Our adventures in beginning what will be an Integrated Learning Program for the high school population of our school has, thus far, been crazy, but also great. Much of the craziness of it has been due to the fact that we’ve been working toward this different model of instruction and delivery while at the same time wrapping our heads around the fact that we will also be housing an Elementary Program next year. This makes for a lot of “newness” going on in our hallowed halls (and for some very messy offices!)
When our district announced the reconfiguration of all schools to either Elementary (K-7) or Secondary (8-12), the 4 Middle Schools were each faced with entirely new configurations. Two of them would become K-7 Elementary Schools; one of them would become a satellite campus to an 8-12 Secondary School. And our little ol’ Middle School (housed on the top floor of our 6-12 building) would shift from a Middle School Model (6-8s) to an Elementary one (Grades 4-7s). Nicole and I would remain as the Principal and Vice-Principal of the building (thank goodness for that!). This was a scary thought for us, as neither of us have any experience in Elementary. But, we were willing to take on the challenge, and a challenge it has been.
Wrapping our minds around staffing, contact-time, and Music Teachers was difficult, as we are very used to thinking in terms of secondary school. Fortunately, we have a fantastic supportive network of elementary principal colleagues whom we affectionately refer to as our Elementary Wizards. We love our Wizards, but we aren’t positive that our Wizards appreciate our many cries for help. While we may send more lengthy emails (cleverly laced with our crazy humor, so as to butter them up!) than they would like clogging up their inboxes, they are always on-board to reply with insights and sound advice. Without this supportive network, we’d be miles behind where we are now. As an aside, many of them have frightened us with crazy talk of things like indoor shoes, cubby holes, and Christmas concerts. We are unsure of what to make of such foreign concepts.
The first challenge was to try to create an Elementary Model that fits into our unique configuration of a 4-12 school. The parents in our community have expressed that they would like the Elementary program to run the same daily hours and yearly calendar as our Secondary school. The primary reason for this hope was the desire to have siblings in the same school on the same schedule (for bussing, walking to and from, and parent pick up/drop off). Made sense to us. What didn’t make sense what trying to figure out how to make that work, as well as honor a Middle Years philosophy that our Grade 6 and 7 teachers wanted to hold on to.
After what felt like days and days (and a few too many plates of nachos!) of tirelessly looking at excel spreadsheets, and becoming BFFs with a damn calculator (FTE has never been so confusing to me before!), we finally had a semblance of something that we believed could work. In reflection, we realize that we are tremendously lucky to have the resources of the high school to help support our desires for what we want our Elementary model to look like:
1. Teaming? Check. Rather than running a straight 7 class, a 6/7 split, and a straight 6, we are going to run three 6/7 splits classes. The three teachers are excited to share duties for all three groups. One teacher will teach them Math and French. Another will do the PE and English. And the third will run the Science and Socials program. We will also have two 4/5 classes and the teachers who have transferred into these positions are keen to team-teach as well. Win win, we say!
2. Exploratory options for students? Check. It isn’t as robust as we have had with our true Middle School Model (6-8s), but it’s something. At first, it was really difficult to figure out, but with a little shuffling of staffing we were able to make it work. Rather than have Nicole or I have our teaching time in the Elementary model, we shifted all of our teaching time to the high school, and shifted a wee bit of time from our high school Art Teacher and Shop Teacher to the Elementary school. Our 6s and 7s will rotate through periods of time in Art, Music, and Wood Shop. Our 4s and 5s will rotate through time in Art and Music (no woodshop for the little guys!).
3. Common Non Instructional Time for teamed teachers? Check. This one was only possible because we were able to pull of the exploratory coup. But, since we were able to do so, the Grade 6/7 teachers will all have common non-instructional blocks, as will the 4/5 teachers. While there is no contractual obligation for this time to be “prep” time, our teachers all have a history of planning parent meetings, working on IEPs, and discussing learners and learning plans during this time. We are confident that they will continue with this practice next year too.
I realize that this blog post is encroaching on “too long”, so I will save the rest of our Elementary Adventures for the next installment. The bottom line here is that we are so fortunate to have awesome Wizards in our lives to help us out (I should probably dedicate an entire post to our wonderful Wizards one day), and an awesome staff in our building who want to make this work.