Learning Landscapes


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Beginning our Transformation

This past Thursday, we held our first Professional Development Day. Such days are precious in our school. We treasure the opportunity to come together as professionals to focus on the goals that will make our school even better. Our dreams for our school are ambitious and we are eager to get started this year!

First, a bit of history: Last school year was my first year as the Director of Academia Cotopaxi. The time was right to create a new Strategic Plan that would chart our future for the next five years. We began by reviewing perception data from our community regarding our areas of strength and areas for improvement, we discussed new ideas in education, and developments in the world, near and far. We crafted a new mission statement, core value statements, and five strategic objectives to be accomplished over the next five years. Then we created five Action Teams, one for each of the strategic objectives, tasked with determining concrete steps towards accomplishing the strategic objectives. Over 100 individuals volunteered to be directly involved in developing our final Strategic Plan. Board members, teachers, parents, support staff, and administrators worked together over six months to develop the final Strategic Plan document. This is the blueprint for our future, owned by our community, and motivating us to a new level of change. Our journey towards transformation has begun!

Last Thursday, the faculty and staff spent time focused on just one strategic objective – School Culture. The quality of a school’s culture – its norms, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, ceremonies, traditions – is an indication of the quality of the school. We want to strengthen, uplift, and transform key aspects of our school culture. We started by looking closely at the current reality of our school culture in terms of students, faculty and staff, parents, leadership and facilities, systems and structures. Then we began describing the blue sky future that we desired and what needs to change to get there. From this giant set of wishes, we will identify a number of concrete steps to begin implementing this year.

For anyone involved in a change process, skepticism is a powerful deterrent! There are always naysayers, people who don’t believe that real change can happen, or people who continue to remain in their bubble, refusing to be part of the change, or people who choose to criticize from afar rather than get involved in the messy work of change. Change is complex and requires hard work. The path isn’t always clear or straightforward and there are mistakes along the way. I consider myself lucky because I have seen change happen effectively, successfully in previous schools.

Last Thursday, as I watched and listened to our faculty and staff, I saw people who were invested in this process, people who care deeply about our school and who are willing to get their hands dirty and deal with the hard stuff. The photos here capture the intensity, the seriousness, the engagement of our faculty and staff. This is the beginning of our transformation effort – having the right people doing the most important work – and I am full of hope and optimism for our future!

How do Facilities, Systems and Structures contribute to School Culture?

How do Facilities, Systems and Structures contribute to School Culture?

What is our current reality and what is our Blue Sky Future?

How does Leadership contribute to School Culture?

How do Parents contribute to School Culture?

We need your candid perspective on what isn't working in our school's culture.

How can we engage students and teachers in improving school culture?

What will it take to transform our school culture?

What will it take to transform our school culture?

Sharing our hopes and wishes for a transformed school culture.

Sharing our hopes and wishes for a transformed school culture.


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Writing Instruction

Talking about writing instruction in Grade Four

Talking about writing instruction in Grade Four

During this past week, teachers from PreK through Grade Five have been involved in professional development workshops about an instructional practice called Writing Workshop. Internationally known literacy consultant Carrie Ekey (http://www.carrie-ekey.com/) has spent a week on our campus, to explain and demonstrate this instructional practice and guide discussions about it. It has been an exhilarating week for all, with teachers deeply engaged in thinking about the best ways to teach children to become writers. In addition, our Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) sponsored a Parent Education Workshop with Carrie Ekey, to learn about the best ways they can support their child’s writing development. Over 50 parents attended this information-packed workshop with many requests for more.

Increasing rigor in Grade 5 writing

Increasing rigor in Grade 5 writing

Writing is one of the most challenging skills to master. Simply having correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation, while important, does not make you a good writer. The best writing engages the reader, brings strong visual images to mind, evokes emotion and connection. Think back to something you read recently that you really caught your attention. Often, after reading a particularly good work of fiction or a well-written news article, we are left with a feeling of satisfaction, a curiosity to learn more, a sense of improved insight. Award-winning authors have developed their own personal style and voice, as well as a following, people who appreciate and enjoy reading their perspective. Writing is powerful! A beautifully written piece is a work of art, to be admired again and again. Strong writing can influence and broaden one’s perspective. Clarity in writing can provide significant information to make life-changing decisions.

Principals Paola Pereira and Dan Kerr are planning the Faculty Workshops with Visiting Literacy Consultant Carrie Ekey

Principals Paola Pereira and Dan Kerr are planning the Faculty Workshops with Visiting Literacy Consultant Carrie Ekey

So exactly how do children and young adults learn to write? How do they learn to compose their thoughts and ideas into a piece of compelling writing? How do they develop a facility with language and word choice? How do they learn to use conventions of print? And most importantly, how do we teach them to love writing as a beautiful form of self-expression? Sadly, for many children around the world, writing is a drudgery, something that they dislike, to do only when they have to. How many of us as adults would say that we love to write, that we enjoy expressing ourselves in written form? Our goal as educators is to cultivate in our students an affinity for expressing themselves through writing. We want our students, all of them, to be moved by good writing, to be curious about ideas beyond their immediate world, to be inspired to express themselves in abundance.

Reviewing the rubrics for writing development

Reviewing the rubrics for writing development

In a Writing Workshop, the goal is to foster life-long writers, not just writing for school. This approach is based in over 30 years of literacy research about how children best learn, and what strategies are most effective. Students receive whole class mini-lessons in specific areas of writing instruction, followed up by time to write, individual conferences to target areas for improvement, and opportunities to share their writing. This methodology — high-volume writing, protected daily time to write, specific timely feedback, and sharing writing — provides a highly effective framework for young writers to practice the craft of writing and to improve over time.  Coupled with this approach to writing instruction is a similar approach to reading instruction, resulting in a balanced approach to literacy development. We have known for years now that a child’s ability to read and write is a significant predictor of future academic success.

Discussing a piece of writing in the PD session with Visiting Consultant Carrie Ekey

Discussing a piece of writing in the PD session with Visiting Consultant Carrie Ekey

Over the next few years, Academia Cotopaxi will be moving steadily towards implementing what we already know are the most effective instructional practices. We will be investing in the best professional development possible for our faculty, and equipping them with the support and resources they need to provide personalized instruction for every student at our school. And, as our teachers grow professionally, we are also committed to working with our parents to help them improve their understanding of current best practice in education and how they can support their children as 21st century learners. It is an exciting time to be at this school, and our future is bright!

How best to support English language learners in their writing development

How best to support English language learners in their writing development

Thanks for reading and I invite your comments or questions!

Sincerely,

Madeleine Maceda Heide