So we’re on our way to completing the first third of the school year. It’s a time when the exuberance of beginning anew has moved to not only learning students by name, interest, talents and personality, but understanding each student’s learning needs. Staff has now shared what they have learned about your child in parent/teacher conferences. Thus, the course has been set for a school year’s worth of learning.
This is not to say, that there hasn’t been ongoing learning from the first moments of the first day of school. Staff addresses student needs immediately by setting clear expectations, sharing classroom rules, creating structures of support, teaching curriculum – both tried and true and the new. And least we forget, our focus on growth mindset and the foundation for all we do, the Fiske Fundamentals of acting in Fair, Inclusive, Safe, Kind and Encouraging ways are always on our minds and in our practice.
I mention all this because I have begun the new teacher evaluation system with about half the Fiske staff this year with the entire staff slated to take part next year. In case you don’t know, this system calls for multiple, up to six, short classroom visits of 10-15 minutes by me. These visits are followed by a discussion between the staff member and me. The staff member then memorializes this conversation and what she/he has learned into a computer program. I, in turn respond to the staff reflection. All this back-and-forth discussion is preceded by a goals meeting, in which teachers and I agree on a personal practice goal and a student-learning goal.
It sounds like a lot, but so far in practice I find it to be an interactive and fun way to learn where teachers need support, where each needs to be recognized for a job well done and ultimately, how each staff member can learn and grow. John D’Auria, who was the longtime Wellesley Middle School principal, said something instructive to me last year. It was, “Anthony you’re not going to get student growth without adult growth.”
As I have written to staff, on some level I knew this, but John was able to clearly articulate what I was only beginning to consider. So my goal is to support teachers in their individual growth, which in turn enables greater student growth. Elementary, my dear Watson…
Onto a favorite subject for many Fiske students – recess. As part of their persuasive writing unit, the entire third grade wrote to me asking for a longer lunch/recess period in the middle of the day. Presented by students representing each class; 3F, 3H and 3R made their cases for a longer eating and playing time. I must say the benefits presented from greater student focus to longer breaks for teachers were quite compelling. So much so, that I have been persuaded to look into this further.
Here’s my dilemma, which I presented to third grade, “Where do I get the extra time?” Well, third-graders had well intentioned, but also some unreasonable ideas like taking the time from reading, math or other subject areas. I, in turn, told third graders I would extend lunch/recess time from 35 minutes to 50, if we could eliminate school wide 10:15 recess.
I have presented the plan below to parents at my Principal’s Coffee last Friday, our School Council meeting on Tuesday and to the PTO meeting on Thursday. Here is what the staff and I are considering and what I have shared:
- An increase in lunch/recess from 35 minutes to 50 minutes
- Elimination of 10:15-10:30 recess
- Instituting a snack break and/or movement break for classrooms prior to lunch
- Allowing limited class-by-class morning recess for teachers who felt it appropriate based on class need
Besides providing students with one, longer break for lunch/recess, instead of two shorter ones, this plan will free up 15-25 minutes in the middle of the morning for teaching content area curriculum or scheduling specialist classes of art, music, fitness and health and library. Our mid-morning recess really doesn’t allow for such longer, uninterrupted teaching opportunities because many classrooms, especially younger grades, get ready for recess a few minutes before and take a few minutes after to transition back to class.
I am floating this plan to the entire community now with the expectation that this extended timeline will provide more opportunities to discuss this matter and come to a consensus prior to the start of 2015-16 school year. I have worked in school districts with and without a mid-morning recess, and did not see or hear any adverse effects on having one longer lunch/recess period.
My current plan is provide opportunities for me to hear feedback from parents/guardians, staff and students. When a decision has been made, I will share it with everyone in plenty of time to prepare for next school year.
Have a wonderful weekend,
Anthony J. Colannino
Fiske Community News 11/14/14