In Students’ Voices: the Power of Student Led Conferences

December 8, 2012

]This year in my blog I am featuring writers from across our schools  – educators and learners alike. I recently was perusing the Sutherland Middle School Blog site, one that is run by students for students as well as the greater community. In fact, in one blog post this fall, the student bloggers, Sydney, Lauren, Sara, Kathryn, and Nan, documented the global hits on their blog page to show their audience isn’t just our local community, but an international community. In an earlier post this fall, they interviewed and videotaped comments from students in Mrs. Harris’ classes about their participation in student led conferences.

Teachers in a number of our schools have actively involved students in conferences with parents so that our learners have the opportunity to share their successes and areas for improvement with parents. Greer Elementary is one such school and in past years, all children from pre-kindergarteners to fifth graders have had the chance to show their portfolios to parents  and describe what they know, understand and can do as learners.

I selected this sample post from the Sutherland Middle School October blog about Mrs. Harris’ effort to engage young people in assessing their progress in school. I particularly appreciate that middle school students learn from the experience that they have important information to share about what and how well they are learning as well as to share learning goals with parents. In the student led conference format, they are not just listeners to their parents and their teacher talking about them. As active participants they have planned what they intend to say and share. In doing so, they must reflect on choices they’ve made, work ethic, challenges they’ve faced, successes they’ve experienced, and why their own commitment to learning is key to their effort. Here’s the student bloggers’ post and video:

 About Us

This blog is run by a group of Sutherland students. Its purpose is to share with the community what is going on at school.

If you have any compliments, concerns, or complaints please email us at sharkyearbook@gmail.com. Thanks.

Parent Conferences

The second night of parent / teacher conferences is tonight from. 4:30 -7:30 and teachers along with some students are getting prepared.  One teacher, Ms. Harris, does her conferences a little differently than the other teachers.  Ms.Harris’ students participate in student lead conferences where the kids not the teacher leads the conference to tell the parents how they are doing in class.  We interviewed some students to explain how this works and it’s effectiveness.
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Welcome to the 2012-13 School Year!

August 1, 2012

Welcome to the 2012-13 School Year. The first week in August can be bittersweet for educators and families as summer turns to the start of school. The first week in August, our Leadership Team of principals and department heads will meet together to ensure that all the“i’s are dotted and t’s crossed” as we finalize bus transportation plans, complete maintenance work so that facilities are ready for students, and prepare to welcome new educators to our schools during the New Teacher Academy.  As Assistant Superintendent Matt Haas wrote recently in our Leadership Blog, summer vacation isn’t always a long vacation for many educators – or our learners.

Educators at EDCampCville

I’ve had the good fortune to observe and connect with educators and students throughout the summer as learning opportunities continue in June, July, and August from the last day of school to this week. Teacher leaders from every school gathered for three days in June at the annual Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction (CAI) Institute to work on performance assessment tasks for each curricular area. As a lead-in activity to the CAI Institute,educators from across Central Virginia came to Sutherland Middle School for a day of sharing learning strategies and contemporary tech tools.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a similar activity occurred at Stone-Robinson Elementary, an edtech boot camp attended by about one hundred teachers teaching and learning with each other. Walking around, I noticed teachers learning to use interactive white board technologies, communication tools such as Skype, and specific applications to support math problem-solving, visible thinking, and writing.  Last week, I visited the University of Virginia Young Writers’ Workshop being held at Sweet Briar College and had the chance to observe a fourth grade teacher from one of our schools teaching writing to high school students from all over the world. At the end of this week, four of our middle schools will be fielding Science- Technology- Engineering- Mathematics teams to participate in the University of Virginia’s Can-Lead STEM grant to develop stronger instructional competencies in inquiry and project based learning at the middle school level. I also look forward to the Shannon Foundation Awards Ceremony where a number of local teachers will receive funding for innovative projects that will benefit children in our schools.

Our young people have also been busy this summer. We’ve had summer enrichment and summer tutoring programs occurring across schools from a middle school jazz band camp to a high school leadership academy that’s featured leaders from a variety of fields speaking to participants about beliefs, competencies, and dispositions demonstrated by successful leaders. Next week, about 200 learners across all levels will come together in our first summer Coding Academy an opportunity to learn computational thinking with teachers and community volunteers from the programming community. Earlier in the summer, artistically talented middle school students participated in the regional Governor’s Reflections Academy for the Visual Arts. The Office of Community Engagement co-sponsored with State Farm Insurance and the 100 Black Men of Central Virginia a math readiness  Academy, M-cubed. We are especially proud of the ten high school graduates from our summer program for students pursuing a high school diploma.

M-Cubed Program at Burley Middle

The 2012-13 school year will begin later in August with about 100 new teachers moving into classrooms across our schools. We will open our second high school academy at Monticello High. The Health and Medical Sciences Academy will offer its participants the chance to pursue a high school program of studies that can lead to post-secondary programs in a variety of fields in health and medicine including but not limited to biomedical engineering, nursing, or technical work. This new companion to the MESA academy at Albemarle High adds to our suite of customized options for secondary learners including CATEC, Murray High, and the Community Charter Middle School based at Burley.

We also have minor renovations to the Walton, Jouett, and Brownsville school libraries as we refurbish older facilities and create contemporary learning spaces. As with public libraries, the use of technologies that enhance and extend accessibility to library resources is critical in school libraries, too. Our librarians will be more important than ever in the coming decades as a result of the explosion of Internet and electronic resources available for use by learners. Teaching students how to find appropriate and credible resources presents the need for a different kind and level of curation by librarians.

Because of the success of pilot programs at Crozet and Cale Elementary Schools, we are expanding our digital fabrication technologies to reach more students through the elementary gifted program, allowing access to engineering processes and projects as learners design and create using software and 3-D printers.

Digital fabrication blueprints

Finally, we will open a new addition at Greer Elementary for preschool, kindergarten, and visual arts students. This new addition offers space for multi-age learning opportunities, inside and outside of the school. It’s exciting to see a facility that was designed with contemporary learners in mind, but at a reasonable cost to our community.

Quest Fest: Children sharing their research

Thank you to everyone who helps us offer our local young people the best educators we can find to work in our well-maintained school facilities. Nothing is more important to sustaining the future of the United States than a well-educated citizenry. While educators face challenges every day, I know from my experiences in our schools during winter, spring, summer, and fall that young people obtain an excellent education in this county from top-notch teachers. It was true for my son as he moved through elementary, middle, and high school here and I believe it’s true for the young people we serve today.

Quality doesn’t happen by chance. It happens because of the community support offered to our public schools from the business community, senior citizens, parent volunteers, and our School Board members. Thank you and we hope you will visit with us and consider volunteering in our great schools!