Already as we begin today, I see possible changes for next year. I'll track our progress on this blog post so others may add ideas or follow our lead.
Fifth Grade Orientation
Our collaboration and study relied on several sources of study and research including the following:
- Empowered Educators by Linda Darling Hammond and others
- Thank You for Being Late by Thomas L. Friedman
- Tribe by Sebastian Junger
- Multiple presentations at Wayland Public Schools and elsewhere that provided substantial information and ideas for developing cultural proficiency, anti-racist teaching, and dynamic teaching/learning environments.
Individually and together we have gained substantial knowledge and ideas for forwarding more inclusive, collaborative, and caring teaching environments. Our research points to the need to include the following elements in any successful teaching learning program:
- Make time to build strong, caring relationships amongst all stakeholders including educators, students, and family members.
- Make time to sensitively know and understand each student’s context with regard to identity, interests, needs, language, family, neighborhood, and more.
- Be explicit when it comes to helping students understand what’s expected and how to meet those expectations.
- Bridge the opportunity gap, by making sure that all children have what they need to succeed.
Orientation Morning for Boston-Resident Students and New Students
All Boston Resident students and new students will be invited by a personal phone call to parents to join us on the morning of August 31 to get to know one another and prepare for the school year to come. Boston Resident students will ride the busses provided for 6th and 9th grade students for their orientations that day. That morning will include the following activities:
- brunch and time to talk as teachers and students
- response to students’ questions
- review supplies, set up desks
- play knock-out on the playground with teachers
- investigate math measuring tools and measure the perimeter of the playground.
- start of first grade-level project: the selfie project
Next Year's Revision
- Invite students to this day on the last day of the school year so that families can plan for it. Some students were unable to attend due to less lead time.
- Work with office staff to readily receive information about new students so they can attend the event. This year we were unable to receive that information in a timely manner.
- Invite other students who may profit from the extra attention at the start of the year.
- Call bus company ourselves to confirm efforts.
- Create an invitation in June so that families have lead time to attend the event, and so that the office staff can give an invitation to new families when they sign up for school.
We have found that many families don't know about the supports available to them, supports that may help their children do better in school including:
- scholarships/enrollment in extracurricular events, field studies and after school programs
- available social/emotional services/help
- the opportunity to borrow a computer for the year
- the ability to speak up at any time to advocate for their child
We reached out to the school guidance counselor who provided us with several lists of related information. At this stage, we will keep a running list of these resources, and share the resources as needed with families and students in person, by phone/email, and via our newsletter.. A future summer work project may involve collating this information in a more user-friendly way to support educators and families.
A colleague drafted a better intake survey for all families, and will do what we can to receive a completed survey from every family. It may be that some of these surveys are filled out at an early-year family meeting particularly if it's a family for whom English is a second language. This survey will help us to know families well and be able to reach families when needed.
Our team does a lot to offer students tech access to all class materials and information via our TeamFive website. It's important that all families understand how to access that information, and that they have technology available to access the information. With that in mind, our orientation efforts may include the following:
- Device-lending to students who do not have an adequate tech device at home
- Information related to low-cost WIFI
- Tech meetings with families who want to understand more about how to access the class tech sites and information.
- Explicit tech connect teaching to all students so students are able to access all aspects of the class website and more.
- Making sure that all students have an at-home tech device
- We'll also suggest that families set up a family gmail that they can use to track school correspondence and allow their child to use for emails that parents can monitor and check.
- Early-year lessons and regular monitoring of optimal digital use and safety.
Many valuable connections that lead to student success are formed on the sidelines of student events. Our team. At Curriculum Night and follow-up parent-teacher-student conferences we’ll query families about their interest in becoming involved in a family-to-family network to foster deeper connections and support for one another at the grade level.
Co-Constructing the Classroom: Building Teamwork & Respect for One Another
We'll use the orientations to build teamwork and respect for one another through targeted discussions and lessons about learning differences, race/culture, mindsets, and social-emotional learning lessons. We'll also plan a number of enjoyable team building activities at the start of the year in order to give students a chance to get to know one another, make new friends and discover what they have in common. We will co-construct the classroom norms, protocols, rules, and routines with students, and, in part, use the Hosting Conversations research as we build this orientation effort.
TeamFive students will begin the year with a Hello Campaign Service Learning project.
What I Want You to Know About Me Letters
In the early days of school, teachers will ask students to write “What I want you to know about me” letters to homeroom teachers, and “How I Think You Should Teach _______” to subject area teachers as one more way to know students well and build relationships.
Start-of-Year Selfie Project
Through our research, we have learned about the importance of recognizing students' individual identities and names. With that in mind we'll foster the "Selfie Project." and focus specifically on names. We will also forward a number of lessons about our individual and collective culture to foster a positive sense of belonging and community as well. We will show a video of all the student selfies at Curriculum Night.
Families who live close to the school, generally attend the start-of-the-year curriculum night. Families who are new or live far from the school sometimes don't attend this important meeting that introduces the curriculum program. There is a lot we can do to help families in this regard including the following ideas:
- call each family to introduce ourselves, answer questions, and invite parents to curriculum night. Also tell them how important this night is with respect to meeting other families and learning about their child's school program.
- provide transportation support (this can be discussed during the phone call)
- add the curriculum night presentation to the grade-level website
- if child care is an issue, invite parents to bring their children
Family-Student-Teacher/Administrator Social Event
In the early weeks of school, host a social event for new students and students distanced from the school neighborhood that includes food and fun. Reach out to local agencies for funding and support for this event. We had a similar social event last year which was very successful. We may want to host this event in conjunction with other school events. Note that we decided to coordinate this event with the district-wide family picnic which we'll advertise at Curriculum Night.
We want to make sure that reach out to families to ensure that every family and student attends parent-student-teacher conferences in both the fall and spring. If families need more time to meet, we'll provide that.
Our team has been developing our use of showcase portfolios as one way to collect, share, and reflect on student learning. The initial showcase portfolio efforts begin with the Happiness Survey where students reflect on what makes them happy. This provides a very positive start. Other important start-of-the-year elements of this portfolio include the parent-student survey and the "What I wish you knew about me" student letters. The showcase portfolio in a sense becomes a storybook about the child's learning during the fifth grade year. It also serves as a point of discussion and reflection throughout the year as students, families, and teachers make decisions about learning.