and distribute links related to social network use in schools to all interested teachers.
  2. Review selected social network (NING).  
  3. Devise standard features for each social network including protocols, links to other important sites (learning platform, class websites, school website), blog process, forum process, photo albums, and video.
  4. Discuss social network integration with school system's learning platform (It's Learning), Google Tools, class websites, school website, and other online tools.
  5. Share thoughts about family/student invitation - sent out with move-up letters in the Spring.
  6. Discuss staff safety protocols: every site should have two or more educator members (checks and balance) and appropriate postings, language and use.
  7. Sign up on the NING site and design our sites.
  8. Allow students/families to sign up over the summer months.
  9. Email with each other as we refine the process over the summer and throughout the school year.
  10. Meet in early fall to discuss how it's going and what everyone is doing with their networks.
     Let me know if you have further rationale, thoughts, suggestions, ideas or questions regarding "guided social media" efforts for upper elementary and early middle school students.  I'm sure that we'll continue to revise and refine this effort as we move along.  Thanks for your support.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Seasons of the School Year

Spring has sprung  The days are brighter, the sky is bluer and the flowers are beginning to poke their heads from the winterworn earth.  It's almost time for vacation, and time to set goals for the last leg of the school year.  The school year seems to leap from vacation to vacation, and season to season.  Before making a new set of goals, I want to reflect on the seasons of the school year.

Each new school year begins in the summer.  That's the time when I think and plan for the year ahead.  If I'm going to make any significant curriculum changes, I make the time to research and read about the topic and/or method.  It's also the time I engage in a few valuable, well-chosen professional development courses or seminars to continue my evolution as an educator.

I meet the students.  The year begins by establishing routines and relationships.  I follow the work of Ruth Charney and her book, Teaching Children to Care.  Schedules are carefully set in the hopes of creating a predictable program as well described by Tom Schimmer.  I start to facilitate children's learning of each standard through curriculum units, projects and specific skill lessons.  I refine my summer plans based on the students' needs and profiles.  

Late Fall/Winter
The air is colder and the days are darker, this is the best time of year to dig in and work hard.  Routines and the student community are established.  It's time to apply those routines and community to learning the standards in challenging, productive ways.

Late Winter
I wrote an earlier post about this time of year.  In Massachusetts, it's a time of year centered on test prep and the English-Language Arts MCAS.  I named it  Time for Revision and Finesse.  Students review what they've learned through games, exercises and meaningful projects such as the podcast project.  We teach test-taking strategies, and several days are devoted to the tests.

As I think through the year, and wonder about spring.  I realize that it's cut into two distinct teaching pieces.  The first is the math review segment.  In early May, students in Massachusetts take the math MCAS.  So the start of spring for my class means making sure we've reviewed all the math standards, and focusing on those that we need to master with greater depth through projects, exercises, tests and review.

Then the second section of the spring semester will be the time for in-depth project based learning with our focus on endangered species research and reports.  Finally, we'll end the year with a period of reflection as students complete their fourth grade portfolios and final letters.

Summer Again
This year I've decided to put my summer reading challenge on our social network.  I will welcome both this year's fourth graders, and next year's fourth graders to read and discuss (via blogs) one book every two weeks. I'll read the same book, post comments,  and read/respond to their comments too. That will create a nice bridge from one year to the next, and prompt me to keep up with the latest in children's literature.

I'll also begin again with a few professional development programs which I'll blog about in the summer months.

The seasons of the school year give the year form and structure.  What are your thoughts?
  • Are there important seasonal decisions you make with regard to students' learning and the classroom program?    
  • Does your school system have a seasonal pattern for the roll-out of new initiatives and teacher collaboration related to specific school goals or content?  
  • What happens if you loop or teach a multi-grade classroom; how does this change the seasonal perspective?
This is one post that I want to think more about in the summer months.  I welcome your ideas and feedback.

Friday, April 08, 2011

What Matters?

    On the way home from school today, I said to my son, "Are you looking forward to next year?"
    He answered, "Yes, except I'll miss my teacher."
    I said, "Why do you like that teacher so much."
    He answered, "He engages us.  He listens to us and asks us questions.  Kids like to talk to him."  Once again I was struck by how important the student-teacher relationship is.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

A PD Model That Works

Early last fall, one of our technology integration specialists sent out an email inviting teachers to collaborate on a grant for interactive white boards.  All fourth and fifth grade teachers and one third grade teacher at my school joined the effort.  Together the technology integration specialist and teachers wrote the grant.  The integration specialist did a lot of leg work when it came to the numbers as she had to determine the best equipment and prices.  We also decided to combine the grant with a system-wide course offering thus providing interested teachers the chance to learn about the boards while earning salary credits.  We were awarded the grant in mid-fall.

At first we all thought we'd share in the course instruction, but it turned out that the technology integration specialist stepped into that role -- teachers didn't have the time and/or expertise to run the course.  For weeks now, teachers have been meeting regularly to learn about the boards, share their work, and trouble shoot during the course meetings.  In the classroom, the boards are becoming a regular part of our instruction with students.  Integrating the interactive white boards with collaborative professional development and meaningful projects has made this a professional development model that works.

Sadly interactive white boards are not the tool that makes a significant difference in schools. After the grant was written and fulfilled, I read research that pointed out the fact that these boards for the most part promote old fashion factor model schools. What would be better would be giant iPad-like white boards that are interactive and use sites/software that students can easily access in school and at home on their own devices. Better than an interactive white board, is to get a big white board, document camera, overhead projector and lots and lots of individual tech devices that can be hooked up to the camera and shared throughout the classroom for as much active engagement as possible. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Almost Paperless Homework

My colleague next door and I are trying paperless homework this week.  My colleague is going completely paperless while I have a bit of paper (two charts) involved.  I was inspired, in part, to do this by the Khan video where he suggests that homework should be the "learning by watching," while the classroom should be the hands-on, activity-based learning since teachers and peers can assist and facilitate.

My students' homework included the following:
  1. Watch at least one classmate's podcast and write a quality comment (compliment and connection) about it on that student's podcast comment thread each school night.
  2. Visit our online Fraction Action learning site.  Watch fraction videos, play games, and/or take tests online to explore and learn about fractions.
  3. Independent Reading.
Our school system's learning management system, It's Learning, gives me the chance to quickly check in to see who has signed in.  Last night 21/24 of the class signed on, and several posted comments.  Several also emailed me via our closed social network (NING) to ask questions and note log-on issues and other problems.  We spent some time in class today reviewing the problems and trouble shooting to help more students access the homework and assignments with ease.  I'm sure I'll get a few more emails tonight as students learn to navigate this new system.  My colleague was able to check in online to check his students' homework completion too.  

It's great to try this out with a colleague as we're able to share our thoughts, ideas, successes and challenges.  I'm going to continue to gauge the success of this venue as the year moves on.  Let me know if you have any thoughts or ideas regarding paperless homework and online work.  In the meantime, I'll continue to consult my "clients (students)" and assess the learning to choose the best venues for student success.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Parenting-Teaching: What's Important?

I'm a parent and a teacher.  I work with children from early morning to late at night.  I think a lot about my roles and the priorities related to both.  As I consider, I find the following criteria to be most important.

Warm Welcoming Home/Classroom
I strive to make my home and classroom warm and welcoming, a place where children feel at home.  I am trying to keep both simple, but equipped with essential supplies for caring, happy, thoughtful, creative development.

I believe it's important to notice and tap into children's passions. Every parent remarks about the differences children present from birth. When children have the opportunity to discover, explore and develop their passions, they have a greater chance for happiness, friendship, and fulfillment.  I observe my children closely at home and in class.  I provide them with a variety of experiences and watch to see how they learn or react, what they like and don't like.  Then I try to feed their passions.

Essential Skills
Children need to have essential skills.  In our busy lives today it's often difficult to navigate all the choices out there to make time for the meaningful development of essential social skills and academic skills:  reading, writing, math and foundation knowledge in content areas, but it's essential, and both parents and teachers need to make time in their daily schedules to nurture children's essential skill development.

Experiences are great teachers in life.  Providing children with many, varied experiences broadens their perspective and understanding of the world.  Experiences can include travel near and far, visits to museums, sports events, public parks, hiking, creative endeavors, volunteer work and much more.

It's important to share and discuss values.  My dad always did this with the evening news.  He'd read an article or two each night to my family, then we'd discuss it.  My children and I often talk about our values -- we talk a lot about what we think is important and why.  In school we talk a lot about the daily social conflicts and issues.  We also discuss major news events and social issues related to the grade level curriculum.  We share our cultures, traditions and values as part of our culture share.

Physical fitness, healthy food and positive habits are essential.  This is a matter of routine and awareness.  Mainly, participation in sports activities easily fosters healthy habits.

As a parent and teacher, this is the start to my short list of essential criteria for doing the job well.  Let me know what I've missed or where I can revise for a better list. Keeping the focus on what's most important helps our children grow and develop happily and successfully.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

School Pride

I tend to be a critical thinker who is always looking for ways to make things better.  I believe that school systems like all organizations should continually evolve.  Sometimes though, it's just as important to sit back and think about what is working, so I'm going to take a moment and make a list of the amazing efforts currently in place at my school.

Sufficient Supplies: Our library, classroom libraries, and book room are filled with wonderful titles at every level.  We have two fully functioning computer labs, computer carts and computers in every classroom.  We have lots and lots of curriculum materials, informational books, and hands-on materials to teach lessons in a myriad of student-friendly ways.  All fourth and fifth grades have interactive white boards.  Our technology infrastructure allows us to utilize a wide variety of venues to strengthen student learning.

Amazing Playground:  We have a very large, grassy playground including a couple of wood-chip areas with play equipment. We also have a paved area for basketball, jumprope and other games.

Super Staff:  We have many, many committed teachers including classroom teachers, special educators, an art teacher, music teacher, physical education teacher, librarian, technology integration specialists, reading intervention teachers, guidance counselors, adaptive physical education teacher, occupational therapist, speech therapist, physical therapist, English language learners' facilitator, instrumental teachers, nurse, administrative assistants and a principal who collaborate to meet students' needs.

Caring Community:  The community supports our students and schools. Teachers receive a fair wage.  The PTO raises money and sponsors both educational and enrichment events for families and students.  There is a public schools foundation that also raises money for significant learning materials and enrichment events.  We have a school assembly almost every week to showcase student learning and foster the schools' core values.  Students regularly reach out to the larger community through public service work and fund raisers.

Professional Development:  Staff members are engaged in ongoing professional development throughout the year. New ideas are continually explored and implemented to better serve students.  This year's professional development includes social competency training, technology instruction and exploration, educational book groups, writing seminars, reading conferences, and response to intervention discussions and meetings.  One Wednesday a week is a short day for students leaving the late afternoon for teacher professional development.

Field Studies and Special Programs:  Each grade level plans a number of field studies and in-house special events to compliment curriculum units.

Communication:  Classroom teachers and/or students communicate regularly with parents.  Teachers report on student progress throughout the year including two parent conferences and two report cards.  The principal also regularly communicates with the community via a monthly school newsletter and as needed letters and eblasts.  The PTO also regularly communicates to families via the Internet, notices and a monthly community newsletter.

Signature Projects:  Grade levels have signature projects for which subjects are integrated under one umbrella theme and project type.  These projects foster student learning, pride and celebration.

Collaboration:  Teachers are given one 45-minute period a week to collaborate with colleagues using a PLC (professional learning community) model.  Teachers regularly collaborate outside of that time to plan grade level field studies, projects, and curriculum.

Summer Study:  Time is spent during the year planning summer professional development opportunities for teachers including the Wayland Literacy Institute which features a prominent U.S. educator.  Teachers are welcome to participate in these study sessions to build skill, and participate in the system's growth and development.

Before and After School Care:  Our school system offers families before and after school care at their child's school.  This is a fee based program with some scholarship money available.

Consistency:  Since our system provides teachers and students with an optimal environment for teaching and learning, there is little turnover.  Teachers and students usually stay from year to year.

Extracurricular Activities:  Our school community and school system offer students many options for athletic, artistic and other extracurricular activity and exploration.  Most of these activities are fee-based, but scholarships are often available to those in need.

Wow!  It's clear that our school community has a lot to be proud of.  Is there room for growth and change?  Certainly, optimal organizations (and professionals) continually assess, refine and develop.  I'm sure if you sit back and take the time to list what really works in your school community, you'll come up with a long list too.