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District Teams Seeking Consistency, Cohesion

How do the adults in our school buildings expect students to behave? And how do staff members respond when students, well, don’t behave the way they are expected to?

Those questions drove a full day of discussion, examination and occasionally respectful disagreement as the District Climate Committee met Thursday in a conference room at the Manchester Police Department.

On Friday, a different group -- the District Improvement Team -- met at Manchester Community College to take a big-picture look at what’s working in our schools, what’s not, and what we need to do to ensure a top-flight experience for all students. The DIT’s areas of emphasis are academics, talent, systems and, yes, climate.

“It is critically important that we periodically make time to thoughtfully review what is happening in our schools and make sure everything is consistent with and supporting our mission and vision statements” he said, noting that the mission statement pledges that we will “create safe, inclusive schools where equity is the norm and excellence is the goal” and that  “all students will be prepared to be lifelong learners and contributing members of society.”

Both the District Climate Committee and the District Improvement Team have representatives from each of the 14 schools as well as Central Office.

On Thursday, Geary set the tone by telling the approximately 40 staffers gathered that “today is about seeking consistency across the district.”

Christa Perkins, who is the district’s director of Social Thinking, led the group through activities that included work on the creation of guiding documents that will be used to bring greater uniformity through the system – with special attention paid to the nine elementary schools.

“There needs to be better alignment both horizontally and vertically,” Geary said. “People are working really hard, and there are some wonderful things happening in some classrooms, even many classrooms, in every school in the district. But the challenge is for us to improve tier-one instruction and engagement in every classroom in every school, and that’s why we need to have commonly shared expectations for behavior, and common responses to unexpected behaviors.”

In grades 6-12, most students at each grade level are in the same school (Bennet, Illing or MHS), and staff members on the District Climate Committee met in subgroups to discuss ways to bring greater consistency within their building.

It’s more challenging at the elementary level because individual schools have different documents, practices (such as versions of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) and even slightly different expectations – differences that become more apparent when students from throughout town merge in grade 6.

Throughout Thursday, staff members also shared anecdotes, suggestions and such about climate issues.

Waddell teacher Devra Daigle related a maxim that she said she frequently employs: “Correct privately, compliment publicly.”

Evan Chekas, who teaches at MRA, suggested that instructions and directions are often better received if they are presented as positives.

To do otherwise – telling students ‘don’t do this or that’ – can have the unintended consequence of actually inviting, even subconsciously, certain behaviors.

Chekas got a laugh when he shared a line he said he’d heard at a past PD:

Telling kids “don’t get out of your seats” or “don’t swear,” he said, is like telling them “don’t think of pink elephants.”  

Members of the District Climate Committee will be reporting back to their schools through forums including faculty meetings and school climate team meetings.

“Getting the same message back to everyone in our schools, and having every on the same page and committed to some consistent standards is critically important,” Geary said. “As we continue to improve the climate and culture in all our schools, student engagement and achievement will get better, which is what this is ultimately all about.”

His message after Friday’s gathering was similar.

“All of our work is connected,” he said. “By meeting this way, we ensure that we are all working in a cohesive manner to improve outcomes for all students.”

NOTE: Shown in the accompanying photo are members of the District Improvement. from left are library media specialist Steve Hadge of Robertson, data specialist Teryl Croye, numeracy specialist Kristin Smith (standing), consultant Pat Proctor and high school science teacher Beth Raynor.

Manchester Public Schools 45 North School St, Manchester, CT 06042

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