George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

How Does Your School Plan for the Fall?

July 10, 2015

During the last week of school, our junior high carved out time alongside field trips and awards ceremonies for teachers to meet and reflect on the routines of departments, teams, and daily routines in the school so that we can imagine how things can be better for the next school year. Ethical approaches to teaching are about the continuous questioning and study of “how” our conduct and systems can not only be more efficient (though that is part of it) but also live up to ethical standards of what is “right” and “moral” or what schools “ought” to do.

No doubt you’ve felt the stress of the year winding down and you are eager to start your summer break, but what a relief it has been for me (and I think a few other colleagues) to have some important conversations about our school and how we are relating to one another before we go our separate ways for the summer.

I attended four meetings this week (about two hours a piece), and it was clear to me that every teacher in those meetings had ideas about how schedules and systems can be improved. And it seemed clear that some desperately needed to be a part of a conversation that had some hope.

In the meetings, we talked about a variety of topics. We considered how we are using what is not quite “home room” time and suggested ways to make that more meaningful. We talked about the need and value of a master calendar for testing, field trips, and assemblies to recognize instances where instructional time is enriched or interrupted. We also had a pretty detailed conversation about how to start the next school year.

This school year, our “kickoff” assembly was at the end of the week, and we decided that next year we’d make that a “welcome” assembly within the first hour of the first day of school. Kickoff at the beginning. Seems logical, yes? Perhaps these conversations seem obvious, and yet, we have, in the past, waited until August to talk about the “hows” of our school. I see these meetings as evidence of ethics – not in the sense that having the assembly early in the week is necessarily more “right,” but in the sense that an ethical standard of being welcoming to our students informed our decision-making. It is a slight shift in thinking, but I think it is important.

Ethics refers to standards of right and wrong or what we “ought” to do in terms of virtues like obligations and human rights, but ethics also include virtues of compassion and community. In addition, ethics can refer to the development of ethical standards and the ongoing study of moral beliefs and conduct to make sure that the institutions we help shape -- like our schools -- are evaluating and adjusting approaches for the “right” reasons.

Of course, what is “right” can seem relative, and figuring out if there is a more just approach to a routine or system (especially among a group of teachers) is complicated; however, meetings like we had this week are an imperative as schools figure out the sort of learning environment they want to be, need to be for their students -- the human beings with whom we are entrusted.

Teachers know there is no such thing as “summers off.” You are reading a blog about teaching now. It may be too late to talk about routines in home room or master calendars, but here are a few questions to consider before starting the next school year (after all, ethical ELA is more about questions than answers):

  • What is the purpose of this activity/routine/procedure? If the answer is “because it was always done this way,” then it is likely time to contemplate the original reasoning to see if it is still sound.
  • How does this benefit the students? Sometimes routines are in place to benefit the teacher, and this will ultimately benefit the students (because we are more sane because of it); however, try to keep the students at the center.
  • Is there a way we can make this more meaningful? Look for ways to emphasize the purpose and benefits so that students and teachers can understand the “why” and “how” of the systems in place.

What other questions would you add?

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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