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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Factors that Affect A Positive Start to the School Year

Overall it has been a positive start to the school year. There have been many factors which have contributed to this positivity, factors that I believe will support any school year start.

Team Teaching
Our shared teaching model gives us the opportunity to work closely with one another to teach approximately 75 students. This collaboration definitely enriches and extends what we are able to do for every child.

Planning and Collaboration Time
We have significant collaboration time each week including shared planning periods, the Professional Learning Community (PLC) hour, and a shared student planning time where we focus on specific children. This is a good amount of time in school to work together with the grade-level educators, special educators, paraeducators, and others who impact our team and the students on a regular basis.

Technology Integration
We have a computer for every child, additional iPads, and good hardware to use when it comes to teaching well. This truly enriches our ability to differentiate and target teaching in meaningful ways.

Super Schedule
Our schedule this year is near to perfect. There is a great flow from class to class and lesson to lesson. There's little lag time, the kind of small bits of time where children are likely to create mischief, and instead nice blocks of time where children can learn,play, have lunch, and work together.

Field Studies and the Curriculum Map
We made the time this summer to map out the curriculum, and this map is leading us well including multiple engaging field studies--the kind of events that students look forward to and that build a strong, flexible learning community.

Useful Calendar and Building Communication Patterns
Our principal sends out a weekly collaborative bulletin with system-wide and school updates. He uses a collaborative document so that others can add to it. Further our school uses a Google calendar and that too is very helpful when it comes to knowing what's going on.

Our TeamFive weekly newsletter and grade-level website also helps to keep the learning team including students, family members, colleagues, administrators, and citizens in the loop of what has happened, is happening, and will happen with regard to the curriculum program.

Lead Time
It seems like there is greater lead time for events beginning to happen. I hope that this continues with a policy that almost all events will have a minimum of a two-week lead time with regard to announcements. Three-four week or more lead time will even be better. This helps educators balance all the at-home work we're expected to do to run a classroom with preparation and planning expectations for school events.

Adequate Staffing
Thanks to our inclusion model, every classroom has a paraeducator and a classroom teacher. That makes six full time educators for the 75 students. We also have significant support staff including a reading specialist, special educators, specialists, building substitutes and assistants, and an English Language Learning (ELL) teacher. So typically when we need extra hands and expertise to serve an individual students or small group, that support is available.

Materials and Supplies
Lead time, curriculum maps, and shared planning all help us to know what we need and also gives us time to get those supplies. This year we initiated a better purchasing system too which helped all educators to have what we needed at the start of the school year. I can imagine backing that system up even a little more and giving teachers collaborative time so that the ordering is not as rushed at the end of the year. Yet this year was MUCH better than years passed due to new online systems, an earlier start, and an in-house leader who had time to manage the system.

Teaming with Family Members
I believe that family members know that we want to team with them to teach their children well. This is evident with regard to the ease that families have with reaching out to us with questions and suggestions. This is also evident with regard to the number of parents who showed up at Curriculum Night and the numbers who have volunteered to help out at upcoming field trips.

It seems like our systems are becoming more streamlined and targeted towards providing teachers, family members, and students with what they need to do our jobs well. I hope that this movement continues with the addition of greater communication, inclusion, lead time, and timelines from all curriculum leadership teams, committee work, and other groups that impact our daily work and long term planning and implementation since transparent, inclusive, and timely share, planning, and efforts truly impact what we can do to teach well with strength, care, and skill.