This week I want to share an Interesting Idea to use when public health regulations allow you to have parents back in the school.
We had parent volunteers come into our school during break time and read to our students. I know this does not sound like a revolutionary idea but continue reading. You will soon see what was unique about our idea and how it aligned with our culture building work.
Why did Story Time become an important program within our school?
When I held the position of Principal of Leadership and Staff Development I had the pleasure of meeting Karen L. Mapp and arranged for her to come to our district to speak with our school leaders. Karen L. Mapp is a senior lecturer on education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and the faculty director of the Education Policy and Management master’s program. Karen is one of the authors of Beyond the Bake Sale which speaks to the importance of including families in your school initiatives. The Nebraska Department of Education has an excellent summary of the book here:
Nebraska Department of Education
Therefore, when I left the central office position and returned to a school I knew I needed to take many of her important concepts into consideration. Opening a brand new school created the opportunity to have one of the major school goals be our connection to the community. It was going to be a new community for me, a very diverse community and a newly formed community. We were often told that we were beginning a school in the middle of a field and that was truly the case. There were absolutely no other structures in the fields surrounding the school and over the coming years we watched as the homes were built.
It was a school where 75% of the student population would be designated as English Language Learners. Most of the students were Canadian born however the primary language at home was not English and for a large number of students the first time they had any daycare, education, or instruction in English was when they came to us for Kindergarten. Making sure our communication was available in multiple languages would be key to valuing and welcoming our families into the life of our school. For some of our parents they were learning English along side of their children.
As part of our opening year plan we involved the school staff and community in a process to develop an “If Then” statement to guide our work for the first year. We purchased for each staff member a copy of Tom Hierck’s book Pyramid of Behavior Interventions: Seven Keys to a Positive Learning Environment and concentrated our efforts on creating common expectations and highlighting relationships.
Our statement: IF we use the beginning years of a new school to develop a strong mission, vision and values with common expectations and a major focus on developing relationships with goals that focus on student well being we will THEN improve student engagement, achievement, equity and well being for this cohort of students and future Boyne students.
In real estate? Location, location, location.
In education? Relationships, relationships, relationships!
Speaking about relationships? A plug at this point for a great professional learning opportunity coming up on January 22nd. One of the organizers is Tom Hierck and I will share that he is a good friend. I’m promoting this because it is important content, especially at this time. The price is right and the speakers are terrific.
Find out more here:
So, what is the connection to parents reading to our students and why do I consider it an Interesting Idea?
Part of our planning involved the examination of the School Effectiveness Framework. http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/sef2013.pdf Using this resource we identified three key indicators to guide us in our work with our Community, Well Being and Engagement Goal.
– Indicator 2.5 Staff, students, parents and school community promote and sustain student well-being and positive student behaviour in a safe, accepting, inclusive and healthy learning environment.
– Indicator 3.3 Students are partners in dialogue and discussions to inform programs and activities in the classroom and school that represent the diversity, needs and interests of the student population.
– Indicator 6.2 Students, parents and community members are engaged and welcomed, as respected and valued partners in student learning.
Our story time activity was developed by our amazing English Language Learner teachers and our teacher librarian in relation to the three indicators above. It was a key initiative to align our school activities with the Effectiveness Framework.
We had four different Story Time days in our school.
- Arabic Story Time
- Punjabi Story Time
- Turkish Story Time
- Urdu Story Time
During student break time community members would come into the school and have a reading time with students in their first language. Students were invited to come down to the library on designated days to hear a library book read by one of our parents in our community.
One of our favourite stories was from a teacher who questioned why a student would attend during a day where they would hear a story in a language they would not understand. The students replied, ‘Ya, I don’t know what it is about but I love hearing the words, it is like music”
With students speaking about it at home and with the school sharing the initiative with our community, we had more volunteers than we had spots or times available.
We used our own school resources that had been purchased by our teacher librarian from our dual language section of our school library. This highlighted to our students and the community that we valued the importance of having multi language resources in our library for our students. The books read were then popular choices for students to sign out and take home to their families. Imagine the pride in our families when students were bringing home resources in both English and their first language. Many parents commented that they did not know such books existed and how amazing it was that we had them in their school.
Another Interesting Idea for you.
Support all the students in your school with resources that families can access to show you are building a school that is accepting and inclusive to all. Invest in resources in multiple languages that reflect your diverse school community. Include quieter break time activities, like story time, that allow students choice in order to cater to their needs and interests. Welcome and engage with your parent community. Invite the community into your school to do much more than just ‘bake sales’.