Friday, August 5, 2016

What We Believe Defines the Beginning of the School Year

As a principal and school leader, it's important to make clear what you value in your school. How do you want the school year to start? What are the non-negotiables that will define the school year? What is the collective vision for classrooms and the school community?

As I think back to the years when I was a principal, there were understandings and beliefs that were important to our school community. Thinking about them now and reflecting on what is important for our schools today, I realize that they remain a strong foundation for schools that are committed to student learning and a supportive learning community. I still hold strong to these beliefs.

1. Slow down. Enjoy the beginning moments of the school year. There will be plenty of time to teach the curriculum. Now is the time to get to know your students and for them to get to know each other. Build community that will sustain learning throughout the school year. Establish routines that will scaffold students on their learning journeys.

2. Get to know your students. Give them time to share who they are as learners. Watch and listen carefully and they will tell you what they need. Ask questions that get to the heart of who they are. Celebrate what they do well. Tuck away what you notice about their needs because it will make you a wise teacher in the months to come.

3. Maximize time and space. Schedule long blocks of time for reading workshop and don't compromise that time. Stay committed each and every day. Consider the importance of comfortable classroom design and the ways it can encourage collaboration. Build a classroom library with volume and variety and help students understand how they can access the books they need.

4. Encourage independent reading. Start small. Build stamina. Help them choose the books they want to read. Get to know students' literate histories.

5. Reflect on what you believe about learning and teaching. Think about what you value and what you believe children need to become successful learners. Your beliefs will help you make the right decisions for children throughout the school year.

These beliefs were front and center in our conversations among colleagues. We shared stories of the students in our care and we collaborated to determine the best ways to move students toward independence. We had continued conversations about how we were fulfilling our vision for our school. We talked about what our classrooms would look like/sound like as we built a common wisdom about learning and teaching.

The beliefs were evident in classrooms within the authentic experiences that children had each day. We would always circle back to these beliefs because they defined our work and our learning community. When beliefs are strong, they are in focus every day and provide the foundation for what happens for students and teachers.