Failure is not something that my colleagues or students experience often. Rather, my students and others in our school are encouraged to maintain a growth mindset in all they do. Being that our school is ranked the second highest high school in our district, we have demonstrated that we emphasize high achievement. That being said, it’s still not enough, as our standards for excellence are always increasing. I always say to my students that good enough isn’t enough; we should always strive for improvement. And the presumption of competence is very prevalent within our school, as we believe in the best in each student and encourage students to mentor and motivate one another to strive for excellence in all facets of their lives.
2. If so, what impact do you believe that is creating? If not, what structures have been put into place to accomplish alternatives?
Like Benjamin Zander (2002), our school focuses on the positive aspect of situations rather than dwelling on shortcomings. Our Safe and Civil team, Peer Mediation club, various service-learning organizations, and the attitude of our K-12 staff is all centered around being a united collective that supports one another in all endeavors. After school interventions are in place for all students and/or parents who may need extra help with homework or just help studying. These are held three days a week in our math department, and at various intervals with other departments. Our campus is open, unique and promotes high achievement by celebrating the accomplishments of our graduates throughout their college and post-college journeys. Our school also invites many guests to come and speak to the entire school as motivators to keep students focused on high achievement and self-confidence.
3. What conditions exist that make it too late to learn and reach competency in your school? Can you give an example?
There are no conditions in our school that exist to learning to competency impossible. We are a small campus with open lines of communication, and we never give up on our students. For instance, I have a student (7th grade boy) who has every statistic in the book predicting he will fail in school and in life. However, I myself am a statistical anomaly and will fight to make him one, too. I have set up daily lines of communication with his mother so that we can keep him on track, and this is done daily after 4th period. This takes planning, attention to detail and constant communication with the entire 7th grade PLC. We are all in agreement that we must fight to not define this boy by his past and that we must presume he is competent.
4. What would you do, if anything, to introduce/enhance “never too late to learn” structures in you school if you were the school leader?
As a school leader, I would emphasize the message that we can choose to look in the rear-view mirror or focus on the road ahead. Those of us—teachers or students—who choose to focus on maximizing our learning through perseverance and maintaining a growth mindset are able to spread a contagious attitude of achievement with everyone around us. Our spheres of influence should be grounded on keystones of excellence, so I would focus on establishing proactive instructional habits that don’t discriminate against students who may have been underserved in previous learning experiences. I would start this by targeting the instructional leadership team (or all PLCs), ELAC, and PTA so that we could agree on an action plan that aligns to the school mission and vision. Every student should be given equitable treatment and access in every classroom, every day.
5. What can you do in your present position to create “never too late to learn” structures into your current practice and those of your peers? Are those things in your sphere of influence?
In my present teaching position, I am able to devote extra time to planning lessons and activities that engage all students, and then share those ideas with all my peers so they can also improve their teaching practices in order to keep students engaged in their learning. Because my school staff is so small, I can encourage and lead professional development sessions on integrating innovative technology and research-based pedagogy learning through professional development sessions I attend on my own time. All of the communication and collaboration I do with teachers can be centered around the idea of reaching every student so that all students have the opportunity to learn equally, regardless of prior history. I can encourage effective homogenous scaffolding ideas and formative assessment activities that energize students who may not otherwise care to attend school. All of these efforts would echo the idea that it’s never too late to learn and all students are able to control their own destiny through hard work and cultivation.
6. Commit to 5 things you are willing to do this semester that will make your school increase learning opportunities:
1. I will focus on communicating with all the parents and/or guardians of at-risk students to encourage those students to attend my after school study and intervention sessions with free tutoring
2. I will focus on implementing my technology club and having all teachers learn to incorporate engaging learning activities that use cell phones, tablets and other readily available devices for formative assessments (note: our CORE survey shows that 97% of our secondary students have cell phones and access to computers)
3. I will meet with 6th-12th grade teachers of various subject areas on a weekly basis to see how we can collaborate horizontally and vertically and teach literacy skills to reach all EL students and low SES students.
4. I will hold one parent night per quarter, focusing on communicating with all parents and forming an alliance that works together, in synergy, to encourage and motivate all students to reach our schoolwide learner outcomes, mission and vision.
5. I will collaborate with the Catalina Island Conservancy to implement the newly created “NatureWorks” curriculum that I worked on this past summer into all K-12 classrooms, which emphasizes vocational skills, project-based learning and STEAM-based standards through nature-based connections on Catalina Island.