So, I’ve been writing recently about the importance of clearly articulated vision statements for learning teams, right? Well, here’s what I’ve put together for my group.
Check it out and give me some feedback. Have I touched on key elements of accomplished vision statements? Does my vision for student learning resonate with yours? What do you like? What did I leave out?
Here’s what I’ve written:
If our learning team is going to be successful at creating a collaborative community, ensuring high student achievement and valuing the unique needs of each learner, we must articulate what each of those terms looks like in action. Without a shared vision serving as a standard for collective decision making, it will be impossible to meet the high expectations defined by our mission statement. The following vision statement is designed to serve as a living guide for all stakeholders interested in seeing our students succeed:
A team committed to ensuring high student achievement and valuing the unique needs of each learner provides all students with a strong, fundamental education focused on the standards defined by the State of North Carolina’s Standard Course of Study. While clear emphasis is placed on core academic subjects, a strong commitment to educating the whole child is also evident in the development of top-quality art, music, drama, foreign language and other elective experiences for students. Finally, a team committed to ensuring high student achievement recognizes and respects the changing nature of the learning and work environment in the 21st Century.
On such a team, the curriculum:
- Focuses on a handful of essential outcomes identified after a careful examination of student performance measures.
- Provides integrated learning experiences, enabling students to make connections between different subject areas.
- Encourages student-centered exploration of content rather than teacher-driven presentations.
- Allows students to engage in study of topics of deep personal interest.
- Remains consistent across classrooms.
- Incorporates right-brained lessons that emphasize design, play, story, symphony, empathy and meaning.
- Equally values non-tested learning that has been recognized as valuable by the community.
- Introduces students to tools for managing and evaluating information.
- Structures frequent opportunities for students to create, communicate and collaborate with others, both in and beyond their communities.
Research—including the results of the North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey—has shown time and again that the single greatest determinant in the success or failure of students is the quality of classroom teachers. Pairing a deep understanding of their content and the characteristics of the students that they serve, accomplished educators tailor learning experiences and environments that both ensure student success and value the unique needs of every learner.
To maximize the human capacity in a schoolhouse, exemplary teachers:
- Believe that all students can learn and accept responsibility for results.
- Join as participating members of collaborative teams that share knowledge about high-quality instruction.
- Analyze data to identify and amplify effective practices.
- Demonstrate a commitment to constant professional growth by researching, reading and reflecting on learning.
- Use their school’s mission, vision and values statements as guideposts for every decision.
- Consider, confront and/or abandon practices that appear to be inconsistent with their school’s mission, vision and values statements.
Attention to Individual Students
Decision-making on a middle school learning team that is committed to ensuring high student achievement and valuing the unique needs of every learner is driven by the distinguishing characteristics of preteen learners. Still developing physically, cognitively and emotionally, middle grades students present more classroom diversity than their elementary and high school counterparts. Struggling with organization, task completion, consistency and a developing identity, the students of most middle school classrooms will face moments of great challenge at some point during their sixth, seventh or eighth grade school years.
These differences are recognized and respected on exemplary middle school learning teams where:
- Multiple opportunities to master academic content are offered.
- Structured feedback about content mastery AND productive work behaviors are provided to both parents and students.
- Ongoing support is offered for students struggling with social interactions and personal development.
- A range of extracurricular experiences are developed that provide every child with a place to belong.
- Celebrations of student success are frequent and take many forms.
While still developing physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally, students can—and should—play a valuable role in ensuring their own success. With the support of their teachers, students on exemplary middle school learning teams:
- Begin to accept responsibility for their own learning.
- Identify and pursue areas of deep personal interest.
- Actively track their own academic progress, identifying areas of strength and weakness.
- Seek out connections between the content that they are studying in school.
- Understand their role as a co-learner in a classroom and respect the different personalities, opinions and abilities of their peers.
- Allow their own thinking to be challenged and actively challenge the thinking of their classmates.
Parents and Community Members
Perhaps the saddest reality in schools today is that parents and community members are often marginalized. While schools expect constant support from the communities that they serve, there are few formalized opportunities for parents and volunteers to be actively engaged in efforts to ensure high student achievement and to value the unique needs of every learner.
Exemplary middle school learning teams recognize the power of parents and community partners by:
- Regularly communicating with parents about the academic, social and emotional successes and struggles of students.
- Establishing meaningful volunteer opportunities that support the academic, social and emotional development of students.
- Engaging parents and community members in conversations about school programs.
- Developing community orientation programs that introduce interested citizens to the content and curriculum of the middle grades classroom.
- Eliciting support and guidance for school programs from local businesses.