A (Momentary?) Sigh of Relief – And Time to Consider A School Vision

The first two months of the school year are chaotic – especially when those two months are the first two months in a new role. While I am grateful for all of the support I have, (both from my board’s leadership and my own school staff), the reality is that this time is extraordinarily demanding. Now that relationships are established with those connected with my school, deadlines have been met, and a good system is in place to govern the weekly operation of Marathon High School, I can finally catch my breath.

Somewhere there’s a metaphor for life and highways, climbing out of fog, speed limits, etc. reflected in my life

That’s not to suggest that I can rest on my laurels – but I can at least digest and process everything that happened during September and October and plan for the remainder of the semester and school year, (and beyond). I often think how different next year will be as I record notes about things to take care of over the summer, (like Bully Prevention Plans, for example). My experiences this year will make next year a little easier.

During this every so slightly quieter time, my priority is really honing in on my personal vision for Marathon High School. My staff and I have spent time in our professional learning communities identifying our area of greatest need and this has lead to some really good conversations. Through the work we’ve engaged in during Professional Activity we have been able to focus our thinking. Doing this work as a new principal is definitely putting the cart before the horse, especially with the deadlines that come so early in the school year. After considering the direction of our board, (using critical thinking and thinking classrooms, combined with rethinking assessment and evaluation), this is what we came up with:

This goal does two things: first, it expresses that we are, as a school, going to do some focused work in an attempt to drive student learning forward. Second, it does so in an eloquent form of buzzword and edu-babble. Ok, so a timeline was met, but what does any of that mean? How does it tie into my vision for the school!?

As I take advantage of this somewhat quiet time, I’m able to really think about and refocus the goal of our school plan to meet the needs of our students. As the horse gets ahead of the cart and I have time to sift through our data, (and there is so much data) I can do a better job of identifying our needs. There are two pieces of data that I really stopped to look at:

EQAO Literacy Test Data: This data tells me that our students have work to do in order to score at or above provincial expectations. The data suggests our students need work on finding and expressing implicit ideas, grammar, and familiarity with multiple choice questions. A wonderful part of this data is we can focus on individual students and how they performed on the test. This allows us to identify very specific strategies to meet student needs.

In this case, our students performed below the provincial average. Is it the unfamiliar word in the question? How can we provide our students with decoding strategies so unfamiliar words don’t stump them?

Tell Them From Me Data: This is a survey students answer that provides an insight into student well-being. It includes areas on student engagement, mental health, anxiety, a sense of belonging, and how students value school – among other things. This data is presented in aggregate form by grade, (since the information is pretty personal), but it allows us to really focus on a group of students with the highest needs in areas of well-being. The data suggests we have students dealing with higher-than-average levels of anxiety. What steps can we take to help students become resilient when anxiety becomes a barrier to academic achievement?

So as I considered these two areas, I thought how our staff could come together to connect these two needs. Literacy is important because it unites all subject areas, so all educators in the building have a vested interested in building literate students. Well-being is equally important, and by including this data into our work, I am able to connect everyone in the building with my vision and our school learning plan. All staff in the building – regardless of role – are working to create a positive, nurturing, and supportive environment for our students. I feel like this is a plan we can all get behind, and it’s a plan that is driven by accessible, personalized data. It’s also a step towards my vision of creating a school that is a hub for students (and the community) to access resources that allow anyone to succeed academically and personally. I’m excited! Thank goodness for a bit of time to do some deep thinking!!

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