2017 will go down in history as the year our school was designated as a Schools to Watch school in the state of Michigan (one of roughly twenty schools to achieve this status in our state). The Schools to Watch movement began as a national distinction awarded to schools across the country who focus on the improvement of education for students in the middle. Eventually, it was moved to the state level, where currently seventeen states participate in the process.
Our three year journey began with a self-assessment of where our school saw itself in the areas of Academic Excellence, Developmental Responsiveness, Social Equity, and Organizational Structures and Processes. This evaluation would be the basis for our improvement plan and implementation of programs and strategies that could help us further develop our craft and ensure our students could get the best possible educational experience. In the spring of 2017, visitors from several schools and organizations from around Michigan came to evaluate our schools based on the four pillars of the Schools to Watch rubric. As they walked our hallways, took in our daily teaching practices, and conversed with us about our initiatives, the entirety of our staff could feel a sense of accomplishment. Though we were nervous about our designation, we knew we were showing our review committee exactly what we do on a daily basis for our students.
After a short, yet grueling, period of waiting, we were designated a Michigan Schools to Watch school.
As a reward for our hard work and dedication to this process, our school board was gracious enough to allow most of our middle level team to attend the National Schools to Watch Conference. The conference was an amazing collection of schools at various points in their own Schools to Watch journey. It allowed attendees the opportunity to collaborate with schools from around the country to see programs and initiatives being implemented to improve middle level education. These are my top five takeaways from the National Schools to Watch Conference:
1. David DeSanctis: Master Motivator
2. Advocacy Meetings on Capital Hill
Representative Dan Kildee (D-Michigan) and his staff were very welcoming of our group's attendance on Capital Hill. We were welcomed in and provided an opportunity to discuss the Schools to Watch movement, inquire about the current cuts taking place with Title II and after school programs, and to promote the importance of teacher preparation in the advancement of middle level education with Rep. Kildee's staff. Then, we were taken to the Capitol to meet with our representative.
Rep. Kildee was very receptive to our visit. A man who comes from a family of teachers, Kildee asked many questions about our current feelings on what is taking place in our congressional district, what we would like to see happen in future education budget items, and showed a general interest in our efforts to reshape schools in America. I truly appreciated the chance to talk with Rep. Kildee about the Schools to Watch initiative and share my passion for learning with him.
3. Breakout Sessions
Throughout Friday and Saturday I was able to attend several amazing sessions with wonderful and motivated teachers and administrators who have an outstanding vision of what means to be a School to Watch. With Andrew Pickerill and the team from Garrard Middle School in Lancaster, KY I learned some incredible ways to increase and promote student voice throughout our school. Allyson Harder, Heidi Newenhouse, and Heather Stauffer brought to me several different ways to develop a more inclusive school where every student feels they have purpose and meaning. I learned how to be more innovative and creative and provide greater critical thinking skills with the great staff from Rocky Heights Middle School in Highlands Ranch, CO. Jay Padula and the crew from Rowan County Middle School in Morehead, KY showed the importance of teaching students the skills to be considered employable. And, what might have been my favorite presentation of the weekend, Carol Brooks and Susan McAbee from Palmetto Middle School in Williamston, SC filled my tool box with their passion filled All-You-Can Implement Buffet session. This collection of resources will be extremely valuable as I continue to mold and change my classroom to best fit the students who join my classroom each year. I am truly honored to have been in company with such extraordinary educators and their wisdom is greatly appreciated.