Education Opinion

Make Each Child the Focus: Organize the Year Around Questions

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — August 19, 2014 4 min read
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The back to school season, mostly ignited by the aisles in stores filled with lunchboxes, backpacks, notebooks, pens, pencils, crayons, paper, and ‘back to school’ clothes, is a tradition. The joys of summer are announcing their closing. Days are getting shorter and nights are cooler. The “sleep in” mornings, the relaxed schedule, and lazy days are passing. Some students had new experiences, enriching their lives, traveled, read new books, visited with relatives. Others stayed home, wandering through their days, caring for siblings, waiting for a parent to return from work so they could get some time for themselves.

For Students
For some students, this is a time of excitement; new ‘stuff’, getting ready to get back to see friends missed over the summer. School offers structure for days, new teachers, and new experiences. For other students, it is a time for angst; not enough money to buy required supplies, facing failures accumulated from the year before, returning to the environment in which the value is achievement and measuring up feels unreachable. For some students it is walking through the doors of the school, with an involved parent, who knows the teachers and administration, and feeling part of a larger system. For other students it is walking through the doors of the school alone, feeling like a stranger returning to a place where differences feel exaggerated. For some is a safe place with meals. The tradition of returning to school with expectant excitement does not belong to all students.

For Teachers
For most teachers, the back to school season is a mixed bag as well. The joys of summer and the freedom from the school expectations are coming to a close. Although most teachers spend part (or all) of the summer preparing new lessons, learning new things, thinking about how to make next year better, it can be done in sunshine and at their own pace. It is a time for rejuvenation, family days, and favorite summer places. Returning to school involves returning to the schedule, new students, for some, new grade levels or courses, new colleagues, and perhaps a new leader. Experiences are more similar and the expectations set for students to learn in each classroom are the same.

Can We Increase the Success Stories?
As the year progresses, students succeed or don’t, struggle or shut down, participate or withdraw. The interventions are individual. Most likely those who succeed always succeed. There are success stories in which a failing student succeeds or a withdrawn student engages. And those cases are the result of great efforts on the part of the adults in the system, and sometimes from without, and accompanied by the effort of the student. But it begins with the efforts of the adults. Can we do more if we do something new or different?

Organizing Our Year Around Questions
This is the beginning of the school year. For some it has already started. For others it is about to begin. There are faculty meetings, committee meetings, planning times, and informal gathering times that may be able to be repurposed. Why not consider this beginning one in which all children can be the focus of everyone’s attention in a new way? How that looks in each school environment is different. But certainly the questions can all be the same.

  • How does the school experience we offer support each student in order for him or her to be a successful learner?
  • How are we using the talents and abilities of the school faculty and staff to help support students get what they need in order to be successful learners?
  • How can we recognize the differences in the needs of our students and what systems do we have (or can we put) in place in order to help more students experience success?

There are many ways these questions could be handled. Committees can be formed around each question. Faculty meetings can be led focusing on each question. Grade levels, or subject area teachers can work together on a question. PLC’s can be convened around a question. Allow the question to set the agenda of meetings and be sure the work of these groups is shared. These are challenges that fill the minds and hearts of educators all year long. But we are easily distracted as the year unfolds, demands change, and the long walk to June becomes filled with complicated, and urgent issues.

Establish a Process to Keep Questions in the Forefront
Let’s make this beginning a new one in which we establish the plan and the process to keep these questions in the forefront and keep working at them all year. Certainly as issues arise during the year they will intervene as distractors, but they might fit somewhere in one of these three questions (or the questions you develop as your own). Post them, place them on every memo, on every home screen, on every meeting agenda, in the faculty room, whatever works in your environment. Allow these questions, or your own, to lead the conversations throughout the year. Let this year be one in which more students find their place in a welcoming school and classroom. Plan for it to be the year when every student’s path to success is achieved because we were able to keep that as the focus of our work...all year long.

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.