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Monday, February 13, 2017

ESSA and Closing the Opportunity Gap

As I read about how Massachusetts hopes to address and embed the new ESSA legislation, I was inspired by the focus on high needs students.

There are many efforts currently in place in the school system I work in to address these needs, and as I think about what we are doing now and what else we can do, I am wondering about the following.

Homework Clubs
Our school system started a homework club for select students, and I have noticed positive result from this club. I will think about ways that I might replicate this effort with students who are not included. There are many teachers in my school that are positively involved in this good effort.

Preview Group
There's an after school math preview program that supports students' math learning needs. Students are eager to attend this after school program and parents are supportive too. I know that those in charge continually look for ways to develop this program so that it's positively effective for the students.

Response to Intervention (RTI) 
We have a "all teachers on deck" approach to RTI where all the teachers involved in a grade-level pool their resources to teach flexible groups of students math and reading. This program is an addition to our core program. I'm a fan of this approach and will be thinking about how we can make the approach even more positive and powerful with regard to meeting the needs of high needs students.

Parent/Student Communication
The best teachers are on the phone with parents often. Phone calls typically work better than email when it comes to supporting all students. These teachers maintain a positive, regular relationship with parents. These teachers also regularly invite students back for lunch, before school, and after school sessions for extra help, support, and relationship building. These kinds of efforts are rarely the efforts that earn educators kudos, extra money, or support, but these are the quiet kinds of efforts that truly make a difference. To do this work on top of your  regular work takes time and effort, and sometimes this is very difficult after a busy and intense day teaching many students at all times, but it's essential. I find that the teachers that do this best keep the regular program somewhat uncluttered and wholly focused so that they have the energy, space, and time for this important extra support.

Practical ways to support this effort include the following:

  • Making sure that you have a good student/family phone number list before school starts.
  • Calling every family the week before school starts to introduce yourself and ask if the family has any questions or needs any support.
  • Instituting "good news" calls early in the year so that every family gets a call about a child's good work and effort early in the year.
  • Early-in-the year parent/student meetings to answer questions and to make sure that families have the information and supplies they need to support optimal learning.
  • Easy-to-access school information so parents know where to turn for information and how to contact educators when needed. 
Access to Needed Tools and Resources
It's important that all students have access to needed tools and resources including home study supplies, books, tech devices, and possibly more. Whenever materials are required for good learning, educators need to think about students' access to those materials and work to bridge any opportunity gap that exists. Typically our team orders extra school supplies in the spring so that when the new school year starts, we have extra supplies on hand for those that may not have what they need for any reason. We are also working with our PTO to allow students who don't have tech devices to borrow those devices for home use. My dad suggested that this be apart of the library system so that students who need computers can simply sign them out of the library at the beginning of the year. 

Summer Programming
Our system has summer programming for some students which provides a positive boost. Further many organizations around us offer scholarships for summer camps and programs. We need to find ways to make that information available to families in need, and possibly help families sign up for these programs. This could be a good objective for spring conferences.

Parent Conferences and Meetings
Sometimes when families are distanced by language, geography, scheduling, and more, they are less likely to sign up for parent conferences and meetings. Teachers have to make the extra time to reach out to these families because that family/school relationship is key when it comes to student success.

Differentiate the Core in Meaningful, Engaging, and Empowering Ways
Find ways to continue to build in meaningful, positive differentiation during core teaching time to support good growth and success for all students.

As a school we may need to relook at what we do when students are absent too often. We may need to act sooner than later in this regard. It's not too common in our system that students are absent too often, but it does happen and that affects a students' experience of and success in school. A focus on this effort would have to be a whole school effort, however I could think about how I might react once a child is absent for five days.

Orientation Program
Consider the idea of offering an orientation program, dinner, or event for students to help families and students feel welcome and knowledgeable about school efforts on the first days of school.

Rich, Engaging Curriculum Program
Work with colleagues to build an inviting, rich, and welcoming curriculum program. Make learning memorable and exciting. Acknowledge and develop students' natural desire and efforts to learn. 

Cultural Proficiency
Work to make sure the curriculum mirrors the many lifestyles, classes, cultures, race, and other attributes that your students brings to school. Build a common language that includes the diversity that exists within and outside of your school. 

As I think about closing the opportunity gap, it's clear that we have a number of extra programs in place. Now the key is shoring up my own practice in order to support this effort more. Efforts I will be thinking about include the following:
  • Consider offering a homework club after school one day a week for interested students. I will work to employ this after February vacation. I will probably offer Thursday afternoons from 3-4:30.
  • Consider supporting the current homework club with time. I will check in with the moderator in this regard. 
  • Make a greater effort to help students with organizational issues and routines with structured homework/organizational support times each week. I hope that these students will take advantage of the Thursday homework club. I will also work to support these students during the block from 9:45-10:15 on Mondays.
  • Call home more to offer support, hear questions, and share information. Organize phone information and think about best times to call home on a regular basis. Make this part of the weekly routine. I will set up a more accessible call-home space. Now that we have new phones that work well, I'll be able to do this. Thursday is also a good call-home day.
  • Think about ways to develop the RTI programs and differentiate the core to support students more. My team and I are continually working on this, it's a natural part of our PLC and other collegial efforts. 
  • Work with colleagues to help students attain the supplies they need to learn well in school and at home. We typically order these supplies in the spring and will continue to do this. 
  • Make the classroom a "home away from home," a place where students feel welcome. We've employed a number of efforts in this regard and students do feel comfortable in the classrooms. 
  • Offer extra help in school more often. Perhaps set aside Wednesday lunch for this on a weekly basis. 
  • Work to build and maintain strong, positive teaching/learning relationships with every child. Slow down, listen, and pay attention to students' words and affect, respond lovingly and kindly with support. 

I would love to talk about this topic more with educators in my school since I work with a very talented group of educators. I know that they reach out and build strong, positive relationships with students and families every day. I wonder what they would add to this list. I think I'll reach out to see what they have to say.