Saturday, February 21, 2015

What powers your school? #savmp #empowerment

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"What are ways that you are INTENTIONAL in allowing your staff to feel empowered?"  Amber Teamann asks us to consider this question in the February #SAVMP blog post. Here are a few thoughts from her post:

"Teacher empowerment. Student voice. These are real things. Are they happening in your building? As a leader, do you see the need for these two facets of your culture?"

"It is the responsibility of the leader to provide opportunities and experiences for your teachers to grow as leaders. This is more than just asking once at the beginning of the year, it’s an on going piece of what helps define the culture of a campus. It helps move your school from point A to point B, all fueled by the power of passionately involved staff members."

"Collaborative practices amongst your staff allow for a collective growth, which will also have a direct impact on your students. They have the chance to learn from each other, see different perspectives, and have the chance to share their successes. This builds team morale, as well as allow best practices to be shared and discussed."

I've been thinking about this question all month and I think it really boils down to what structures are in place in our school to promote passionate teaching and learning, collaboration, and leadership. 

Passionate teachers. Starting with hiring, we are looking for teachers with passion and creativity. In our school, teachers create their own curriculum (read no boxed programs) based on the content standards for their grade level. This is amazing, and it's a ton of work. It's not for everyone, but it really allows teachers to be creative and incorporate their passions as well as student interest into their instruction. Every classroom looks different, with walls painted in bright colors. We have a room with a Hollywood theme, and a surfer room. Lime green, golden yellow- chosen by the teacher. 

New this year, our fourth and fifth grade teachers have an enrichment block- four days a week for an hour, elective-ish classes happen-- topics chosen by the teachers to incorporate their passion and talents. Students from both grade levels choose every six weeks or so. This round, we have knitting and crocheting, Minecraft, Zumba, a school newspaper, and digital photography. Earlier this year, speech and improv, art, engineering, and even a script writing contest were student choices. Students and teachers love this time of day, and have commented about how much they enjoy having the freedom to create these passion-driven learning opportunities for kids. One of our 5th grade teachers shared her thoughts on our school blog. You can read it here.

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Collaboration. It is everywhere at our school, and much of it is powered by Google! Our staff meeting agendas as well as our weekly tech PD are Google documents where everyone can add items, share ideas, and take notes. Teachers develop instructional units together -- sharing the work means working smarter, not harder. Some teachers share students for instruction to provide more differentiation for student needs- in first grade kids are shared for phonics based on need, and third grade teachers share students for spelling and word work. Teachers inspire each other with fresh ideas. How did you do that? is a question often asked, which leads to another teacher trying out an idea. A YouTube Zumba playlist has kids in many grades dancing now, and Kahoot, a fun quiz type game has now been tried in several grade levels after being shared by a teacher. Check out our teacher tweets below! in 2nd grade in 5th grade

Leadership. In our school we believe everyone is a leader and everyone is a learner. Kids and teachers. Teachers are leaders on curriculum committees. Teachers lead the talent show. They help lead parent nights-- right now there are teachers planning Dr. Seuss night! Teachers are also leaders outside of school- leading learning by blogging and reflecting, by presenting at conferences, and by making their learning public by Tweeting out the awesome happening at school. Teachers lead in meetings- sharing and teaching all of us about everything. Recently, teachers have been reading articles and posts about building relationships and classroom community and sharing best practices and their findings. Kids lead as mentors in Minecraft Club. Kids lead in enrichment by choosing projects and Zumba routines. Kids lead in the world by blogging on their class blogs.

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"What are ways that [I am] INTENTIONAL in allowing my staff to feel empowered?"  

I think for me, I want to set the table. I want to provide the structures to allow them to be empowered. I think the way that this happens in our school sets teachers up to be successful, to take risks, to learn, and to be inspired. It's not my school, it's our school. We want to love what we do. We want kids and families to love being at school. I think this happens when we believe that the smartest person in the room IS THE ROOM. Every day, we try to learn and to grow. It's messy. But when it works, it feels AWESOME! 

We harness the power of each other.

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