Raising the Bar for Student Engagement
Raising the Bar for Student Engagement

By Kevin Butler, 5th Grade Teacher and Curriculum & Instructional Coordinator

Students learn and thrive when they are engaged, and it is up to our Laurence teachers to create the daily magic in the classroom that will enthrall our students. Our Administration and faculty are strongly committed to this goal and last year, embarked on a journey to raise the bar for student engagement at Laurence. 

As the K-6 Curriculum and Instructional Coordinator (as well as a 5th Grade teacher), I am always reading about this topic and decided our Laurence journey needed to be engaging for teachers, too. I started by creating a faculty book club last fall, which we'll be continuing this school year, as well. One of our books was the bestseller, The Wild Card, by Hope and Wade King, two teachers at the innovative and influential Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. The book focuses on how educators can "draw on their authentic selves – past experiences, personality quirks, interests, hobbies, and strengths – to deliver content creatively."  It has been especially inspirational to me, as Hope and Wade are not just my friends, but are my role models and mentors, and I was thrilled to bring them to Laurence last school year for a day of teacher professional development. 

Throughout the 2017-18 school year, Laurence teachers spent time in my classroom observing how I implement content-driven, creative classroom simulations, such as Human Battleship, The Book Café, Fraction Football, and Amazing Race, and Candyland. These types of lessons help students to experience learning with openness and joy, as well as promote a deeper understanding of concepts through real-world application. They also allow for opportunities to bring music and movement into the classroom and to strengthen teacher-student connections.

Our learning journey continued in San Diego, California this summer, where I took six of our teachers to the national Get Your Teach On Conference. I was especially excited to be a part of this year's conference leadership team and the experience was inspiring for all of us who attended. We are excited to bring fresh ideas and out-of-the-box lessons to our larger faculty and students this fall!

Looking forward to the coming year, our professional learning journey will continue with visits from a variety of nationally recognized educators, focusing on the importance of diversity and social justice. Additionally, our student engagement initiatives will be incorporating methods for developing important skills for public speaking, presentation, leadership, and projecting self-confidence in interpersonal interactions - critical so-called "soft skills" needed for academic and professional success. Specifically, we will be following the "SPECIAL" curriculum, created by school principal and Wake Forest University professor, Adam Dovico, who consulted with our Administrative Team this summer. The S stands for shake hands, P, posture, E, eye contact, C confidence, I, introductions, A, ask questions and L, listening.  I will be working with our Laurence faculty on strategies for intentionally teaching and modeling of these important lifelong skills. 

As we embark on the coming year and continue our journey of lifelong learning, our teachers remain focused on bringing new creativity to the classroom to engage our Laurence students. Through our enthusiasm we strive to bring the joy of learning to every child at Laurence each and every day.