June 2019 Articles

6/20/2019

Voice, Recognition, Leadership... A Reflection on My Year-in-Residence

By: Jonathan Juravich

Group.JPGOne year ago, a proposal was on the table to transform the Ohio Teacher of the Year program from a one-year experience to a two-year commitment. The first year would be one of recognition and learning, followed by a year of service to the state as the Ohio teacher-in-residence. I was hesitant. What would life outside of my classroom look like? Would I be bored, spinning around in a chair all day? Was I even capable of living up to everyone’s expectations? Twelve months later, I am wrapping up my time piloting this program and dizzied from a year of growth and inspiration.

I was having lunch with a group of teachers this spring, and one of them asked me what I actually do in this role. I answered saying, “I focus on teacher voice, teacher leadership and teacher recognition.” She then said that this was all well and good but wanted to know more details. What was it that I was actually doing?

During this past year, I have toured the state, meeting with teachers, administrators and students while learning about their schools, aspirations and communities. Sometimes I offered professional development for teachers, spoke at conferences, led whole-school student assemblies or provided hot chocolate to teachers at staff meetings. Then, I brought all of these experiences and the information I learned from my visits back to the Department to help provide Department staff with insight from the field and context for decision-making.

In April, I testified to the Primary and Secondary Education Committee of the Ohio House of Representatives. One of the members of this committee asked me to reflect on what it is that I heard from teachers when I visited schools. I noted how inspired I was by Ohio’s educators, their professionalism and their heart. These teachers spoke of their admiration for their students and the strength of their colleagues down the hall that, in their words, I “just had to stop in and see before leaving.”

This year, I was motivated by great teachers like the enthusiastic Chris Basich in Riverside Local Schools; by the heart of third grade teacher Devery Scott from Whitehall City Schools; Chris Williams and the remarkable staff at Colerain Elementary School in Columbus; the thought-provoking conversations with Cheshire Elementary’s Mikela Thomas; and the creativity of Terry Stewart at the Ohio School for the Deaf. Meeting these teachers and countless more, hearing their stories, their hopes for their students and the triumphs they had just recently witnessed have changed who I am as an educator.

In one of my first meetings at the Department, I was told there was interest in an additional teacher recognition program. Through hard work and lots of collaboration, the TORCH (Teachers of Ohio Representing Character and Heart) recognition was rolled out this winter. In its inaugural year, TORCH recognizes teachers for their engagement with the community and advancement of educational equity. Five honorees from across the state were selected and recognized during surprise events this spring. I am honored to have met Tequila Pennington-Calwise of Cleveland Metro Schools, Leila Kubesch from Norwood City Schools, Sylvania’s Tami Blue, Sarah Thornburg of Columbus City Schools, and Alicia Spears from the Tri-State STEM+M Early College High School. These teachers strive to teach the whole child and every child. I, for one, cannot wait to hear about the teachers that will be recognized through this program in the future, for their service-centered lives.

Honestly, what I am most excited about is the future of the teacher-in-residence program and how it will continue even when I am gone. I am thrilled to see how future Ohio Teachers of the Year will put their own unique spin on engaging educators to use their voices, advance leadership, and recognize the goodness in one another. When I am back in my art room at Liberty Tree Elementary School this fall, I know that Mona Al-Hayani, the 2019 Ohio Teacher of the Year, will be stepping into this role, rebranded as the Ohio Teacher Fellowship. She will bring professionalism and passion to her work, advocating for all of Ohio’s teachers and students.

On my last full day as the Ohio teacher-in-residence, the Department hosted the first-ever Teacher Leadership Summit at The Ohio State University. Two hundred teacher leaders and administrators came from across the state to join Department staff and share in a day of learning and inspiration that had taken most of the year to plan. Many of the amazing people I met over the past few months were there, making connections with one another and filling the room with energy. As the morning opened, I stood on the stage looking out at faces I had not known a year prior and the table of staff members from my own school. These colleagues, both the familiar and the new, had become a part of the journey. I stood there at the summit realizing that this year-long adventure, this metaphoric summit, was only the beginning for me…for all of us. There are new mountains and challenges to take on in the quest to advance teacher voices, leadership and recognition. How incredibly grateful I am for the opportunity to have represented the amazing educators of Ohio in this work as the teacher-in-residence.

Leave a Comment
6/14/2019

ENCORE: Libraries Help Fight the Summer Slide — Angie Jacobsen, Ohio Library Council

By: Guest Blogger

Because the Summer Slide is not playground equipment

Editor's note: This blog was originally published on June 7, 2018, but some things are so good they deserve another look! We are re-running the post to remind families to check out their local library’s resources and help students continue learning all summer long.

School may be out for summer, but learning is always in season at your local library. Ohio's public libraries serve a critical function in summer learning, in many cases, acting as the only safety net against the “summer slide” — the documented decrease in reading proficiency of students who do not read during summer vacation. The stakes for children who do not read during the summer are high. Substantial research on this topic shows that elementary school students who lose reading skills during the summer will be two years behind their classmates by the end of sixth grade. It's usually the students who can least afford to lose ground as readers who are most likely to suffer from summer reading loss and fall behind their peers. Parents and teachers alike have long asserted that regular use of the local library improves children’s reading dramatically. Summer vacation is the perfect time to explore all the library’s resources and programs.

Every public library in Ohio offers a summer reading program for children with organized activities, projects, games and incentives to promote reading during the summer months. This year’s theme is “Libraries Rock” and includes a variety of musical activities from making instruments to dance parties. For hundreds of thousands of Ohio’s kids, these programs develop positive attitudes about reading and strengthen the skills they learned during the previous school year. Preventing the “summer slide” continues to be the main objective of summer reading programs.

Ohio’s public libraries provide quality learning activities that are fun and encourage some of the best techniques identified by research as being important to the reading process such as storytelling and book discussions. Librarians know how to connect kids with books and encourage readers, especially those who are reluctant, with different formats such as eBooks, magazines, audiobooks or comics. Families can try out digital formats and borrow devices such as tablets, MP3 players and even Wi-Fi hot spots.

Parents often indicate that summer is the most difficult time to find productive things for kids to do. For many families, the public library is the only community space available during the summer where they can access free educational activities. Libraries also are natural spaces for serving meals to children whose access to lunch disappears when school is out. Free summer lunches are available at more than 120 libraries across the state. To find a location, visit education.ohio.gov/kidseat.

In addition to reading, children can participate in activities at the library that support their curiosity and creativity including physical makerspaces, coding classes, production studios for digital media, virtual reality and more. Many libraries offer hands-on science and math activities that let kids brainstorm, problem solve and work together on projects. By taking an informal and playful (and sometimes messy and loud!) approach, libraries see these activities as opportunities for children to further their sense of discovery. Children who join summer library programs keep their brains active and enter school in the fall ready to succeed. An Ohio Public Library Directory is available at https://library.ohio.gov/using-the-library/find-an-ohio-library/. Check your local library’s website for a calendar of summer activities to see how you can keep kids reading and learning all summer long!

Angie Jacobsen is the director of Communications for the Ohio Library Council. The Ohio Library Council is the statewide professional association that represents the interests of Ohio’s 251 public library systems, their trustees, friends groups, and staffs. You can contact Angie by clicking here.

Leave a Comment
6/6/2019

GUEST BLOG: The Swanton Seven Initiative... The House System — Matt Smith, Swanton Middle School

By: Guest Blogger

Swanton.JPGSwanton Middle School is home to 400 students in grades 5-8 in Northwest Ohio. Approximately 45 percent of our students are socio-economically disadvantaged. Like many schools, our school faced challenges like student apathy, an increasing special education population that seemed to require more time and resources than we could allocate, lack of total student engagement, and low student motivation. The building leadership team was looking for something to tackle these challenges and transform our school into an atmosphere where students were excited about attending daily, a place where parents were confident sending their children, and a place where staff wanted to work. At first, we tried smaller-scale shifts and ideas (such as changing homework policies, various reward systems and schoolwide writing programs) to try and tackle our challenges, but we never saw a major impact.

We decided to embark on a new mission at our school called the Swanton Seven Initiative. This idea had been in the works for at least six months before we laid out any concrete plans. We were fortunate to receive a 21st Century Learning Grant, which, among many other wonderful things, allowed four of our teachers and I to attend a training at Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. We had discussed what it would be like to implement a “house” system before, but we really weren’t sure what we were doing. After that training, we knew not only that we could do it, but that we would start the next school year. The training in Atlanta was so fascinating that the five of us sketched out plans right there in the hotel. I called a staff meeting as soon as we returned from the trip and let everyone know we had a plan, albeit rough, but an idea of what we wanted to see at our school. We called on the staff to help and scheduled team meetings throughout the summer to refine our plan. A lot of hard work and time was dedicated to coming up with the following:

The Swanton Seven is devoted to promoting a positive learning culture while challenging all students to the best learning opportunities.

Our first task as a team was to identify and focus on seven objectives we wanted as our foundation by deliberately teaching and modeling them to our students and staff: 

  1. Exhibit effective listening skills.
  2. Utilize excellent conversation skills.
  3. Use manners.
  4. Choose to work hard. Strive to be successful.
  5. Support, respect, and encourage people.
  6. Be honest and do not make excuses.
  7. Take pride in our school and yourself.

By teaching, modeling and striving to live out these seven “soft skills,” we empower each individual to reach his or her highest potential. To launch this new program, we created the story that long ago the leaders of Swanton buried a scroll in the old middle school building. The writers of the scroll asked that, upon discovery, four houses be created and students would be taught these seven philosophies. As a staff, we presented the story to the students and unveiled the official scroll, a treasure chest and the names of the four houses: Dignitas, Obduro, Gratus and Sapientia (DOGS, as we are the Bulldogs). Students were led to the gym in small groups, where they opened packages containing their official house welcome letters, T-shirts and designated wristbands while the rest of the school cheered them on. The students’ anticipation was moving. There was instant “buy-in.”

Students and staff members are awarded house points for exhibiting the seven objectives throughout the course of the day. Teachers keep track of point totals, and they are updated on an enormous scoreboard in the cafeteria each Friday. The competitive spirit has motivated each student to capture the lead and, ultimately, be awarded the House Points Belt for the week.

The success of the Swanton Seven Initiative would not be possible without the community and parental support we have received. This dream, turned into an idea, into a plan and into a philosophy, has not only changed our school and community but has set us on a course to drastically challenge and empower students. It has created an environment where being your best is an expectation of being part of the BullDOGS.

The Swanton Seven Initiative has fostered team building and brought our staff together. Teachers are dispersed among the houses to ensure each house has a core subject (English language arts, math, science or social studies) teacher from every grade level, an elective teacher, an intervention specialist and multiple members of support staff (such as secretaries, the school nurse, kitchen staff and custodians). This has strengthened our staff and supplemented our current grade-level teams, which share common planning times and weekly teacher-based team meetings. Staff members who typically don’t work directly with one another on a regular basis have connected. The same has happened with our students.

Students in each grade level were divided evenly by a randomizer to determine their houses. Each house has cultivated relationships that most likely would not have grown without the Swanton Seven Initiative. Teachers have individualized their houses by creating chants used to focus their students or silence their rooms. Each house also has its own special song that has helped build cohesion among students and staff. These chants and songs have extended into our community. For example, at the grocery store last week, I overheard a “P-U-R” followed by a louder return “P-L-E, go Sapientia!” The Swanton Seven has truly become our identity, both within and outside the school walls.

This academic year, we focused our community service project on a local food drive. We collected more than 3,000 goods to donate directly to our small community. While it may seem small or generic, this event sparked us to work on a yearlong project, Backpack Buddies, built off the Feeding America program. The program is a yearlong program to help the students of our community and surrounding areas. Students in families who sign up for the program take a discreet backpack home full of nutritious food for the weekend. We pack enough for at least three meals that will feed the family depending on how many family members there are. Families really appreciate they can count on this when needed throughout the year.

While it will take some time to know exactly how this initiative will affect our test scores and Ohio School Report Cards, we are optimistic and look forward to tracking the results in the future. What we do know is that since implementing the Swanton Seven Initiative, we’ve seen other positive results in our school. We had a record number of students invited and awarded at our annual academic awards night. We have seen a decrease in attendance issues and teacher discipline referrals. The interesting thing is that we hold students more accountable and to higher standards, and we still have seen at 20 percent decrease in behavior incidents. The Swanton Seven initiative clearly makes a difference for our school staff, our community and, most importantly, our students.

Matt Smith has been the principal of Swanton Middle School in Swanton, Ohio for four years. You can contact Matt at matt.smith@swantonschools.org.  

Leave a Comment