Thursday, October 27, 2016

Finding Energy, Enthusiasm, Possibility, Hope, and Love in a K-8 School. Teachers, Students, and Partnerships Matter

The best part of my job as the Director of Connecticut Writing Project-Fairfield is the collaborative support imagined and designed by wonderful individuals in K-12 schools. Over a year ago, I met with Bridgeport Public Schools to discuss a Turn-Around grant offered by the State of Connecticut in support of literacy initiatives. The school is like many in America's urban centers with high English language learner populations, extreme poverty, industrial challenges, and beautiful diversity. Partnering with many literacy powerhouses, including the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, CWP-Fairfield will work with K-8 teachers to provide support for teaching writing and to help build a community of proficient readers, writers, and thinkers.

Yesterday, I engaged with the 4th-8th grade teachers and quickly learned that the deficits placed upon the school due to test scores and state labeling does not tell the entire story. I worked with many teachers who have dedicated many years to seeing their kids achieve, despite the tremendous obstacles they face. Typical for many in public education (and with parallels to other public occupations), the narrative is negative, negative and negative. This is far from the truth. These teachers are dedicated, driven, and passionate; the frustrations aren't with teaching the kids they work with, but with the lack of resources available to them to do the tasks they set out to do.

While I waited for the teachers to arrive from their first session of professional development I couldn't help but get nosey and capture a few photos that seemed to display the essence I felt from the teachers: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I knew I could! Word walls! Clear rubrics and expectations, and a quote, "Don't let others stop you from being who you are because of who they are."

There's a tremendous task ahead of all of us: to push a school forward to achieve on the ways we assess them takes the power of many collaborating together. It requires an investment of time, resources, reflection, support, encouragement, and whole-school buy-in.

From 2012-2014, I was fortunate to work with the vision of a K-8 school in New Haven, Connecticut that did, indeed, turn itself around on the benchmarks that repeatedly labeled it a failing school. It was never failing, but the language needs and social supports required rethinking, reimagining, lots of celebration, and a positive attitude. Nothing felt better than learning that in a short time that school turned itself around.

Now, time for another challenge, which isn't a challenge at all. It is a continued opportunity to work with amazing kids, their families, their teachers, and those who've dedicated their lives to offer opportunities in the United States.

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