Science Leadership Academy Where Inquiry is the Constant

SLA’s core values

Throughout the process of transitioning to the Common Core, I have been considering various approaches to supporting the depth, breadth, and nuances of the new standards. Recently, a team from my school district visited the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia, PA. SLA, whose most notable contribution to the education community is EduCon, offers a unique opportunity to research the impact of Problem Based Learning (PBL). Lead by Chris Lehmann, the SLA is a magnet school within the district of Philadelphia Public Schools.

 

We arrived at our destination on a cold March morning.  The wind was whipping through the City of Brotherly Love with such force, it made walking a few feet a chore. As I approached the building I saw High School students running by me. They dipped into the building ahead of me. Could that be their gym class? Later on I found out that it was. SLA embraces the PBL philosophy even in terms of how they utilize their limited space (no gymnasium) and resources.

 

Our tour guide for the day, Jeremy Spry, met us at the main office. His relaxed, almost too calm for school demeanor  was both a welcoming and refreshing approach to our busy morning. He told us we would learn a lot more then just PBL on our visit. His excitement for the SLA learning environment was evident.

 

The Essential Questions are integral to the learning process at SLA

 

Grade 9 is Identity; Grade 10 is Systems

 

Grade 11 is Change

The “best student at SLA” with our team from Millville

 

As we toured the building, everyone seemed to know Jeremy. He took us into a science class that was studying genetics. We were introduced to the self proclaimed “best student at SLA”. After his warm greeting (of course took a photo), he went on to describe the Punnet Square concept with such ease, it was as if he was the teacher. Ironically, after observing their collaborative presentation on the genetic disposition of Huntingdon’s Disease, it was evident the students are in the driver’s seat of their own learning.

 

Jeremy explained that SLA’s core values (Inquiry, Research, Collaboration, Reflection) are integrated into everything. Furthermore, SLA is very specific on the progression of learning as the students enter 9th grade (Identity), then 10th grade (Systems ) which leads into 11th grade (Change), and then culminating into a capstone project in 12th grade.

 

From there, we spent time in a freshman English class. There was a lively discussion about what is art and what is not art in terms of paintings, and music. I actually had to ask Jeremy who the teacher was because the students were facilitating the discussion. He pointed to the teacher, and honestly, I thought earlier that he was a student. The class conversations were reminiscent of a collegial debate type atmosphere where everyone felt they could share their differing opinions while maintaining a respectful demeanor.

 

When we visited the digital video editing room, students were engaged in film projects that offered an answer to a number of questions. For instance, one student told me the focus of his film was about his conspiracy theory surrounding Chap Stick. He asked me, “Does anyone ever really finish a Chap Stick?” I had to laugh because I don’t think I have. When I watched his final product, I was amazed at his production skills and thoughtful consideration of character development.

 

Lunch time at SLA is much different from most schools. Students hang out and eat…. wherever. Sure, there is a cafeteria, but most kids line the hall near the main office, or in out coves throughout the school. Lines are blurred, and there are often teachers who are right in there eating with the kids and discussing life’s big questions.

 

Chris Lehmann and I at SLA

Our tour concluded with a sit down with the principal and SLA founder, Chris Lehmann. He told us that the school may seem unorganized from an outsiders perspective, but that SLA flourishes because it stays true to the core values. Chris doesn’t look for mavericks at SLA because he knows that most were at their prior teaching positions, but at SLA it is incumbent for everyone to be going in the same direction. Chris rarely suspends students, sees no need for a traditional dress code, and encourages his students to be treated as adults, as equals. Chris truley cares about his students. While we were talking, Chris had to balance being a host to us, and the sign ups for the Ultimate Frisbee team he organizes, and a student who was upset about something. His door was open the entire time, and anyone had access.

 

The visit to SLA was heavy. On the way home, I felt inspired by our experience because I believe our students can benefit from integrating the PBL philosophy into our own learning environment. As we continue our transition to the common core, I now have resources and experiences that can help our teachers and students dig deeper in the curriculum.

 

 

 

 

The kind of day that makes blogging easy

On February 22, 2013 I had the kind of day that makes blogging easy…

@JerseyAlicia assisting with the inter-district Skype!

On the way in to work, I was perseverating over our growing discipline numbers in the month of February. I was out the school the day before at a workshop, and I hoped that I wasn’t walking into “one of those days.” Well, in a sense, I was right! It would turn out to be one of those days that makes blogging easy.

 

Prior to the start of school, I had a great philosophical discussion on the transition to Common Core with some teachers. We challenged each other as to how we could make this transition, why the transition was occurring,  and even asking the BIG question… WHO is behind this? I love a heated philosophical discussion with colleagues! (Challenge the Process!)

 

Inter-district Skype

The school day started smoothly. I had a few teachers that invited me to learning events. I made sure to update my calender, and I was off to a meeting to … spend money on our most precious commodity… our students! based on the budget, I will be able to start a 5 week Saturday program, extend our before/after school programs, and purchase more devices to enhance student learning! What a great meeting!

 

I was running late (this is a constant) to my observation in Kindergarten armed with my iphone (this was my first attempt to capture an observation on my iphone). As I tried to observe the staff member, I had students come up to me to talk. They wanted to tell me about the book they were reading, what they ate for dinner last night, and how they were improving with swimming. I joked with the teacher that they seemed very engaged today. She laughed, and said, “Welcome to my world!” After the observation, I attempted to leave, but the rest of the class wanted to tell me how the Superintendent came to visit them at swimming. Hmm, I thought, I haven’t even made it to swimming  yet this season.

 

Mr. Hudson was covered with numbers before the activity even began.

I scurried up to 5th grade (running late again). One of the 5th grade teachers was working collaboratively with another group of 5th grade students from across town through Skype. I watched as the kids introduced themselves to each other and began to work. I tried to do a walkthrough on the other class. I asked a young man what he was learning and why it was important. He was able to tell me that they were working collaboratively on reading a passage, and that it was important to identify vocabulary for understanding. What a great experience!

 

@mrsbensonsbunch preparing the volcano!

I then ran upstairs to the 3rd floor to observe a Volcano Experiment. The students were on the edge of their seats the entire time. She set the stage, engaged the students, had them write down their predictions, and eventually …. poof… a learning memory. These kids, for the most part, will never forget that experience. They all had smiles and were so excited. Impossible is really Nothing!

 

After I finished with the Volcano Experiment I ran down to the gym for math class… Yes, the same 5th grade class that was skyping earlier in language arts were set to test out another activity that they developed for math. I had to recruit a team (I picked the math supervisor  the curriculum coach and our SuccessMaker facilitator) to compete against the students. In the first activity, well, let’s just say we lost. All we had to do was solve the problems by finding the correct numbers that were placed throughout the gym. During the activity, we were penalized for running, and solving the problems out of order. We came in 4th place. The kids were howling! The next activity required us to read a list of problems, solve the problems, find the answers scattered throughout the gym all while connected at the arms. This really required us to work collaboratively. We redeemed ourselves and won! I love winning against 5th graders in math 🙂

 

Our new Media Specialist, Meg Finney,  challenges students with 21st Century learning opportunities.

I made sure to congratulate the students on a job well done, and was off to prepare for our monthly PBIS meeting. I knew we had big problems to identify and solve! As I reviewed the data, I was somewhat encouraged. Compared to last year, we have nearly 40% fewer Office Discipline Referrals. As I ate my lunch, I thought to myself, there are some positives here, the data tells an important story.

 

@drgentilemps takes the Minute to Win It Challenge

As I arrived to the PBIS meeting I remembered that our Superintendent would be joining us. Pressure. We reviewed the data during our meeting. We talked about root causes, trends, possible solutions and ideas for improvement. We dug into some of the data and established that 24 students (out of a school that has 320), were responsible for over 85% of the Office Discipline Referrals. We brainstormed ideas to help these students. The superintendent told me afterwards, “Basically, Spike, you have to adopt those students, assign them mentors, and keep them engaged in the process. You guys will be fine!”

 

Bear Buck Challenge. Spend a Buck to enter the room!

Our committee went down to unveil the monthly “Bear Buck Store” where the kids can cash in their bucks for rewards. This month we tried something new. We wanted to create a buzz for the positives! For a single Bear Buck, a student could enter a door to compete in a challenge. In addition to the challenge, they could spend their bucks on homework passes, time on ipods, or even time with a teacher. The students who chose the challenge walked into a room with tables lined with rigatoni. They were given a piece of dried spaghetti, a few instructions, then had a “minute to win it.” If they were successful  they kept their Bear Buck. At the end of each session we explained the importance of earning Bear Bucks and how next month we would have similar activities for their reward! (Its simple, students earn rewards for Being Safe, Being Responsible, and Being Respectful!)

 

The end of the day went off with out a hitch. There were no discipline referrals for the day! The buzz of learning, innovation, and 21st century skills prevailed!

Basically it was the kind of day that makes blogging easy!

 

 

Change

Change is neither good or bad, it simply is….

 

As a principal it is inevitable that you will be required to implement change. There are a range of possibilities of change from the mundane to the kind of change that keeps you up for 3 nights plotting, planning and organizing.

 

I have been steeped in the concept of change for years. I’ve read all of the leading authors from the field such as Whittaker, Fullan, Senge, Argyris, Kouses, Posner, and even Gladwell. All of these teachers, along with real life experiences, have shaped my philosophy on change. I’ve found that sometimes, we have to change because it’s imposed, sometimes out of necessity, and other times, well, it is just time.

 

Since the summer I have been charged with improving my school’s performance on the state assessments (This post is NOT going there). I have had to cull through data, brainstorm, and strategically plan for continuous improvement. Fortunately for me, the entire school has rolled up their sleeves and joined in this crusade. I work with some of the most dedicated teachers in the world!

 

We are now 8 months into our new “focus.” During that time we have changed many things about our school. In fact, two weeks ago a teacher came in to share an insight she had regarding our school. She said that she had been talking to some people, and admitted that she tries harder now, is more focused, and actually thanked me for creating a culture that helped her grow as a professional. It literally took me about a week to realize the impact of her personal reflection. Wow!

 

So what has been my process? What have I done? Why? So I figured I would list the process in order to reflect. These are not necessarily in sequential order.

  • Define the problem
  • Research possible solutions
  • Model the way
  • Listen to my advisers
  • Work collaboratively with others
  • Inspire a shared vision
  • Visit best practices or shining examples
  • Allocate proper funding
  • Engage key stake holders
  • Train the key stakeholders
  • Challenge the process
  • Encourage others to challenge the process
  • Exude passion for the solution and why we need to address the problem
  • Make mistakes
  • Learn from the mistakes
  • Discuss concerns
  • Vent about it all to those I trust
  • Enable others to act
  • ……and finally get out of the way!
As with any new change, there will be those who will get on board, others will criticize and still others will wait and see. Only time will tell if these new tools, philosophies, maybe some would say a more “focused” approach will pay dividends…. In the meantime, as the leader of change, I remain excited, even anticipating what is to come….. OK, I can’t wait to open the present this summer and peek inside to actually prove that we have changed, improved!

 

I always tell my staff I need them. In fact  I say I NEED ALL of them. We can’t fix this without everyone on the same page (even those who challenge the process – We need everyone).
That is why…
change is neither good nor bad, it simply is

 

Special thanks to …..

Kouses and Posner

Todd Whitaker

Malcolm Gladwell 

Leadership Mojo, and why I broke my New Year’s Resolution

Skypeing into the 2013 Techspo with Carrie Sinone!

A few weeks ago I wrote two posts that garnered a lot of attention. I appreciate how supportive everyone was when I posted about losing my Leadership Mojo. My friend and mentor, Brian Robinson, commented on the post. What he said resonated with me, and I wanted to share it with everyone,

Spike-
There are seasons in every part of life. This includes leadership. As the ancient teacher said, “To everything there is a season…a time to weep and a time to laugh…a time to mourn and a time to dance…a time to keep silent and a time to speak.
This seems to be your season to reflect and re-energize. Your mojo isn’t gone, it’s just taking a break. Hang tight and keep doing the right things you always do!

Brian knows me all too well! My leadership mojo wasn’t gone, it was taking a break. In addition to Brian, I also heard from some other mentors in my PLN who shared their leadership struggles. It was really helpful to hear that I was not (am not) alone! So, that’s it. My Leadership Mojo is back, because it was never gone!

 

This work out is “Bananas”

Now for the New Year’s Resolution. I gave up. In the post, I talked about wanting to try the middle path, and not do anything extreme. Well, I signed up for the Biggest Loser at my school (we have about 7 teams with 3 to 4 people per team competing). And guess what? I want to WIN! So I started doing Insanity this week. I actually have been getting up a 5 AM (after being inspired by my teams’ dedication) and doing Insanity. As of now, we are in 4th place and moving up ever so slightly each week. Since participating in the competition, I have come to look forward to Friday mornings (it helps that I have lost 6 pounds). My school is always a fun place to be, but Friday mornings now have an added jolt of camaraderie,  joking, and most importantly… weight loss! Our entire Biggest Loser competitors have lost 132 pounds in 3 weeks!

 

Wow!

Lastly, I want to thank everyone for their support for my Insights Into Learning blog. I just celebrated my first full year of blogging. I was humbled to see that I had 54,030 visitors through my cluster map last year. Here’s to another successful, reflective year!

Happy Birthday, and don’t forget your image!

Happy Birthday from the entire 5th Grade

Yesterday was a special day for me. It was my birthday.

 

The days started out as usual. I had to wrangle the kids out of bed, while my wife got their lunches together. Fortunately, the kids were “morning drama-free.” Once everyone was ready, they sat me down for my cards and presents. My family knows me all too well. Coffee mug, and coffee. Yes!

 

When I arrived at school everything appeared normal. I knew I had a weigh-in for our Biggest Loser competition. By the way, I love weigh-in day. Most of our school, who are competing in teams, gathers near the Nurse’s office. We are very competitive, so there is a lot of banter. I lost another 2 pounds, and considering the week I had, I was happy!

 

Office with tin foil everywhere

We had our announcements (Which I announced everyone else’s birthday, but conveniently forgot to mention mine), and security drill squeezed in before an administrator meeting at our BOE office. At the administrative meeting, my colleagues wished me Happy Birthday, and made lots of funny comments about getting older. After the meeting, I had a few folks to catch up with which proved to be very productive. I rushed back to school. I knew I had a busy schedule ahead of me with walkthroughs, meetings, and a bunch of loose ends to be followed up on (I had been out for a day and 1/2 this week).

 

As I walked through the parking lot at our school, I heard a few kids inside say, “Here he comes. Here comes Dr. Cook.” I entered the building and went up to the room where I heard the chatter. They were working on “math” and everything appeared normal. I went to my office and noticed that everything was NOT normal. While I was out, staff members (who have remained anonymous), tin foiled my entire office. Pictures, clocks, computers, chairs, papers, staplers, the list goes on and on were tin foiled. I went into my office bathroom and the toilet, sink, mirror, and anything else were tin foiled. Wow.

 

My bathroom was also covered with tin foil

As I mentioned earlier, I had a lot of walkthroughs to perform, meetings, and items to follow up on, so I just left my office with the tin foil all over the office. Then, as I walked around, a great deal of my staff gave me that Cheshire cat smile as they wished me Happy Birthday. They knew something, but no one gave up any names. The rest of the day was a blur.

 

After everyone cleared out at the end of the day, I finally was able to start making headway with getting rid of the tin foil. I just wanted to be able to sit in my chair and work. I left a bunch of the tin foil up for Monday. I then went through the cards from the students and teachers. Reading the cards was the best part of the day.

 

Before one of the suspicious jokester/teacher’s left, she reminded me that tin foil could be a symbolic message. “Dr, Cook, remember what you always say, Your Image is Our Image. Have a Happy Birthday!”

Dreams Became Reality: Damear, Principal for a Day

Preparing for his day as Principal

In my post Turning Dreams Into Reality I discussed how I received a letter from a 5th grade student who wanted to fulfill his dream of becoming a Principal. What better day then the day after we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day to make this a reality!

 

Demear reported for work early and was ready to get started. We reviewed the day’s objective in my office and then went to the cafeteria for morning breakfast duty. It was awesome seeing the kids come up to Damear and asking how it was being a principal. Damear was humble, and I could tell he was taking this experience very seriously.

 

“Good morning Bacon Elementary”

We then headed up to the office for announcements. Damear prepped, and then delivered his message to the students and teachers. After the announcements, we attempted to walk around the building, but then Damear quickly saw how difficult it was to actually get out of the office. We would get a few steps, and someone had a question. We would retreat back into the office, and then someone would call. I pointed out that often times I am unable to make it out of the office!

 

I had a meeting at our Board of Education Office, so instead of having Damear join me, I simply left him in charge of the building. It was during this time that he really thrived. He walked throughout the building, checked on classrooms, and hung out with the secretaries. He had his walkie-talkie with him the whole time.

 

Enjoying some chips and floor hockey

When I returned to the office I got an update from him. He told me we were doing good. He mentioned to me that he felt the Kindergartners were pretty easy to deal with. I told him that they can be, but you never know what can happen. Sure enough, a few minutes later we received a call that a Kindergartner had kicked and spit on another student. Damear immediately wanted to suspend the student. I showed him how we interview kids and teachers, determine if we received the whole story, and then refered to the discipline manual. He eventually decided that suspension was not the answer, and I called the parent.

 

After we had Subway for lunch, Damear and I finally got to walk around the first floor. Then I had a parent that needed to talk to me. Damear kept up with his walkthrough.  He helped a few teachers out with copies, and even joined in on a hockey game in the gym. Dismissal, which was very cold today, went really well, and soon enough the day was over. Success!

 

Making sure we were ready for dismissal

I would say that Damear was an effective 21st century principal. He listened, kept himself visible, and made sure to be of service. I was really proud how he displayed his leadership for the entire school to experience. The teachers were impressed as well. One teacher in particular said that she felt Damear did a fantastic job as Principal. Hmm, is looking to take my job?

 

Damear asked if he could be principal again, and I told him he needed to get his degrees and make his dream a reality (for more than a day)!

 

 

Where is my Leadership Mojo? And how will I get it back?

source: despair.com

Being a reflective leader can be very difficult. Basically, if I am being honest in my reflections I have to write about the good, the bad, and the ugly. I am not sure which category this would fit into, but I need to come clean on something…. I feel like I lost my leadership mojo.

 

I’m not sure when, where, or even why, but as of now…. it’s gone. I know that people I work with have noticed. Yet, only two people have had the courage to address it with me. Their conversations started off very similar…. something to the effect of, “You’re not yourself lately” or “Is everything OK?” Every leader needs a Merlin, or trusted advisor within an organization. My “Merlins” were checking on me, and I had to be honest with them….. I just didn’t have any answers. I couldn’t put my fingers on it. I think they understood. I hope they understand.

Source themarteneygroup.com

 

Being a principal is not an easy job. It can be thankless, frustrating, political, and stressful. I get that, but honestly, I know I can deal with those challenges. Being a principal in 2013 sure comes with additional responsibilities because we are at a crossroads in education. We are constantly under scrutiny, pressed for outcomes, and responsible to fix a broken system that we didn’t break.  I can deal with that too!

 

I asked myself if I was alone in this? Thankfully the answer to this is no. Others have been brave enough to reflect on their leadership challenges. Recently, I went back and read two very important blog posts from mentors of my PLN. In his post, Disconnect to Reconnect, Dwight Carter discussed how his social media presence began to impede his ability to connect with his teachers. Dwight put his devices to the side and focused more of his energies on his school. To an extent, Dwight knows what I am going through….. Then there is George Couros. In his post, Fall Apart or Fall Together he talked about his struggles of leadership as he was zapped with low energy and a general malaise. George re-connected with his leadership by paying it forward. He began to help Edmonton Humane Society. They lost it, and found it.  Encouraging!

 

I’m still left with this question…How will I get my leadership mojo back? My first step was admitting that it was gone. That’s what this blog post is about. Believe me, this was the hardest step. I knew by exposing myself in this format, it could have a negative (or less desired) impact then I am seeking. It took a long time to hit the publish button. The second step was looking to trusted advisors, Merlins, and mentors to seek out advice from those who want me to succeed. They have all said the same thing…. it will get better, take care of yourself, you can do this, we believe in you! The third step was to start taking better care of my mind, body and spirit. I am thankful that I have a very supportive network, and I appreciate all of the help.

 

As for the rest of the story? Well, it hasn’t been written…. yet!

Turning Dreams into Reality

This morning a 5th grade student came up to me during arrival. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded up piece of paper. He told me to read and then went to class. Usually, these notes indicate a problem….Something I need to look into, investigate, etc. This letter was different.

To: Dr. Cook,

I think we should do a principal of the day at our school.

Because we can learn what being in office is like.

Some kids like myself have a dream of being a principal. I want to learn more stuff

about being a Principal like learning how to solve problems, and how to do write ups.

That is why I should be principal for a day.

From: Demear

 

What’s a principal to do? I sure could use the help!

I decided that the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 22) I will allow Demear to be Principal For A Day.

Let me know if you have any ideas for Demear. I want to make sure I help him turn his dreams into reality!

 

Watch out 21st century world, our kids are Blooming!

Isaiah working on one of his experiments

One of our 5th grade classes recently conducted a “make over” on their class. This idea emerged after a group of students requested a “real” 21st Century learning environment. Their teacher, Mr. Hudson, asked them, “So, what does that look like?” Well, they took him up on the challenge and asked if they could replace their desks with tables in order to increase collaboration. They told their teacher that they really liked his teaching, but they learn more when he lets them take what they learn and “run with it” through a variety of projects and activities with their classmates. “Fine,” he said, “Then what?” Well, then they said they each wanted their own device (ipod touch, ipad, computer, or laptop, etc.). “OK,” he replied, “I might not be able to get one-to-one in here, but we can get pretty close.” They compromised…for now.

 

Here is the imovie trailer the students made about their classroom make over:

Anthony met Millville Mayor Tim Shannon and presented an idea for a skate park

 

So after they completed their filming project with Pearson’s EnVision Math (Yes, they were picked out of hundreds of classrooms to highlight the new math program) we treated them to new tables. They really have been working hard this year! Did I mention that they are all avid bloggers? This class, through kidblog.org has been actively blogging before, during and after school not to mention the weekends and some long after they should have been sleeping. Their blog, Bear Necessities, is comprised of the teacher, the entire class, librarian, principal, parents, and even former students. This learning environment allows them to create ideas, complete class projects, and pontificate on what the town needs to do to improve. Did I mention that this is all optional and not required by the teacher? Neither is the “H” word… Homework. Students in this class have designed their own learning games, study guides, and blogs in the most self-directed manner…. because they want to, because the culture of the room encourages it, because no one has to tell them no. It’s a culture of yes, a culture of innovation, of experimentation.

 

Recently, Mr. Hudson’s class enthusiastically accepted a unique opportunity to host TeacherCast for RM Bacon’s FIRST EVER live podcast. The students invited the superintendent, assistant superintendent, and me for a 45 minute session on education. They read our blogs, tweets, and even our resumes to formulate their questions for the podcast. In fact, TeacherCast was so impressed with these kids that he is starting a section on his website for students!

 

RM Bacon’s first podcast was hosted by Mr. Hudson’s class

Administrative walkthrough reports from this class have produced some interesting data trends. 27% of the observed time, this class has been engaged in Generating and Testing Hypothesis, specifically problem solving. 100% of the time the students have been able to articulate the learning objective. 94% of the time there has been teacher directed technology, and 100% student directed technology. As for student grouping, the class was observed (Whole group 33%; Individual 6%; Small Group 44%; Cooperative Group 11%; Pair 6%).

 

After applying what they have been learning through technology, the students realized they hit a glass ceiling in terms of their classroom infrastructure. Ironically, the walk-through data supported their findings, reflecting cooperative group activities identified 11% of the observed time. Hmm, it makes me think how cool would it be to pilot student walk-through’s? Empowered with problem-solving skills, they analyzed their current situation, evaluated what they needed to enrich their learning experiences, and are now in the midst of creating their very own 21st century learning environment. Our students are truly “Bloom-ing” in their very own and student-designed 21st Century classroom. 

 

Resources:

Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd Edition 

Bear Necessities

TeacherCast 

 

Beyond the Bake Sale, Our Visit to Knapp Elementary

The Background

Our vision for RM Bacon Elementary is to provide a world class school for all of our stakeholders. We work tirelessly to develop our teachers, and provide the best instruction to our learners. But when I looked into the reflective mirror, I realized that we were not engaging our family and community members as well as we would like. So this year I made it my mission to improve in this area. I started out by finding a teacher who was willing to take on this quest with me. Leigh Simpson, our music teacher and aspiring school administrator, volunteered to join the team. I then met with our Home and School President, Beth Markee, and asked her to join our team and help us increase our family and community engagement beyond the traditional avenues.

 

The Research

We scanned the twittervese researching family and community engagement. We looked at a bunch of schools and districts to see who we could model ourselves after. We quickly came to one conclusion…. Knapp Elementary embodied the type of engagement we were seeking. Knapp uses twitter, facebook, newsletters, events, to enhance their school culture and engage the family and community unlike anyone else. So we fueled up the car and went on a ROAD TRIP.

 

The Visit

Our team was comprised of Leigh Simpson, Parent and Community Engagement Chair, and Beth Markee, Home and School Association President, and myself. Fortunately for us, Knapp Elementary is only an hour and half drive from my school so we were able to accomplish the visit in one day.

Welcome to Knapp

When we arrived at Knapp we paid close attention to climate and symbolism of the school. We were welcomed by very pleasant and excited secretaries who were happy to see us. We scanned the foyer and soaked in the pictures, artwork, and design that sent a clear message…. Welcome to our home!

 

 

 

Welcome in different languages

Joe Mazza, the lead learner of Knapp, came out to greet us. I have known Joe for about a year and have seen him speak, read his tweets, and blogs, but it was especially refreshing to see him in his element… Knapp! He introduced us to Gwen Pescatore who is the President of the Knapp Home and School Association. After we exchanged pleasantries, we headed to the conference room to get to work. Even though we were there to learn from Joe and Gwen, they wanted the conversation to be a collaborative, learning opportunity for both schools. They asked us to talk about our school, the successes, challenges, and what we wanted to learn. As we were talking, a quote on the wall caught my eye, and I had to capture it (see “in this house”).

Our conversation flowed easily for about an hour. Joe and Gwen talked about Knapp and their journey to provide true engagement beyond the bake sale. Knapp Elementary has more languages spoken at home then most schools have classrooms… 22! They admit that their journey has been and continues to be a work in progress. Joe and Gwen’ s overarching message was simple… the core of true family and community engagement  is face to face contact with caring teachers. According to Joe, “First impressions are happening every day.”

We toured the building and visited a few classrooms. As we walked the building the message that we saw in the front of the building extended to the rest of the school as well…. Welcome to our home.

Art work was on all of the walls

A fish pond in an out-cove

Joe talking about family engagement

Discussing the takeaways on the ride home

As we drove away from Knapp we identified 7 key lessons we  learned from the experience:

1. Face to face contact with caring teachers

2. First impressions are made everyday

3. Make sure to have a menu of offerings for families and communities including social media, and traditional avenues

4. Televise HSA meetings in case parents are unable to attend

5. Think of the school as a 5 star hotel, and work to make it look like one too

6. Make sure that the HSA resembles the cultural make up of the school and community

7. Have designated places to recognize students

 

Since the trip we have increased our focus on family and community engagement. Stay tuned because we have just begun our journey. We are looking forward to report back on our progress as we embark on this extremely important endeavor to get beyond the bake sale, and into real family and community engagement.

Resources

Joe Mazza’s Blog 

Knapp Elementary School Twitter 

Parent Teacher Chat on Twitter