Monday, May 30, 2016


Upon arriving at the school in January, I began to just listen and watch.  I was looking for how they did business here.  I was looking for specific things such as:
  • Was there a specific way students were expected to move around the building?
  • Did students know what those expectations were and were they following them?
  • How were students arriving in the morning, was there a clear path of parent drop-off and buses?
  • Were students beginning their day quickly and calmly?
  • Were teachers greeting students at their doors?
  • How many students were coming in late each day?
  • What was dismissal like?
What I found was that the systems they had were not working well, but because of the constant chaos in the building no one really noticed.  

A simple first step was to spread students over more space to help keep it quieter and calmer in the morning.  They had been using the main hallways to house all students until they entered their classrooms at 8:45 a.m..  So, I just spread them out throughout the building and began sitting them by their class instead of grade level so that there were fewer students in a small area.  This helps to keep the students calmer and consequently when handed over to their teachers for class, they are not as wound up and more ready to learn. 

My mantra has become, "Divide and Conquer."  Because of the volatility of our students when they are in large groups, it becomes chaos very quickly.  We must in all things make sure that what we do is in manageable pieces and that it makes sense to all stakeholders.  Many times change is hard for people even if they want or need it.  When in the game it is hard to see what exactly is causing the issue so sometimes even after explaining the only way to get buy in is to show them it is better with a new system in place.
Each time we have implemented a systems change this year, I have tried to be as transparent as possible and given everyone enough notice that it will not be a surprise when it happens.
Adding the cones created a clear path for traffic 
Two other areas that needed to be addressed immediately were the cafeteria during meal times and the parent drop-off area.  I started with the parent drop-off area by purchasing 50 orange traffic cones and creating a very well-defined traffic pattern (They now call me the cone lady).  Previously there was a pattern, but it was two lanes and no one was really taking control.  People would just pull up in one of the lanes and students would just run to the cars.  Also, the parking lot emptied into the street right at the crossing guard entrance making the flow difficult because of the constant stop and go.  Now everyone enters and exits at the back of the school away from the crossing guard and there is only one lane with the passenger side door opening to the sidewalk area.
Front view of the tables, we fill the one side of the table so everyone is facing forward
The cafeteria can sit up to 11 classes at once.  Changing just a few things in the cafeteria helped keep the student cross-table conversations at a minimum.  First I pushed all the tables together so that all students (with the exception of a few) were all facing the same direction.
Side view with area on the right where classes line up in front of cones on the lines for teachers
Second, I alternated classes, for example when the kindergarten came in they went to even-numbered tables and when fifth grade came in they started filling in odd-numbered tables.  This way kindergarten and fifth graders were not turning and talking with each other.  This eliminated much of the talking across tables and ultimately the overall noise level in the room since they were talking with those in close proximity.  We also created system of students cleaning up the area: 1 is gather garbage, 2 is stand-up and 3 is dump garbage and line up.  We just hold up the fingers for them and they know what to do.

What I have found is that nothing comes naturally here.  Everything is like a second language and must be thought through before action can happen. Very few do anything naturally, so my goal is to make it so that everyone feels safe enough to make decisions and suggestions to better enhance our environment.  If people do not feel safe they will not step out and make suggestions or take chances and I want them doing both.  So, until such time I will keep praising what I see that I want repeated, address what needs to be shaped, and continue to do what is best for kids.

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