Hello everyone. “It’s been four weeks since my last message”: language resonating with a confessional tone! School has begun and the second term is well under way. As we enter our mid year departmental reviews, I have spent the past few weeks looking at first term marks, data and statistics. What has become evident to me is that your efforts and commitment have helped students make positive gains with regard to their learning. What has also become clear is that the multitude of educational services and interventions we provide reveals that our school improvement process is a complex puzzle with many pieces. However, despite the many pieces the final picture has one interpretation: to create new and enduring knowledge for all stakeholders – students, staff and parents.
In their article, “Creating New Knowledge: Evaluating Networked Learning Communities,” Steven Katz and Lorna Earl write from the following premise: “When educators work together, they will create new knowledge and spread it to others . . . it will influence practices . . . and have an influence on students. What they are writing about is the ‘art of collaboration’ which encompasses much more than relationships: “It is the intensive interaction that engages educators in opening up their beliefs and practices to investigation and debate – building commitment through group understanding.
Over a year ago, as a staff, we agreed to engage, collectively and collegially, in the assessment of our teaching practices. Our conversations initiated and now continue the process of ‘open[ing] up our beliefs and practices to investigation and debate’ and these interactions (both formally at meetings and through daily conversations) have engendered huge gains at a school level:
- discipline and hallway traffic (which will always be prevalent with adolescents) are no longer primary issues in our community;
- academic intervention programs – Homework Clubs, Special Instruction Week, Night School (study skill/content acquisition) Classes, Reading Support Classes – have increased our student success rate;
- Celebration of Excellence assemblies have made it ‘cool’ to be on the Honour Roll;
- social responsibility initiatives have helped us come together, celebrate our community, “tell our story” and foster a deeply rooted belief that John Oliver is an extension of our own homes.
Our purpose now, as we meet in departments over the next month, is to focus our discussion around the ‘art’ or ‘science’ (if you will) of effective and ‘nurturing’ classroom instruction and assessment. What are the common principles that are driving and improving student achievement in our classrooms? What are we doing well and what, within the context of a non-judgmental and supportive conversation, do we need to improve upon?
The article put forward to you this week, Carol Ann Tomlinson and Kristina Doubet’s, “Reach Them to Teach Them,” focuses upon four effective high school classrooms and shows how teachers can reach adolescents – by creating classrooms in which students discover one another’s gifts, by connecting with students, by creating a sense of urgency and excitement about learning, by putting inquiry at the root of instruction, by celebrating students’ lives and their successes, and by creating a learning environment in which everybody feels safe, competent, and valued.
As I visit with all of you over the next month, my plan is to continue our conversations around examining the quality of the John Oliver ‘learning experience’; my hope is that together we can focus on what this ‘learning experience’ actually looks like in our classrooms; my belief is that the trust and confidence we have developed in one another and the supportive, caring relationships we have created together will allow us to move forward in our efforts to ensure student success and meaningful professional development for all.
Have a nice week.