Monday, August 17, 2009

A Thrilling Beginning to a New School Year

Chets Creek was wrapped in a whole new theme, Orchestrating a Symphony of Student Success, as teachers returned for their first day of work. Decked out in full garb, according to their grade's given genre of music, teachers met for a fun kick off to a new school year. Colleagues gathered in the lobby for a team photo, fun Name that Musician game, and a continental breakfast. And, as they found their seats for the performance in our fully decorated dining room, opening curtain call brought a thunderous applause. Why? Because the principal, Susan Phillips along with her administrative and office staff introduced themselves with a skit and rendition of MJ's Thriller dance!

The day, always greatly anticipated by all, was about building relationships with our teammates. There were plenty of team building activities including theme related games which held gift cards for the winners. One of my favorite being Most Original Song created by our talented Kindergarten Team--I WANT TO GO HOME! Principal Phillips even had a drawing for six shiny new ipods! Now that's what I call a spectacular start to a new school year!
But, the day wasn't solely about team building and having fun (although that is one of my favorite perks), it was also about the relationship we need to create with our students. About how important the connection with us is for them to truly embrace their learning. Through building relationships, scaffolding learning, and never giving up on them, they can experience true success.

Susan shared our data story, showed us a video clip, and read to us from a piece of children's literature. All of which tied perfectly into our theme of Orchestrating a Symphony of Student Success. We know that each note needs to be played but that we also have to look at the entire composition to make sure that this year's performance is a grand success.

I loved the way she ended the day with a slide show set to song playing of the beautiful faces of our most struggling students. It is our passion to reach each and every one of them this year no matter how much scaffolding it takes for them to scale the wall.

I walked away from the dining room after the performance feeling valued as a professional, honored to be back and working in such a tight knit community of learners, and ready to conquer any challenge. I also left laughing and exhilarated because of the memories we had just created. Enjoy this slideshow of Melanie's photos from the day, and the video clip of a portion of the First Grade Teacher's Skit. And remember, "No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it." H.E. Luccock

First Grade Skit Opening Day of School from Suzanne Shall on Vimeo.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Leadership Team Redefined

Each year, before the teachers and students return from summer break, the Leadership Team meets to prepare for the year's journey. The Leadership Team, a concept brought to fruition at Chets Creek about ten years ago through the America's Choice School Design, was put in place to diversify leadership throughout the school. In general, the team consists of the principal, vice principal, instructional coaches, community outreach coordinators, guidance councilor, and several lead teachers. Our group, which meets weekly, has had from 10-12 members, and the team ensures progress in instructional best practices and student achievement. This group, most years, has an incredible team synergy. However, recently the electricity in the group, has seemed to dim slightly, and we needed to talk about why the shift was occurring. Though others may not agree with me, I feel that a part of the shift has occurred because of the restructuring of coaching roles that have been redefined over time.

In the earlier years, we had several coaches with release time who spent time in classrooms modeling lessons, observing teachers, helping them plan and implement lessons, and providing their professional development. The content coaches, with 1/2 a day of release time, kept one foot in the classroom with their own kids, while spending 1/2 their day in other classrooms coaching. They were the individuals in the building that had the pulse of student instruction at their fingertips. They could be the voice at Leadership for each of the teachers they coached.
Over the years, as the coaching dollars have dwindled, we've had to make changes. Now, in a school of about 1,300 students, I am the lone coach with release time. I can't possibly offer all the professional development to all teachers in all contents at all the grade levels. So, we began having lead teachers running weekly Teacher Meetings. However, the dilemma became, that the lead teachers didn't have a handle on what was occurring in other classrooms, were not sitting on Leadership, and didn't have the time to offer support to others during the instructional day. A
disconnect formed. We needed a new plan.

So this year, we created an Administrative Team with a membership of six, designed to make the logistical decisions. Then, we created a Leadership Council designed to get the real work done; the forward movement and decisions of student achievement and instructional practices. This team has three members from each grade level in the content areas of math, science, and reading/writing, the principal and the instructional coach. About 20 in all. In addition to the large group, smaller content groups have been formed. Leadership will continue to meet weekly on Wednesdays from 8:30-10:00 am. One Wednesday will be Reading Council, the next Math Council, then Science Council, and the fourth week will be the Leadership Council. Work will focus on academic goals, and the Administrative Team will meet afterward for logistical management. Our first meeting of the year, before the faculty returns from summer break, happened on Friday.

The first meeting was a quiet one, but I'm guessing as the team gels, this group will be zealous and in search of even better student achievement. I am looking forward to working with this new diversified Leadership Team. I am eager to see if the synergy that we all miss returns.