Posted by Brian McKenney, Principal, Long School
In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, S.R. Covey suggests that when planning a program one should start with the end in mind. At Long School, before planning new initiatives, the character leadership team analyzes data from the CHARACTERplus® School Report, completed each spring, to get a basic picture of the current state of our school.
The CHARACTERplus® School Report is a survey of staff, students, and parents designed to assess individuals’ opinions, feelings, and beliefs about the school. That data provides useful information, from which the character education team identifies specific areas of need (e.g. Students’ Feelings of Belonging, School Expectations, etc.) that correlate with principles from Character Education Partnership’s Eleven Principles of Effective Character Education. At Long School, assessment plays the role of bridge between what has been and what should be. It is the end and the beginning of an endless cycle of school improvement.
The likelihood that character initiatives will survive and thrive over the years, regardless of changes in student population, personnel, and community is also carefully considered when planning new initiatives.
Sustainable Initiatives In-Place: Long School participates in the Caring School Community initiative. There are four basis CSC components imbedded at Long School. These practices/strategies are class meetings, buddy activities, home-side activities, and school-wide activities (buddy block). Note: Long specialists (art, music, and PE teachers) have taken the buddies and school-wide practices and combined them into an effective and sustainable component called “Buddy Block” (CEP Promising Practices Award Winner, 2006).
Teachers conduct class meetings routinely at Long School. Teachers employ the meetings to build student autonomy (empowerment), classroom community (sense of belonging), and problem solving and conflict resolution skills. In the first two years of CSC, teachers were asked to conduct class meetings for observation by CSC coaches and administration. Now, unscheduled observations and walk-through visits confirm that class meetings are conducted often and effectively and have become an imbedded, sustainable practice at Long School.
Buddy activities at Long School are as natural and as imbedded in the curriculum as are reading and mathematics lessons. Often, buddy activities are reading and mathematics lessons. It is simply understood by teachers and students that each class will have a buddy class and each student will have a buddy. Teachers, students, and parents have come to value greatly this opportunity for cross-age social development. Teachers are provided planning time during numerous early-release dates to plan buddy activities together. This time provision has been identified by the team as vital to the sustainability of this program. Planning time should be protected by the character education team.
School-wide and buddy activities have been transformed by Long School specialists into a cross-strategy called “Buddy Block”. During a buddy block activity, the specialists take entire grade-levels of buddies (two grade-levels at one time) and work together on a school-wide service learning project. Again, teachers, students, and families have come to expect and value these activities. A special schedule is implemented on the days in which a buddy block takes place. Once again, time provisions for planning and implementation, as well as scheduling considerations are critical to success and sustainability.
There are many resources to help schools assess initiatives and plan for sustainability. I would advise educators to seek out these resources. When an effective system of assessment and renewal is implemented, the school will grow in leaps and bounds toward the common vision shared by students, educators, and community members.