In preparation for the new school year, I met earlier this month with our teacher leaders and assistant principal. As we discussed our most important goals as a school, it became quite clear that a top priority is deepening professional trust and strengthening our level of collaboration.
“What could we do in the first months of schools to truly increase the level of professional trust?” I inquired because I genuinely didn't know the answer yet.
“We should just draw from The Five Dimensions of Engaged Teaching book,” one teacher responded, having just finished reading the book a few weeks ago. As a contributor to the book, these words were music to my ears. I knew this teacher well enough to know that not an ounce of her response was out of a desire to please the principal. She truly believed the book offers the road map for how to improve our professional learning community.
As we delved into the book, and reflected on some concrete steps we can take to improve, we came up with the following ideas to increase student engagement in the classroom and professional trust amongst our staff. I am confident that the following actions will steadily lead us towards our goal, and help you and your school take some initial steps towards harnessing the social and emotional intelligence of your students and staff.
Our Work with Students
Integrate a golden moment of silence each day.
Provide brief sharing circles for students on at least a weekly basis. For instance, one day during our last school year, I witnessed a powerful five minute sharing circle in one of our first grade classrooms. Students shared in a word their most prominent feeling. As each child shared words like “excited,” “tired,” and “happy” the sense of presence and connection was palpable. The teacher told me later in the day that this circle helped her take the pulse of her entire group before the learning began, and she was able to support a few specific students who shared that they were sad or hungry. By giving the space for them to share this one word check-in, she significantly increased their level of engagement and was able to be a more responsive teacher throughout their school day.
Use structures for academic purposes that help students develop their capacity to speak authentically and develop their deep listening muscles. For example, ask students to pair up and alternate roles, with each student sharing uninterrupted for one minute about their background knowledge on the learning topic at hand.
Have students engage weekly in both active and reflective Focusing Activities.
Our Work With Colleagues
Help teachers develop their authentic speaking and deep listening muscles by putting them in pairs and giving them each 1-2 minutes to speak uninterrupted about a relevant topic.
Have staff complete a Chalk Talk and Gallery Walk around the Five Dimensions. Set five posters around the room with each dimension listed, and have teachers jot their ideas on each poster. When they are finished, give them time to walk the room and learn from each poster.
At professional development sessions, draw upon Engaged Teaching structures such as Golden Moment, Focusing Activities, Hot Pencil writing and Sharing Circles.
Have staff members visit the classroom of teachers who have attended Engaged Teaching workshops or are implementing practices from the book. Alternatively, record teachers utilizing these structures in their classroom practice and share excerpts with the entire staff.
Principal of Arapahoe Ridge Elementary School
Formerly the vice principal at Glacier Peak and Prairie Hills, elementary schools in Thornton, Colorado. As a bilingual teacher for seven years, Ari drew upon social/emotional learning principles and academic best practices to foster high levels of student growth and achievement. Ari received his MA in Instruction and Curriculum from the University of Colorado and has published articles in a variety of education magazines.