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In a ballroom at the nearby Hilton Anaheim, several schools set up displays sharing the remarkable work they are doing. It was all part of the Successful Schools Showcase, one of the new session types featured at this year’s ASCD conference.
Each of these schools brought a number of staff members, and even some students, to share their experiences. A counselor from Saunders Middle School in Prince William County, Virginia, told me that preparing for this presentation forced staff to really focus on identifying the myriad things they have been doing. She was amazed to see it all pulled together in one place. It’s so easy for us to get lost in the details of every day work and miss out on what is happening in other areas of a school or lose site of the vast scope of work everyone is doing. It is exciting to see schools celebrate themselves.
For this showcase, schools shared their students’ academic learning and work products, including astonishing engineering projects that were beyond my understanding and an intensive project focused on last year’s election. The products varied greatly, but all had one thing in common: they were public in some way. Students documented their learning not just for their teachers but also for others to learn from.
Eighth graders researched the four final presidential candidates last year, created charts and websites with information about each candidate’s stance on various issue, and designed infographics to help others understand those issues better. The students then led a whole school (K-12) election. It’s easy to see that as a social studies unit, but it included so much more. The research and synthesis skills required to create the charts and infographics will be useful across the grade and subject levels, as are the skills involved in educating others about the candidates and the election, particularly across a wide range of ages.
The school presenters also discussed the social and emotional learning benefits for their students. For one school, this meant “servant leadership,” or the idea that one must first serve to lead well. Another school described how students “make good choices, speak kindly to others, treat others with respect, and aim for success.” Whether the schools chose to highlight social and emotional learning as separate from academic learning or to illustrate the two concepts as intertwined, it was clear that both are integral to all of the schools’ successes.
As I chatted with the representatives of various schools, I was struck by the idea that these staff members are not significantly different from those at any other school. Being a successful school, academically and socioemotionally, is challenging, sure, but it can be done. These schools are doing amazing, inspiring work that you don’t want to miss. The showcase continues on Sunday from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. in the Hilton Anaheim California Ballroom.
Jennifer Orr is a National Board–certified teacher at Lynbrook Elementary in Springfield, Virginia. She has taught elementary school for two decades at various grades in Title I schools. When she’s not at Lynbrook, she can be found on Twitter @jenorr or at www.jenorr.com.
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