Saturday, December 22, 2012

School Wishes

The school I work in is optimal--students come to school from loving homes ready to learn.  The professionals in my building are dedicated, well educated and caring.  The administration puts students first, and the facilities offer both indoor and outdoor spaces for learning.

As an idealist, I'm always thinking of possibility and potential.  What else can we offer students and staff to make the learning community thrive?

Here are some of my wishes, wishes that may turn to initiatives, grant proposals, summer research and more.

Learning Environment:
I wish we'd think about the learning environment with greater creativity and intent.  I'd like to create indoor/outdoor spaces with greater potential for exploration, investigation, creativity, quiet reflection and thought, multimedia composition and presentation. One specific project I've been wanting to explore with greater depth is the addition of child-size math models that students play on, walk over and intersect with daily i.e. number path in the school corridor and on the playground, giant 3-d shapes to climb on and more.

I wish we had a STEM lab with the tools, materials and leadership for scientific exploration, invention and design.  My students are hungry for this. This post paints a great picture of what I imagine our STEM labs to look like.  I have a couple of colleagues who would be the perfect STEM lab teachers.  I am going to read more and think more about this topic, particularly when I attend a conference at Google soon since Googleplex is the ultimate STEM lab!

I wish our schedules were more realistic leaving a bit more time for worthy collaboration, student response and conferencing. We have so many bright, invested educators in our midst, but our time to problem solve, share ideas and talk about what's really important is limited, and our time on task with children and daily tasks are great leaving little time after school for this kind of endeavor too.  I'm thinking about how we could better streamline our efforts and change roles and responsibilities so there is more time for this essential conversation.

Supporting Students Who Do Not Have At-Home Academic Support
I wish we had more ways to provide "students without at-home academic support" a way to access that support by way of adult homework help, after school field trips and inclusion in after school sports and clubs. This would begin with an effort to identify who are the students that lack at-home academic support.  Fortunately in our school, the numbers are few.  Then once these students are identified, we would need to distinguish between those who would gain that help via parent coaching, and those that need a teacher to play the parent role when it comes to home study support.  After that we would have to access funds, transportation and programs that fit the children's needs.

Hungry Students
I wish we had a recess snack bar for students who forget their snacks. I've written to our health services about this need many times.  I think it could be as simple as having healthy food snack machines in the school.  When you have a child who is always hungry in your class and that never has a snack, you really feel this need dramatically as the child's hunger affects his/her performance constantly.  Often this is not a case of unsupportive families, but more a case of busy, busy families and stubborn children so the snack + child event doesn't happen every day.

School Maitre d's
I wish we had a school "maitre d" each day who greeted students at the door, consoled students who enter with a small problem and answered early morning questions  That would help everyone get off to a good start. I'd love to see our PTO arrange this.  It would take some coordination.  In late spring, the PTO would meet with the principal to identify this role's description.  Then the PTO would send an online sign-up out to all parents and tell families that each family is encouraged to sign up for one day.  The sign up would have enough slots for every family which would mean two families on some days in our school.  Then the family member would arrive at school a half-hour before the start of the day.  That person would stand at the door area ready to answer questions, greet students with a smile and handle small needs such as early morning tears or skinned knees.  He/she would bring the bigger early morning concerns to the the school nurse, principal, secretary or guidance counselor depending on the need.  The daily "maitre d" has the potential of making our school climate happier!

Advisory Groups ("School Families")
Instead of just the classroom teachers managing the students at the start and end of the day, I wish that every professional teacher had responsibility for an advisory group that they follow from the beginning of a child's experience at that school to the end.  That would create smaller groups of care, and one professional who was committed to the children in that group. This effort would require a lot of cross-grade, cross-discipline discussion as I have many questions about how this would work for children of different grades and teachers across different disciplines.  I still think that a daily, intimate, small-group student-centered role for every professional teacher in the system would develop investment and commitment.

Off Campus Learning
I wish we would employ field studies and off-campus research and exploration with greater funding and intent. Our local grant organization gave me a grant to try this out.  It's a lengthy process to access the funding granted and a lengthy process to organize this effort with colleagues and the zoo we will be working for.  I have this slated for my February school break since I'll need day time to make phone calls, play with the tech equipment, research background information and coordinate services.  After we try this first event, I'll have more to say about this.

Collaborative Learning Design
I wish that we had more time for collaborative learning design. With the ready access of information and the multiplicity of teaching resources, prioritization and learning design become the focal areas for schools today.  We want to choose the best learning paths, tools, processes and materials.  That process benefits from thoughtful collaboration, and thoughtful collaboration requires time.  Currently our PLCs are giving us one-hour a week for this collaboration.  That's a start, but for meaningful, profitable work, we will need more time than that.  It's possible that our time we have set aside for professional development and teacher  meetings could, in part, be focused on learning design.  It's also possible that some learning events could be led by assistant teachers with large groups, such as a grade-level content film or presentation, while teachers meet to collaborate.  I'll continue to think about ways that we can make this happen.

Research-Classroom Movement
I wish that our learning design would include greater discussion and employment of optimal cognitive strategies, state of the art tools, student passion and service learning.  Currently our learning design reflects this in many ways, but there's always room for greater growth.  This area deals with the often discussed lag time between research and practice--in years past it took years, maybe decades, for information from university research to reach the practice in classrooms.  The Internet is closing that loop, but we haven't really taken the time to think of efficient communication, conversation and implementation strategies for this endeavor.  Something more to think about.

Four Day In-School + One Day Off Campus Learning Week
The four day learning week and the one day research week.  I'm wondering if one way to begin the movement to modern day learning is to foster a four day classroom/school week and a one day off campus learning day.  The one day off campus learning day could possibly be a day for learning design collaboration and work, while students are learning at home, in independent settings, on field trips or more.  Just a thought that needs a lot more work.

Again, I work in an optimal school setting with so much to be thankful for, but these are some of the wishes I have for the years ahead. What wishes do you have for your school environment?  Did I miss any goals that you would add to my list?