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Wednesday, May 04, 2016

School Year Patterns and Rhythms

There are some expectations in the school year that are consistent.

Enthusiastic Start
The start is typically filled with excitement, enthusiasm, and great energy after the summer. There are new plans for the teaching and learning that fire you up as you get ready to work with a group of young children with a strong teaching/learning focus. I'd like to think about ways that we could make this even stronger by creating an orientation program for students and their families. The program would be a fun way to introduce all students to school personnel, expectations, structure, and opportunity.

Building Team
Right away there's a get to know each other period where students complete curriculum-related projects that give them time to talk and share their stories. This builds team. This is also a time for curriculum presentations to parents and parent conferences.

There is an initial assessment period too that provides some good data which we use to inform the curriculum work ahead. Synthesizing data, needs, interests, and the curriculum makes for a well-tailored program.

PLCs and RTI
Regular PLCs and RTI are used to discuss the programming, students' interests and needs. We use those meeting times to design and implement multiple learning events too.

Mid Year Celebrations
By the December break, we're typically ready for something celebratory, and after that there's a another round of assessments and parent meetings too.

January Adjustments
When we turn the curve midyear there's likely to be a lot of reflection and revision as we enter the second half of teaching, a time when the curriculum expectations are elevated a bit to reflect students' new learning and the rest of the year's assessments and goals.

Learning/Teaching Crescendo
The year's crescendo starts to build in the long month of March as we fill in the gaps of with regard to learning that's left to accomplish.

Tests and Evaluations
Then it's test/evaluation season, a season that I believe needs a renovation as it's too stressful and not as useful of targeted as it could be. I recommend limiting the tests to a few and streamlining the evaluation process so that teachers are asked to write on 6-paragraph letter that tells the story of their year with regard to the student learning goal, professional learning goal, and four main areas of the Massachusetts Evaluation System. In this letter teachers would include links to one piece of evidence for each section. Evaluators would simply read the letter and write a short response based on what they've noticed through their observations, multiple data points, and the teacher's letter/evidence. This would streamline the process, foster good teaching/learning conversations and reflection, and not take up so much time--time that is better spent on students.

End-of-Year Surprises?
The end of the year often brings with it uncomfortable surprises too with regard to room changes, teaching assignments, and new expectations. I'd like to renovate this aspect of the year too by having less surprises and more teacher voice and input. I want to see educators be active participants in making teams, determining rooms, leading evaluations, and making decisions related to school change and development. If the end-of-the-year surprises were made into year-long, thoughtful efforts--then it would be a time of celebration rather than stress.

End-of-Year Celebrations
There are many celebratory student events at the end of the year that give students and teachers a time to celebrate the learning and teaching/learning community in wonderful ways.

Wrap-Up, Fun, and Summer Study
Then there's the wrap-up, time for rest and relaxation, and summer study.

When we look at the rhythm of the school year, there are areas that work so well each year and areas that are less successful. I wonder how my colleagues would assess the year's rhythm and what changes they would champion?