What’s Your School’s Identity?

branding, collaboration, Genius Hour, innovation, Passion, principal

This week is pre-planning week in our school district.  School starts next Monday and teachers are getting ready for their new group of students.  During this week I like to lay out what my vision for this upcoming school year will be.  There are a lot of changes in education in general and in our district particularly.  An administrator needs to balance the line between providing the information that a faculty can handle with the important knowledge that they will need in order to navigate this year’s school terrain.  In addition it is vital to inspire and motivate.  Our opening Faculty Collaboration needed to blend all of the above in a concise amount of time that gave the teachers what they needed while also respecting their time in preparing for the first day of school.

My initial focus at today’s Collaboration was to talk about my concept of freedom and belief.  I want my teachers to feel free to try new strategies and ideas.  They should have the opportunity to attempt, reflect and determine how a lesson went.  If I want more creating and making with our students, then I need to provide our teachers with opportunities to create and make learning experiences for their students without fear of consequence for “failing”.  I also want my teachers to know that I believe in them.  They should know that I respect their professionalism and that I also want to challenge them to become the best teacher that they can be. 

My goal is for Gator Run Elementary to be considered a high-performing school.  We have the components of this type of school.  We just need to concentrate our efforts in the right direction.  My definition of high-performing is a school that is a model for all others and one in which there are components that can and should be replicated at other schools.  We can easily be a ‘fast food’ type of school: the quality is the same as all of the others; you know what to expect.  I, however, would rather be a school similar to restaurants recommended by the Michelin Guide: those that have specific criteria for excellence but no definition on how to get there.  I don’t want our school to be just like all of the others.  We will stand out because we will go in directions other schools won’t in order to provide our students with the types of learning experiences that they remember forever.

In order to stand out you have to stand for something.  We adopted a new motto for this year and beyond – “Imagination to Innovation: Follow Your Passion at Gator Run”.  I love this statement because it encapsulates the components that we will provide for our students’ education.  Last year was my first year at the school and I started the conversation of determining what we are known for; what are the qualities that define our school; what do our students and families think of when they think of our school?  The essential question became “What is the Gator Run Experience?”.  I believe that we have laid the groundwork for three essential tenets of our students’ experiences at our school: collaboration, passion and innovation. 

We began to instill collaboration as a strategy throughout our school last year.  I dislike desks in rows (actually I dislike desks overall, but that’s another conversation).  Our students need time to work together to solve problems and to create solutions.  There is a need to move away from teacher-centered discussions and toward student-centered and student-led discussions.  My goal for this year is to further our efforts in creating collaborative opportunities. 

Passion is a must for all educators.  You really have to love what you are doing to be in this profession.  The reason for this is that it’s really all about relationships.  Show students that you care and they will work wonders with you.  Our classrooms need to be filled with love, energy and excitement.  We watched Dave Burgess’ GPS Challenge video today.  Dave challenges teachers to identify 5 words that they would like students to use when they describe their class.  He then tells teachers to use those words as goals.  This ties in with our work last year in creating teacher report cards where students get a chance to provide feedback to their teachers (thanks to Todd Whitaker and Annette Breaux for this idea). 

Each of our grade levels are going to take an innovative leap this year.  In doing so, each grade level will have an identifying quality: 5th grade will all be 1:1 and work in a digital environment; 4th grade will feature student blogging and using Edmodo; 2nd and 3rd grade will be learning chess online; 1st grade is working toward an engineering theme; and Kindergarten will be gardening.  In addition I hope that Genius Hour will be spread throughout our school and that many teachers will allow our students to research topics and concepts that they are passionate about.  I hope that these types of experiences provide students opportunities to discover who they are and their place in the world. 

One final piece that I feel will ensure that we obtain high-performing status is to have all facets of our school be at the highest level.  I want to challenge myself and my staff to make our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) top quality.  We will begin the process this year of using our PLCs to ensure that our students are progressing through the thematic units that we have planned and mastering the needed standards.  We need to put the necessary monitoring pieces in place so that we can determine what’s working, what isn’t and what we will do in each case. 

What is your school’s identity?  Are you working on answering the question of what your students’ experience is?  What are the identifying qualities of your classrooms?  Would your students and parents choose your school if they had a choice?  These are all valid questions to ask and should inspire and challenge you to perform at the highest level. 

We are putting the needed components into place at our school to be considered one of the top education destinations for elementary students.  I am excited for this upcoming school year and for the learning experiences that our teachers are going to create for our students.  I am equally thrilled that we have high expectations for ourselves and the necessary people in place in order to reach those lofty goals.  The final questions that I always ask myself about our school’s attempt to be a leader is “Why not now?  Why not us?”

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