Friday, May 25, 2018

Responding to DESE's Draft Safe and Supportive Schools Short List

At a Teachers Advisory Cabinet Meeting at DESE this week a draft of attributes of safe and supportive school environments was shared. I really liked the list, and am using it to assess my own learning environment with questions and follow-up actions:

  • Define and deepen understanding of the need for a safe and supportive learning environment for students and adults, and the need for a whole school approach that values the expertise and voices of educators, students, families, and partners.

Many in our school have spent substantial effort on this. We have a school handbook that outlines expected behaviors. I want to focus on that with greater depth at the start of next year. I want to review each behavior with students and discuss the expectations with depth. I want to work more on respect, manners, and appropriate school behavior so that I am really helping students to be school leaders who respect and are respected. 

  • Support staff capacity to work together as a team with a sense of shared responsibility for every student, and caring for all team members.

I believe our staff, in general, shares responsibility for every student. I want to develop our ability to "map services" for our most challenging to teach and serve students in more sensitive ways at the start of the year--I want to take a deep look at these students' IEPs, services, staffing, and home-school relations--to deeply serve these children in ways that matter elevates the learning potential and community success for all. 

  • Support student safety along four dimensions: physically, socially, emotionally, and academically.

I want to make sure that we follow the many good protocols in place to foster this safety. With regard to physically, I want to take seriously a focus on healthy eating and drinking beginning with Curriculum Night and early year teaching/learning efforts. We will continue our tradition of recess a couple of times a day too and the ability for students to learn with activity, not just sitting all day. Socially, we will continue to have our class meetings related to social/emotional needs and abilities and we'll embed lessons related to this into the academic program. Of course, we will continue to focus on facilitating an engaging, meaningful, relevant, and standards-based teaching/learning program. 

  • Support students to develop academic and non-academic competencies and success.

I want to make this effort more explicit. I want to target specific learning competencies with children and then notice students' development towards achieving those competencies in explicit ways. I think this kind of clarity will develop greater investment, effort, and confidence. I will work on this with regard to our new efforts related to math reflection journals, math writing process, science lab reports, and social emotional learning assessments and goals. 

  • Explicitly connect students to the school community.

There are many ways to build students' leadership capacity including their overall behavior and attitude in the school house, their work with kindergarten buddies, their leadership at school assemblies, creation of helpful school signage, and their service learning work. I want to make an early start to these efforts with explicit introduction to the importance of this. 

  • Support positive relationships amongst all stakeholders: students, educators, administrators, families, community members, and community organizations and partners.

There is great potential here too. I'd like to look for ways to elevate our grade-level collaboration with special educators and other service providers by spending more time at the start of the year deeply thinking about scheduling and service mapping/delivery. I also want to work with students more to build their leadership skills so they are seen as leaders in the school and so that they use good manners and respectful behavior in the whole school more. We'll continue our good professional relationship with many community organizations including SUASCO, WPSF, and the Wheelock Theater, and I hope we will form new collaborative relationships with other community members and organizations via expert presenters from the community, collegial collaboration, and positive home-school connections. 

  • Support students to manage and self regulate emotions and behaviors as well as self advocate for help when needed.

Our school has been doing a lot of work with this using mindfulness, conversations about the size of the problem and matching reactions to the size of the problem, growth mindset, self-coaching, positive self talk, self advocacy, and more. I want to explicitly discuss this at the start of the year so we are using the school-wide language and visuals to support this effort. 

  • Support equitable access, opportunity and outcomes for all students.

I want to notice where inequity occurs and work for betterment. I want to notice and act on ways that we can provide greater access, opportunity, and outcomes for all students. 

  • Build teacher and staff’s capacity to develop culturally responsive practices that dismantle implicit biases and systematic inequalities; leading to learning environments that welcome, include, and support all students to deeply learn, grow, and thrive.

We explicitly teach about this at the start of the year. We establish language and attitudes that are welcoming and inclusive and advertise that via signage that stays up all year. We have instituted a new orientation effort to better welcome students to our school, particularly students who are new or distanced geographically from the school community. I will continue to think about how we can better these efforts. 

  • Anticipate and adapt to the ever-changing needs of students, families, and the surrounding community.

We have weekly student service meetings. These meetings focus in on the day-to-day efforts of serving all students well, and at these meetings we have the opportunity to anticipate and adapt to the ever-changing needs of students, families, and the surrounding community. Also we have been noticing a need for greater parenting support for families who, for many reasons, are somewhat distanced from the services they may need and from connections in the community. We recently met with the town social worker to discuss issues like this.

Next steps for this list include turning the desired efforts into scheduled lessons and activities so that we make this work visible at the start and throughout the school year.