Resolutions for the new school year
Linda Mulvey, Tammy Mangus, Julie Porter and Billy Spicer
August 8, 2016

With the new academic year almost upon us, four education leaders weigh in about their most important guiding principles for the 2016-17. Here’s what they said.

Linda Mulvey, chief academic officer, Syracuse City School District, New York

The school leader is one of the most important factors in the success of a school. To that end, our district has crafted a unique leadership support system that we’ll continue this year. These three focus areas constitute our “secret sauce” for supporting leaders in different roles. 

  1. Clear expectations for school leaders: SCSD built a leadership framework from the ground up to ensure it meets the needs of our local context. 
  2. A differentiated leadership pathway: We provide a leadership pathway that consists of aspiring leaders, vice principals and ultimately school leaders.
  3. A customized, job-embedded support system for each stakeholder: The district built a unique leadership academy grounded in the specific initiatives of the district and engages leaders in regular conversations about the issues they are facing on a day-to-day basis in their role. 

Tammy Mangus, superintendent, Monticello Central School District, New York

In my district, we talk a lot about being kind to students. The acronym THINK is very familiar to my teachers, students and staff. It stands for these five questions:

  1. Is it True?
  2. Is it Helpful?
  3. Is it Inspiring?
  4. Is it Necessary?
  5. Is it Kind?

While my teachers are extremely kind to students, there are situations where students are what I call “compassionately rescued” from their struggles. In other words, teachers who are worried about a student’s confidence may rescue a struggling student, allowing them to move forward to the next level when they haven’t shown mastery of a skill or standard or helping them too quickly instead of letting them “fight through” academic struggles in order to really grow.  Although these teachers believe they are being kind to the student at the time, this has a major impact on each student’s long-term educational development. As a former English teacher, it’s clear to me that reading level defines student success. If a student reads on grade level, their likelihood of being successful dramatically increases. This is the reason my elementary schools work to build a strong phonics foundation for all students and help struggling readers learn to read so they are prepared for life.

This past school year, we revamped the meaning of “THINK” to help teachers understand the benefits of truthful kindness and necessary action. Using data, teachers are transparent with students and parents about where students measure compared to state standards and student averages. Keeping kindness in mind, teachers will take necessary action to help each child reach their goals and achieve at a level above average compared to standards. I assure my teachers that if they implement the components of THINK, they will become the inspirational teacher they hope to be. Teachers practicing truthful kindness and taking necessary action, as opposed to compassionate rescue, are the ones who get remembered.

Julie Porter, education consultant

This new school year, I resolve to:

  • Get to know my students quickly, and help them to know each other. I will prepare a business card template for them either on paper or electronically. The students can add selfies, several facts about themselves, and something they are good at. The collected cards become a bank I can keep for future reference.
  • Reward the students often, and creatively, using badges. I resolve to make some new badges to reward students for collaborating, being creative, asking good questions, being kind, and so forth. I will also encourage students to think of potential new badges that they would like to see awarded to other students, helping us to create a positive classroom culture in which everyone is actively looking for ways to acknowledge each other.
  • Use calling on the next student as an opportunity to learn about a math concept, such as rows and columns. I will create a “Who’s Next” page to display, using students’ names (or their selfies!) placed in a table format, with rows and columns. I will place two spinners on the page: one for rows and one for columns. As each student comes to the board, their final task will be to choose the next participant by spinning and identifying the student by row and column. This will be a fun and easy way to reinforce a concept that even many adults have trouble with: what is a row, and what is a column? By having several different pages with different arrays of students, I can ensure that everyone grasps this concept.

Billy Spicer, elementary teacher, Issac Fox Elementary, Illinois

What if the first day of school was more about changing the world together than about, say, learning targets and standards? That’s right: no textbooks, no syllabi, no project expectations necessary. Instead, why not focus on establishing innovative thinking, courtesy of the design thinking framework?

For educators unfamiliar with design thinking, it is a creative process that allows teachers to design meaningful solutions for the classroom, school and community environments. The folks at d.school: Institute of Design at Stanford have been at the forefront of publishing resources for teachers to use in implementing this innovative framework. Most important for teachers to understand is that it all starts with empathy.

And what better way to kick off a new school year than to stress the importance of empathy to a new group of students? Empathy is at the heart of any design. Without the understanding of what others feel, see, and experience, what’s the point? Sadly, that’s what many students ask when given a task or activity to complete.

With design thinking acting as the driving force, students are truly in the driver’s seat of their own learning. Remarkable learning can occur when it begins with empathy for others. Not sure of a good activity to launch design thinking in your classroom? Start by having your students set up their own furniture and work areas. Give it a try and see for yourself!

Linda Mulvey is the chief academic officer of Syracuse City School District in New York, which partnered with Insight Education Group to build its leadership academy. Tammy Mangus is the superintendent of Monticello Central School District in New York, where the elementary schools use Reading Horizons to build a strong phonics foundation for all students. Julie Porter is an education consultant with Promethean. She taught K-8 music and art at Denver Christian Schools in Colorado before moving back home to San Diego, where she teaches teachers to use Promethean products such as ClassFlow. Billy Spicer is an elementary teacher at Issac Fox Elementary in Lake Zurich, IL, where he uses the myON personalized literacy environment.

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