Saturday, January 14, 2012

Rethinking Schools: Role Focus

Last year I wrote a lengthy post about restructuring elementary schools.  I continue to think about the ways in which elementary schools can best effect learning for all students.  Our school is making many gains in this regard.  The implementation of RTI, enhanced PLCs, greater differentiated/expert-driven professional development for all staff, targeted scheduling and increased collaborative decision making are moving us forward.

These changes prompt me to think more deeply about school staffing and roles.  Though policy leaders seem to be focused on individual teachers, I believe the strength and potential of what educators do lies in the structure, focus and work of the school as a whole.  No one teacher can be all things, and when the teacher tries to meet too many goals at once, the work becomes diluted.  Hence, targeting our efforts with greater focus, integration and collaboration is the key.

What are the targeted roles in a school, and how do you staff those roles effectively?  What kinds of learning environments support this change?

Knowing Students Well
Knowing students well continues to surface as a primary attribute of teaching children well.  Knowing children well will develop if every professional educator in the building is responsible for a small group of students from entry to exit with regard to social development, reading practice, emotional needs, coaching and program design/advocacy. These "teams" would act as "small families" in a school structure, and the teacher-leader would follow the group from start to finish advocating, supporting, collaborating with families and creating optimal paths for each child in the group throughout their tenure at the school.

Targeted Instruction
Each professional in the building would be responsible for targeted, instruction blocks--these could be essential skill blocks or project base learning endeavors.  Student groups would vary in size and make-up dependent on needs. The classroom walls would essentially come down making room for small and large group instruction throughout the building.  Rather than general classrooms, learning spaces would be revised to respond to the teaching targets with renewed spaces such as science labs, performance places, audio/visual composing studios, reading nooks, skills centers, discussion spots, art studios, music rooms, outdoor classrooms and more. As our knowledge of cognitive processes grows, teaching specific content areas and skills becomes more detailed and complex, hence this is another reason why roles need to be targeted with greater focus.

Health and Recreation
There would be a renewed emphasis on places where children eat, relax, exercise and play so that those environments foster healthy, happy activity.  Gardens, composting and other sustainable activity would also be integrated into this time of the day. Some professionals would be given the role of managing these spaces and times of the day for best result as we know happy, healthy children are more prepared to learn.

Re-looking at spaces and roles in schools can lead to greater student confidence, care and success.  It seems to me that many of the roles of the past are becoming ineffective since some professionals have too many diverse subjects to teach and others are teaching in such isolation that the growth is not integrated well into a child's overall learning and success.  As you can tell, I continue to contemplate school and learning design to best effect learning for all students in a world that continues to evolve.  I look forward to your thoughts and ideas with respect to this discussion.