Sunday, July 12, 2015

10 Signs Your Child is in a Wonderful, Successful School District

Today, this article appeared online in the Huffington Post:

10 Signs Your Child is in a Failing School District

As a "veteran" educator, I tend to agree with most of what Mr. Turner says in this persuasive essay.  But it seems so negative. 

As someone who prefers to focus on the positive, I thought it might be fun  to consider how a parent might know if his/her child is in a wonderful, successful school district.  So, here goes:

1. The large majority of your teachers are experienced-- The best schools have solid veteran teaching forces, mixing in talented newcomers each year as teachers retire or move into administration or other job opportunities. Veteran teachers can mentor the younger staff members and help them reach their full potential while serving your staff with the gifts and savvy that experience can bring.  It is worth the extra funding it takes to keep excellent veteran instructors in the classroom.

2. Teachers wisely use the most current data possible to inform instruction-  Teachers know that the best use of data is to specifically inform instruction in a timely manner.  The staff has data meetings (at least every few weeks) during which teachers discuss their students' performance on formal and informal assessments, as well as their concerns about students' home lives, health, and relationships at school.  The data is carefully considered and discussed with a team of professionals who can guide or assist with responding in a timely manner using evidence-based strategies that are most likely to help the students.  Information is recorded in a central location and can be revisited as often as needed.  Data is used to ensure that every student's learning needs are honored as s/he works toward achieving his/her full potential academically and as a citizen.

3. Teachers and administrators (or designated personnel) work together to address discipline issues--   Teachers are licensed and have had classes/experiences in classroom management.  This helps tremendously in applying classroom management strategies and in planning engaging, differentiated lessons that minimize disruptions and maximize children's educational experiences. Ongoing professional development opportunities allow teachers to update, learn, or refine teaching strategies for designing tasks that are in their students' ZPD, support socialization, and allow teachers and peers to provide specific and timely feedback.  The school recognizes that, at times, some children will need more behavioral assistance than can be provided in the classroom and that this is a part of running an inclusive school.  Therefore, a network of support is available within the school including licensed guidance counselors, specialized teachers, administrative assistants, and perhaps school resource officers--who have additional training in behavior interventions.  They use these to help students learn to make better behavioral decisions and also to guide teachers in alternative ways to reach individual students.  Communication with parents is a top priority, and thorough records are kept. Behaviors that constantly or blatantly disrupt learning and/or the safety of staff/students is taken seriously an addressed outside of the classroom, minimizing distractions and safety concerns for teachers and students. 

4. Professional development is ongoing and job-embedded- Professional development is an intentional and valued part of the school's culture and is implemented in layers through ongoing staff in-services, collaborations, book studies, coaching, peer coaching, discussions, workshops, speakers, and more.  Instructional coaches, teachers, and administrators are trusted and supported and strive to build effectiveness through lifelong scholarship.  Bravery and humility are fostered so that teachers are "safe" in trying different/new teaching strategies to improve students' achievement and exploring students' learning outcomes.

5. Administrators understand teaching and are educators themselves-The administrators in public school districts are educators who have experienced the complexities of teaching before going into administration. They promote a culture in which teachers are respected, criticism is constructive, professional development is ob-embedded and deemed necessary for effectiveness in the complex world of education.  They build the confidence of staff. They work tirelessly to provide a safe environment for teaching and learning.  The constant focal point is what is best for the people in and impacted by the school.

6. School board members are thoughtful participants in the school community- School board members know their community and are vested in making their schools the best they can possibly be with a focus on maintaining staff, caring about morale of teachers, and providing all that is possible for children.  They contact teachers, students, and parents and know their concerns and needs.  They understand the demands created by state and federal mandates and seek to implement them without costing the district sufficient staff or materials needed for instruction.  Their only interest in serving on the board is as community service, not financial gain or other rewards.

7. The community is involved in its schools- The schools reach out to their community in a variety of ways on a regular basis.  The community provides input in decisions made by the board as well as via PTO activities, serving as volunteers in the schools, and on teams (such as accreditation and textbook evaluation) within the school.  A successful school district is one in which the involvement is organic and comes from all segments of the community.

8. The district has strong leadership- The schools have strong, capable administrators directing a school district.  The number of administrators is kept in check to assure that funds are dedicated to the students as much as possible.  Leaders care and inspire a deep sense of trust, cooperation, action, and change while sustaining (or building) an environment that helps everyone to feel physically and intellectually safe do to the work that is needed.  The staff and community choose to follow the leadership of the school and district because they clearly put students/people first.

9. An appropriate emphasis has been placed on technology- An age-appropriate use of technology is emphasized while hands-on, real-life learning experiences are emphasized.  Why look at a butterfly on a screen when you can raise your own or see them outside?   Technology is carefully considered as one tool for learning.  While it is vital that students are able to handle technology, it is just as important that they are able to participate in discussions, listen to instruction, problem-solve individually and in teams, discuss thinking, and create using a variety of media (including paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, etc.). 

10. Emphasis is being placed on civics and citizenship and stewardship to our planet- Children learn how to participate in our society and in the world as kind, compassionate human beings and global citizens.  They value the planet and care about caring for and conserving our water, air, and land while someday seeking solutions to global problems such medical care, energy, poverty, having a sustainable, healthy food supply, and cleaning/preventing pollution.

In Courage

It takes courage to write.

Real writing peels back the layers, exposing our thoughts, our hearts, and sometimes our very souls.

So that is why I have called this blog "In Couraging for Teachers".  Yes, I know that "couraging" is a made-up word.  But I like it.  I see mustering up the courage to write is a verb.  I like the play on the words "in courage" and "encourage".  This new blog--after nearly 14,000 hits on my old one--is borne of courage. 

In courage I think, share, and hope that others will listen deeply and attempt to understand--and maybe even reciprocate with thoughtful, kind comments--or, as Cheryl Strayed calls it, "Unconditional Positive Regard" in which you can separate your own judgment from me as a writer and human--allowing us to disagree, if need be, while continuing to hold each other in positive regard.

In courage I hope that words from an open heart that loves teaching, children, my fellow teachers, and public schools can still make a difference.

In courage I believe that others will honor my ideas, even if they disagree with them.

In courage I am overcoming fear that has been taught to me by those who would use their disagreement to diminish the life--the very existence--of another. 
In courage... I am... someone who is striving to become...

...a better teacher, an enlightened human being, and a person who lives authentically.

I don't expect you to "obey my wishes."  Heck, I don't even assume I'm right.  This is just a venue for putting thoughts on paper to explore thinking--in courage. 

In courage, please encourage me, dear reader, as I will you.  Thank you.