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Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Thinking about Big Picture School Year Goals

Sometimes I listen to the school committee meetings online. I'm interested in the big picture think and action with regards to the system I work in.

Last night, in part, the discussion focused on school year 2015-2016 goals. I am very interested in this topic as I like to integrate my teaching/learning goals with the system-wide goals. Fortunately anyone who is interested is able to watch the school committee meetings via the local cable station. Sometimes the meetings are live and sometimes the meetings are taped. I like the transparency this provides, and I honor the school committee members' ability to meet with such transparency.

Once the initial school committee goals were shared, the school system leader responded that the administrative team will further discuss the goals later in the month. The final goals are typically shared with teachers on the first teacher day of school each year.

It seems, from last night's meeting, that the goals may include the following foci:

People in my circles keep moving from STEAM to STEM and STEM to STEAM. I prefer STEAM because it includes the arts and I believe that the arts bring the beauty, dignity, story, and humanity to science, technology, engineering, and math. Without the arts, the other disciplines have the potential to be dehumanizing so let's keep the A for arts. Yet, I realize we'll have to keep our eyes on STEM too as that's the acronym used by many grant resources.

I liked the way the school committee member talked about this focus. She mentioned that the committee wanted to focus on STEM/STEAM with an interdisciplinary, joyful learning lens. That's a perfect match for our STEAM hour each week and STEAM Days at fifth grade. The joyful learning is a terrific focus for almost all learning endeavor.

In addition, the need to teach coding early was discussed. As a 5th grade team, we may want to turn our math skills lab into 1/2 skills and 1/2 coding. That's something I'll talk to my teammates about. I'm also wondering what part of this STEAM/STEM focus the arts and tech department will facilitate? That's a good question to ask.

Foreign Language Study
An interest in extending foreign language study to the elementary schools was expressed. There's been a lot of literature related to the benefits of this. It looks like there will be a study group that will entertain this idea. I'd like to see this area grow with greater reliance on technology. I believe the work being done at Middlebury College in this regard looks terrific. I also have heard wonderful stories about terrific interactive language programs that exist online. This would be an opportunity not only to teach a foreign language, but to teach it in a cutting-edge, blended way that's engaging and empowering. (This link related to the language discussion.)

Early Education
This team talked about examining the curriculum and length of the kindergarten day. My colleagues will be happy to hear that they discussed the focus on a developmentally appropriate kindergarten curriculum that focuses on the social and emotional needs of young children. I am a big fan of a playful, child-centered kindergarten program, and I believe that a program like that can result in good academic gains too.

Raising the Bar
This was discussed with the "middle student" in mind. Current efforts in place that already support this such as personalization, differentiation, RTI, mentoring, and project/problem base learning were held up as positive avenues to meet this goal. I agree that these structures have helped us to teach all children well. Desired efforts to promote learning-to-learn skills and attitudes were also mentioned, and I know from our summer work menu and discussions at the building level that there are efforts in place to grow this empowering work. I've got a learning-to-learn short list that guides my work in this endeavor, and I hope to add to it as I learn of the system-wide efforts and initiatives.  In addition, I think our individual and system-wide investment and efforts related to culturally proficient teaching will raise the bar.

Health and Wellness
This has been and will continue to be a mainstay in our school system. Like "Raising the Bar," there are already efforts in place to develop this area. Our school system will work with Northeastern University to develop our practices in this regard. Topics such as self regulation, stress management, and a common core of social/emotional skills/attitudes were mentioned which are areas that fit into the learning-to-learn skills/mindsets focus.

The technology committee will report on this later in the month. Of course, I'm looking forward to that since I'm such a tech enthusiast. I'd like to see us move towards more open policies for tech use in all schools. For example, I'd like students to be able to bring their own devices to school, and I'd like teachers to be able to try out and use tech they feel meets tech requirements and their students needs without a lengthy process. I'd also like to see us move towards one-to-one for all students in the system as I believe that's a good way to move teaching and learning forward for the reasons listed on this post. It will be interesting to see what is decided with regard to the new tech master plan that's been currently contracted.

Additionally, I'm interested on our system think and perspective with regard to ethics and communication--two areas that are often discussed on multiple threads via social media and in the news.

A recent event in our school system found many referring to ethics often. The role of ethics is arising more and more on social media threads too as our world embraces new systems and think with regard to all disciplines. I think it's important for organizations to revisit ethics regularly in explicit ways so that everyone knows what's expected and has an opportunity to discuss those expectations. Similarly it's important for our students to discuss ethics in developmentally appropriate ways throughout the K-12 program. Children at the upper grades should have the opportunity to debate and discuss ethical dilemmas as one way to prepare them for the decisions they'll make now and in their future.

Online threads continue to focus on communication as we move from isolation to greater collaboration in schools. How and when information is shared is integral to supporting strong, vibrant, and dynamic systems of teaching and learning. I hope that we'll discuss this, in part, as a system team since I believe we have a lot to learn from one another. What is good communication today? How are ideas best expressed and shared? What is the best regularity for newsletters, chats, and meetings? Are we a system that embraces a shared leadership model? I continue to believe that communication is the most important issue of our times. I also believe that, for the most part, we profit from open, transparent, accessible share via online platforms and real time meetings.

Next Steps
Next our administrative team will meet. They'll embed these ideas into the issues and initiatives that they deem most important with regard to optimal education for our students. I always look forward to the start-of-school goals and objectives. As I've mentioned many times, I truly enjoy working as part of the team and when you know the goals, you are better able to be a positive, contributing team member.