Thursday, August 23, 2012

Community and Business

Culture and Community

"We want business partners, not just donations"

Public schools are very dependent upon their community and business partners.  Not just for money, but for support of development of their students.

Communities and business partners can help with the development of our students as they move out into the real world.  Successful preparations for college, career, job employment and independence is a very large part of what a successful cooperative relationship between schools, the community and its business partners can achieve.

As someone who is very much a part of the PTA and SLT at my school, I have worked with the community and the business partners in development of workshops, seminars and focus groups that address the necessary needs of students, families and educators of our special needs students.

The previous school year, we increased our parents participation involvement into the PTA by hosting several community and business partners at these meetings.  The creation of the workshops and informational sessions were developed in two-fold.

Our parents would receive much free and needed  information on how to acquire certain National, State and Local services that are necessary for the academic and personal well-being of our students. Such information on at home "Speech Therapist Services", "Communication Devices", "Legal Guardianship", "housing" and much, much more is not only important to the families of our students, but to the agencies providing the information.  Businesses, such as financial institutions, technology companies, health and nutrition companies attended our :"Family Fun Day", a day where families and students could have fun, but learn about important information they would not know of otherwise concerning the rights and services available for disabled students.

It also created a great way for the school to network within the business community and to have support not only financially, but educationally the programs for our students.  For example, we established a internship with a very famous cooking school where our students who were interested would learn how to cook, not only for themselves, but even the possibility that some of them might want to have a career in the culinary industry.

We worked with a technology company to create a mentoring program in which our students learned about computers and their uses and what they could be used for.  This supported our literacy program and students learned how to communicate using email programs, Skype and other communicative technology.

We also had a tour of company that makes clothing on Fifth Avenue and even our students were able to make some of these items on their own.

It gave our students and their families to see all the different choices there are in the world for their children.  Business Partners are not just donations.

Successful schools like San Francisco Unified School District and ER Taylor who got funding and support from a business partner for the Healthy Start Program or the Gwinnett County Public School District and the Chamber of Commerce, in Atlanta, Georgia, where my brother and his family live who has a great program developed on getting businesses involved in supporting their schools.

Family Involvement

Culture and Community

"As a parent I want to know my child's school vision"

Parent involvement is a key aspect to a successful school culture and community.  Without parent’s involvement, school community could not be successful.   Young adolescents need the participation and guidance not just from educators and the school environment, but from their families as well.

Family structure has changed over the past few years.  There are more students coming from single parents, same sex marriages and relationships and alternative guardianship families than ever before.  Families are an integral part of the school environment and their voices are important to the foundation of understanding our students.

It the reason why involvement of families in Parent Teacher Associations, IEP meetings, extracurricular activities and educational goals are so instrumental in creating a warm and inviting atmosphere for our students.

As example, in my school we have the School Leadership Team.  This team is comprised of not only the administrators and educators, but parents as well.  While on the SL Team, families voices are heard and their input is added into the daily, weekly and monthly information that is distributed to the school.  Their thoughts on where they think their children should be and how to make a school environment that is communicative, understanding, nurturing and caring is merged into school curricula and organizational structures.

Different culture backgrounds and ethnicities are taken into account when the school calendar is developed and when programs are implemented.  Communications is the key to fostering a well-developed school environment and student population.

Without family involvement, there is no reinforcement of the mission, principles, goals or vision of the school. As I heard once before at an SLT meeting, "school is more than just learning literacy, math, science and social studies".  Family involvement makes a failing school, successful as in the video above entitled "Parent Involvement Contributes to Results" about the Parks Middle School in Atlanta.

Health and Wellness

Culture and Community

"Knowing thy Body"

Health and wellness is another important characteristic of a great school.  This is especially a needed part of helping young adolescents in their development. In the textbook, This We Believe, it says, “a coordinated health program concentrates on those areas of students’ lives that either enhance or interfere with learning”.
Health programs implemented within the school system is part of the school’s structure and foundation for wellness of students.  Young adolescents are going through changes including puberty which not only affects them physically, but emotionally as well.  Their social behavior and the discovery of the new physical bodies and the changes, create a world of mystery, wonder and confusion for young adolescents.

Health and wellness programs, which are integrated or become part of the curriculum, become a way to give students information on the reasons why their bodies are changing and how to address the problems that comes with development of body odor,  first menstrual, eating disorders and unhealthy snacking, physical fitness and health preventions.

Young adolescents are affected by all types of influences including one of the most important influences, the media.  Media tells our students how much they should weigh to look beautiful, what type of nose or eyes they have to had to be considered lovely, what is normal hair or skin color.  Our students listen to radio, watch television, listen to podcasts, text message, browse the Internet and live for social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. 

Unfortunately, not everything communicated with these devices are beneficial for our students.   Some of it is “bad advice” and our students are very impressionable especially during adolescence.   We want our students to have the correct knowledge so it can be utilized in the correct way.

Teaching our students how to resolve social confrontations and communicate effectively about their needs and issues is also a part of health and wellness and when our lessons model acceptable behavior, our very observant students can mirror them and also become a more integrate part of the world around them.
In our school, which is a District 75 school with a population of students with Autism we integrate life skills as part of the overall curriculum.  Our students are learning about health and wellness through a science curriculum and lesson plans.  We have developed hands-on lessons that have our students looking at diseases and understanding the causes of disease.  This is the way we link what they are learning to real life application.

The video above was created and produced by the "Jeffco Public Schools" of Colorado.

Here is the link.

Jeffco Public Schools Health Video

Guidance Services

Culture and Community

"How can I support my student?"

Guidance Services is described as a “comprehensive guidance and support services that meet the needs of young adolescents”.  But it is really much, much more.  Guidance is how we assist our students in resolving personal, physical and emotional challenges. Whether it is at home or school, our students need the support that comes from effective guidance services to help them get over the hurdles in their lives.

Continuous interactions and communications between service providers is very important for the positive development of our students.  As students of this century, they are bombarded with all types of decisions and choices which can affect their well-being.  Drugs, puberty, peer-pressure, sexual orientation and other social adjustments are constantly being thrown in the way of the young adolescent.

It is where guidance services can have an impact on the direction a student might take, either positive or negative and move them towards a beneficial path.  An effective guidance services program brings together all of the important pieces that is needed to support the whole student. 

Counselors, psychiatrists, teachers, social workers, school nurses and community liaisons, along with family members can help young adolescents to navigate their way through puberty and other social issues as they move towards adulthood. 

Transitional programs are very valuable to young teenagers who are moving from middle school to high school.  Changes of learning environments can dramatically affect a student’s ability to function and learn effectively. 

For my school it is very important as any type of changes for students affected with Autism can create havoc for the student, the teacher and the family.  It is why my school has a great transitional program in place.  

They create packets gives the family and the student steps in the transitional process and what to expect.  They students and their families get to visit the high school they will be going to so they can meet with their new teachers, see their new learning environment and learn about their new schedule.  The visit is coordinated with the school psychiatrist, the school nurse and other service providers that are part of the student’s “individual educational plan”.

It has been very successful since its implementation in September, 2011.  It has been complimented and raved by the parents, the students and the school staff.

School Environment

Culture and Community

"Our students want to be accepted and respected."

A school environment that promotes safety, caring, understanding and is a well-rounded learning environment is one of the most important aspects of creating a school culture and community.  It is not only inviting to its students, but to educators, the students' families, the community and its business partners.

The school environment is not just important to the well-being of the students, but to the staff as well. The staff and students should feel that they will not be persecuted because of their race, religion or sexual orientation.  That they have a voice in the school and it is respected by all who are part of the school culture.

Bullying, harassment, physical or sexual and verbal abuse would not be acceptable in a great school environment.  It would promote learning and collaboration and tolerance. Students and educators listen to each other and understand the issues that each face as they traverse the educational system.

Students are encouraged to be risk-takers and take control of their own learning through the environment.  They do not fear the sadness that comes from failure or frustration because they have learned how to circumvent or ways of dealing with it without it being self-demeaning.  Students feel valued and have a place where they are decision-makers.

In my school we have proactive programs that addresses bullying, verbal abuse, harassment and other negative actions that may affect a student’s physical and emotional well-being. Students want to know that they are accepted and respected.

This is utmost important in a special needs environment.  I find that this type of student population has more occurrences with these types of social incidents, more than the general education population.  I believe that statistics are less known about our student population due to the fact that it is rarely reported because of our student’s inability to self-advocate.

In our presentations at PTA meetings and special events, we find that the community itself is more acceptable of our students than student population who commutes into the school.  There seems to be less acceptance from these students than students who live in the neighborhood and seem to have a more personal and cultural relationship with our students (there are four different schools sharing the building, including one charter school and many of the students come from different neighborhoods and parts of the city).

But we are trying to reach out to sister schools, especially the Charter school since they are unfamiliar with having interactions with our students like the Public School General Education population (currently Charter schools do not have any special need students in their population of moderate or severe diagnosis).  So far this has been successful, but it has taken a lot of collaborative meetings, community meetings and student council meetings to try and change the current school culture of segregation between disabled and non-disabled students.

It is my believe that with cooperation from all students, community leaders, families and educators we can create a caring and healthy learning environment for our students.  A place where all students are "accepted and respected".

Here is an article on "School Bullying and Special Needs Population".

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Organizational Structures

Leadership and Organization

"There is no I in the word Team."

This has always been my favorite saying.  As individuals we know our potential, but as a team it is yet realized.  As educators, organizational structures are needed to establish learning relationships between educators and students.  We sometimes believe that an organizational structure needs to be inflexible and rigid.  This is found not to be necessarily effective.  A young adolescent's ideas and values change as they become young adults.  There are many influences that create the final adolescent human development cycle and it changes constantly.

In the textbook, Organizational Structures are defined as "fostering purposeful learning and meaningful relationships”.  The organizational structure helps to improve student achievement.  Our students are very observant.  They watch how educators work with each other.  When educators and students are given the ability and schedule to work collaboratively in the planning and implementation of their learning, then students learn how to utilize this new skill in real life applications.  There is also the benefit for educators to understand the whole student and not just the piece that they interact with during regular classroom time.

Educators also must have scheduled time to meet, to discuss a student’s progress and determine what the next steps might or should be.  Without this time to do this, an educator is basically working on their own and not getting the information they need to create an effective curriculum and learning environment for their students.

When I mentioned that organizational structures should not be inflexible or rigid, this is in reference to how we schedule classroom time, the environment it is implemented and how it is assessed.  For example, I am a cluster teacher and as a cluster teacher I do not have the same students every day.  Most of my students I see only two to three times a week depending upon their schedule.  But there are times that the schedule changes and this affects my students’ learning time.  Most of my students have been diagnosed with Autism and their computer time is important for continued socialization and communicative growth. 

By collaborating with my fellow educators, we create a schedule where the computer class is integrated into a lesson that the classroom teacher had prepared.  Of course, this takes extra time to coordinate into a cohesive lesson, as I usually have my own lesson plans, but I think if it was not for the collaboration of my fellow colleagues, this would not be possible.  We added more time on to the class period which was approved by my administrator and we found that the schedule did not interfere in any other important schedule time, like lunch or recess or dismissal.  This created a flexible learning environment for our students and it did not have a large impact on schedule of the curriculum.

There is also another example of how a school can create a lasting relationship between educators and students.  One of my friends teaches at a public school in the Bronx.  This school is an alternative structured school, one of the few public schools in the city that has grades Kindergarten to 8th grade in the same building. 

The educators in the school have the ability to move forward with their students that is to be the teachers for the same students as they traverse the educational system. There is a three-year limit when they must turn over their class to another teacher. She has had the same students for three years now and she feels it has made a big difference in the relationship she had with her students.  They see her as someone who is committed and invested in their learning.  This has also given her more time to assess her students’ abilities and progress as they mature.  On the other side, her students have the highest achievement level in the school and she contributes this to the fact that they had been together for three years where time has given her the ability to make a big difference in their learning.

When they move onto their next step which is 7th grade (the school has kindergarten to 8th grade), she has detailed analysis of each child that she can then pass on to the 8th grade teacher.  The 8th grade teacher will have an advantage that most other educators of other schools do not have.

As we can see, there are several ways to implement a flexible, integrated, collaborative and beneficial organizational structure that not only helps educators to be successful, but our students as well.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Shared Vision

Leadership and Organization

"On the same page"

"Why aren't our administrators on the same page?" was a question put to me by one of my Unit Coordinators.  A Unit Coordinator is a teacher who manages the daily issues in the school surrounding staff personnel, safety of the environment and the students, and the basic every day running of the school.  But he had one issue that affected not just his responsibility, but the school's as well.  The leadership and organization of the school did not necessarily have a shared vision.  It was written on paper and documented in the school's mission statement, but it was not implemented correctly.

A "shared vision" creates continuity in a school environment.  One that keeps a cohesive and collaborative path for students, teachers, administrators, families and community to follow and have a part in its construction.

An example of this is "Oranga Primary School" in New Zealand.  Oranga Primary School realized that "cultural change" was very important for the school and community and this became their shared vision.  Students who start the primary school at age 5 come speaking different languages, other than English.  They also belong to different ingenious tribes and have different values and beliefs.

The staff and administration realized that this would be an issue in creating a "shared vision" for the school and so they decided that one of the "mission statements" Lincoln High School administrators and staff have realized in order to create an effective change in a shared vision, they needed to find out what is the "silver bullet" that would do this.  They discovered that their "silver bullet" was their teachers.  Change had to come from their teachers and this is where they concentrated on developing.

The teachers with the help of the families and communities went to the Islands where the students and families culture originated.  There, they learned all about the culture of their students and then took this knowledge back with them to their school to incorporate into their school environment.

They found that incorporating the culture into their lesson plans, into their classroom environments, into the curriculum itself created more successful students and made connection to students and content.  Since a lot of this was prior knowledge for the students, they were able to relate to the information and apply to their own experiences.

Oranga School - New Zealand