Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Starting Strong With Teacher Leaders

School started much earlier than August 24th for our employees. While August 1st is a date that is circled on the calendar for the building principals, we also begin to see many other faculty and staff around the first part of the month. Most teachers are excited for the beginning of year and are eager to get a jump start on setting up their classroom. Others might be moving into new assignments, so they want to get in early and start planning for curriculum they haven't taught before. I have to tell you, I was impressed and amazed at the number of teachers that were in the district well in advance of being required! Some of our veterans were here providing leadership and collaborating with new colleagues, while others were building relationships with newly assigned instructional colleagues. Yet, for another group of educators (our teacher leaders) they had different purpose for arriving early: plan for the return of the rest of the faculty.

The beginning of the school year always begins with an overload of teacher meetings and in service 'opportunities' for our faculty. Some of this includes annual training on bullying and harassment to bloodborne pathogens. I say 'opportunities' tongue and cheek because in the past I think it is safe to say that our opening in services for our teachers were viewed as anything but opportunities. When I was a teacher (let's not talk about how long ago that was, shall we?), professional development was viewed as something that was done to us rather than for us. That is really beginning to change with teacher leadership.

After a year under our belt with a teacher leadership system we are really beginning to hit our stride with how we deploy and use these very valuable teacher leaders! One of their primary roles is ensuring that our professional development plan is relevant and able to provide that strong linkage to practice that we know will become embedded in instruction. My take is that our teacher leaders are truly crushing it!

Teacher leaders meet for collaboration with building
principals early in the school year.
To start the school year, our instructional math coach, Mrs. Owen-Kuhn, selected and organized two fantastic professional development opportunities for our faculty. For starters, all of our K-3 faculty is engaged in developing and implementing numeracy strategies that will be useful for the continued support of our  math program, which we are now in the 3rd year of implementation. Then, because grade levels have different needs, grades 4-6 will be focusing on instructional strategies useful in teaching fractions. This professional development theme will be prevalent throughout the school year and alter back and forth between math and literacy.

This year Mrs. Kiewiet begins as our new instructional coach in literacy. Working in collaboration with Mrs. Engels who served in that role last year, they identified a need to provide teachers with tools that will enable them to better utilize their new literacy resources. Moving into year two of the Wonders program, our teachers are engaged in a study of Super Core, which is designed to provide strategies and ideas for getting the maximum benefit out of our curriculum. Each Wednesday during early out, the teachers will alternate between math one week and literacy the next.

Mr. Lewis continues to knock it out of the park in his role as instructional coach for technology. As we have moved to the Google platform this year, there is quite a learning curve as it comes to sharing documents and collaborating with this type of platform. That is not to mention his continued work with our LMS. When teachers have trouble with Canvas, they can count on Mr. Lewis to help them out and give them the pointers they need!

So about that start to the school year?

The weather to start the school year was about as perfect as you could ask for--I guess up until Friday when we almost floated away because of the relentless pounding rain. Going into the second week of school we are expecting (and experiencing) a late August and early September heat wave. But then, lets talk about that start of the school year, shall we? Starting school on a Monday is uncommon, and most teachers will testify to the fact that if they had their wish, we most certainly would not have done it in this way. Truthfully, I can't remember a time in my career when we actually started school on a Monday with students and had a full week of school. However, extenuating circumstances with the new law dictating that school couldn't start prior to August 23rd really set into motion the school calendar we are living with. Certainly there are a few outliers that are starting school this week, but for the most part schools in Iowa have a week under their belts at this time.

While reading with a purpose, Mrs Douglas conferences
with  a student during a  lesson early last week.
By the end of that first week of instruction, there were many very tired people! As you might expect, the youngest of our students may have been the most worn out. Consider the fact that kindergartners, never having experienced school before are suddenly thrust into a week long schedule that was regimented in a manner they have never before experienced! We might also consider the rest of our student body--after all they have been on a much different schedule during summer. Certainly they have had later bedtimes and a schedule where they haven't been required to get up quite as early in the morning! This sudden change in schedule can leave even the most seasoned of educators exhausted after readjusting to a school schedule.

Nevertheless, the start to the school year we just experienced was one of the strongest that I can remember. I think that might be because of all the hard work that started in the weeks before students even entered the school buildings. 

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