What’s this I hear – you are talking about no more looping at Greystone? No way – you can’t change this!!!!
This comment came from a panic-stricken parent after her son came home from school and talked about a class discussion he had that day. His teacher was seeking the perspective of her students as we prepared to make a shared decision about our current looping practice at Greystone Centennial Middle School.
Our structure sees students remain with the same team of teachers in our lower loop for grades 5, 6 and 7 before moving to our upper loop where they stay with the same team of teachers for grades 8 and 9 before transitioning to the High School.
We established this structure when we opened our brand new school, over six years ago. Since that time, we have experienced two full cycles of the lower loop. I made a commitment to our teaching staff that we would re-visit the looping structure, after we had enough experience with it, and after getting feedback on how we felt we were meeting the needs of our students.
When we first began organizing our school in 2005, we had many teachers who were not necessarily committed to the practice of looping with students. Now, in 2012, we have seen the powerful relationships that are created when teachers have the opportunity to work with their students for more than one year.
Teachers were asked to share their opinions about looping when we gathered together at the start of this month for our Professional Development Day. On the agenda for the day was a commitment to make a shared decision about the future of looping at Greystone. We began the conversation by sharing feedback from our grade 7, 8 and 9 students. They completed the Tell Them From Me Survey this Fall, and on this survey were specific questions related to staying with the same teacher for more than one year. The majority of our students responded with a strong agreement about the benefits of looping.
Over the years, I have heard from our parents – with the majority of comments being in support of the looping practice. NOT in the beginning, for sure! However, six years later, I have only heard positive feedback from our parents. When there have been concerns about individual students needing a classroom change, we have accommodated these requests. In recent years, there have been very few requests.
Now it was time to talk with teachers about their experiences and suggestions. We opened the dialogue with a Four Corners Activity. Teachers were asked where they stand on a couple of key questions designed to elicit debate around our looping practice.
On the agenda, we had planned for this activity to take approximately 30 minutes…2 hours later we were still having discussion!
This was one of the most powerful experiences I have had as an administrator - sitting back, for the most part, to observe the open, honest sharing among the teachers at Greystone. Everyone contributed to the discussion and everyone’s perspective was heard. Teachers talked about reaching that hard to teach student, and how this could only happen over time spent together. Teachers talked about the relationships that are formed over time and how they are able to recognize and program for the unique abilities and challenges of students when they spend more than one year together getting to know their learners. Teachers were in agreement that the two year loop was ideal for our students; however, most felt that the three year loop was too long – too much time spent with the same group of students and too much curriculum for teachers to learn making it challenging to provide their students with optimal learning experiences. The next question we needed to figure out was what to do about our three year loop?
Since we have five grade levels in our school we would need to either continue with the three year loop or have one grade level not looping. There was a lot of discussion about this and in the end, we ran out of time to make the decision. Teachers were asked to submit their suggestions via e-mail and we would go with what the majority felt would be in the best interest of our students.
Throughout the remainder of the week, teachers shared their perspectives. This was another eye-opener for me. Such incredible, thoughtful insights were shared with me. In fact, several teachers shared their reflections with our entire teaching staff. One teacher even deferred her decision to what the teachers of the lower loop wanted as they were the folks most affected by the decision – wow! The common thread through each of the messages I received was first…no one took this decision lightly – there was much thoughtful reflection prior to sending the e-mail. Second…the comments shared clearly indicated that doing what is best for student learning was at the centre of the decision-making. In the end, the majority of our teachers felt that the looping structure should be as follows:
Grades 5 and 6
Grades 7 and 8
Grade 9 students will not be part of a loop – but teachers of this loop will need to teach grade 8 students at some point in the year (possibly an option class) so that they can begin to build relationships with these students prior to the grade 9 year.
How do I know we have reached a point, at Greystone, where shared decision-making is possible? When I see the teachers all acting in the best interest of our students and when I see them valuing the range of perspectives that each of us brings to our school community. Was it easy for me to sit back and let the dialogue unfold so that a decision could be reached – absolutely not! Do I trust the judgment of these professionals who are carefully, thoughtfully, making this decision for ALL students at Greystone - absolutely!
This process was amazing and I continue to be inspired by the dedicated team of teachers who work at Greystone – many thanks to all of them for taking the time to be a part of this important decision. Next step – sharing this decision with our Parents!
~ Carolyn Cameron