The 5 Things You Need to Make Your School Great

This was the first weekend in a very long time that we’ve had sunshine and warmth. Springtime in Wisconsin (albeit very late this year) always brings about a promise of what we know will follow. The ‘greening’ of everything around us and the growth pushing through the ground are reminders that the seasons cycle, ultimately, and with the exception of taking better care of our environment, there is little we have to do with this cycle.

To me, the analogy to students receiving a public education is obvious. No matter what happens, children arrive at the threshold of our schools on or around September 1 every year and leave us again sometime in June. We have no control over the students that are sent to us. They arrive and we teach them. Like flowers in the spring, we nurture their growth and watch them go through changes throughout their years with us. It is our hope that when they leave the K-12 system, they will become productive, well-educated, happy members of society. Yet, are we really making any change to the system which they go through? Are the students of today getting a radically different education than generations gone by?

I contend that we know what is good in schools. We have the knowledge that what makes schools great is simple: (1) education built on experiential, developmentally appropriate practices; (2) deep and meaningful parental and community involvement; (3) engaged highly-trained educational professionals who are given time to meaningfully collaborate and are passionate about their roles in the school while receiving ongoing training in effective practices; (4) a strong school leader; (5) enough funding to be able to ensure the first four items listed. And yet, we continue to try to find quick fixes because we don’t implement one through five above.

My daughter, Celeste, is eight years old. Her classroom is a 2nd/3rd grade multi-age and her teacher is wonderful. Energetic, positive, and a good communicator. Celeste is the last of my four children to have gone through this school district. We have seen NCLB come and go (almost), Assertive Discipline, basal reading series, multi-age and single grade classes, PBIS including rewards and punishments, the WI Model Academic Standards and now the Common Core State Standards, and the list goes on. Just recently I found out that the district is implementing Mondo: a reading series that they hope will ‘fix’ what’s wrong with literacy instruction and Celeste’s school is doing away with multi-age classrooms because it’s “too hard to meet the CCSS if you are teaching more than one grade”. The cycle seems to never end. Does this sound like your school or district? Probably so. I see this everywhere.

While there is nothing wrong with the CCSS or Mondo, the problem is that their implementation detracts from a focus on what matters most – a deep consideration of how we teach. Experiential learning in Celeste’s school is almost nonexistent. If the students go on a field trip it must be with the entire grade and no more than once a month. The trip has to have a direct tie to the CCSS for that grade level or they can’t go. We’ve seen educational trends and approaches come and go. We all roll our eyes as a new focus or system is implemented. We know that in a few years there will be something new. The problem is that these new systems rarely are a step forward in what counts. Too often we ignore the essentials that are found in our most innovative schools and superimpose a structure that disallows what is most important.

We know what’s wrong, and I believe we know what works. It’s up to all of us who care about education to ask for, advocate for, and ultimately demand that schools move forward to the essentials: experiential education, collaborative practice, focus on individuals, and encouraging students to explore how they learn, so that they’ll keep learning long after they’ve left our schools.

We nourish these flowers, and it’s a cliche to say we’re sowing seeds of the future. But just as we know a lot about how plants grow, we know enough about how children learn to proceed with a certain confidence in our fundamental approach, and not be fooled by the topdressing of the latest educational trend.

If you are interested in really moving forward, please consider partnering with the WISN. We look forward to the seasons with you.

Heather Terrill Stotts, Executive Director
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2 Valuable Features of the WISN “School Profile”

The “School Profile” online platform was released this past week to schools that are contracting with the WISN for services. Once a school has receive a log in email they have access to the exciting features below. 

  1. Unique snapshot of a school’s structure and innovation.
  2. Document Warehouse
  3. Coming Soon! Media Warehouse

1. Unique snapshot of a school’s structure and innovation.
Once logged into the school profile you will have the ability to answer a variety of questions that plot to show the makeup of your schools innovations. When users have filled in a schools information they will be able to visually share the makeup of that school to parents and the community. The school profile is editable at any time to show how your school is growing and changing. Example below. 

2. Document Warehouse
Within your school profile you have the ability to import and store important documents. Some of these documents could include:

  • School Development / Governance Docs (contracts, bylaws, grants, calendars, meeting agendas/minutes
  • Curriculum Docs(rubrics, project guides, standards, personal learning plans, student work samples)
  • Community Docs (press releases, handouts, testimonies)
  • Administration Docs (reports, budgets, job posting, enrollment/registration)

3. COMING SOON! Media Warehouse
The media warehouse gives users a place to store and share photos and videos of creative projects and learning events. Just import the image or youtube/vimeo link to start filing your warehouse.

Start a school youtube account here.
Start a school vimeo account here.

We are excited for schools to begin using this online tool.  The WISN web team is working hard with developers to give users the ability to share, comment and correspond with other schools and staff. Be looking for updates throughout the fall.   Contact todd@innovativeschoolsnetwork.com for more information.

Web Development Task Force Update

Technology is changing at the speed of light, making the obstacle of distance in collaboration shrink drastically.  The WISN has made a commitment to harness the capabilities of current technologies to form a web based platform for educators. The development of this platform will allow schools, educators, innovators, and students from around the state to share ideas and resources quickly and network organically.  Phase I of this online tool is currently in development.

Phase I “School Profile”
The focus of Phase I is to give charter schools around the state a place online to showcase the hard work that has gone into the planning, establishment and growth of their school. Schools will have the ability to create their own profile that gives an indepth look at the unique aspects of their structure and innovation.  Essentially schools will be able to browse and search other schools in the state in order to share resources and ideas.  The largest hill to climb currently is getting a number of schools to beta test the platform. If your school would like to be one of the first to navigate this exciting new online collaboration tool please contact the WISN and leave the name of your school and a contact person at Heather@InnovativeSchoolsNetwork.com

Follow us on twitter, facebook, google+ and linkedin for more updates on Phase I and subsequent phases.