August 31, 2017

Post date: Sep 8, 2017 3:02:33 PM

Dear Parents,

Gaga is the word of the week! No worries, I am not referring to a famous musician who may or may not be appropriate depending on your tastes. More on that later.

I feel a strong sense of pride this morning as I am writing this email to you. I am proud of Dunbarton Elementary School for its unwavering support of what is right and best for students. I say this because as I reviewed my opening emails to you in past years I am always explaining to you what we are doing that is new for students and staff. What is exciting and overwhelming about this is we have not shied away from taking on big “investments” for our school. Some examples in past years have been Lucy Calkins Writing, Fundations (phonics program), enVisionmath 2.0, writing of competencies, introducing 1:1 Chromebooks for students, and the hiring of new positions to best meet the needs of all students. With this said, we have added another philosophy to our repertoire that will be the glue that holds all this together. Responsive Classroom is actually not a new philosophy at DES, but it is certainly one that needed a revival of sorts.

We have some veteran staff who were part of the initial wave of its emergence at DES, but that was many years ago. This past May and August, 12 staff members were either trained in level 1 or 2 of Responsive Classroom. The basic foundation of the philosophy is every student matters and we need to make it possible for every student to have voice and choice in their learning. Although this sounds obvious, the everyday hustle and bustle of education and life in general can take over and the most obvious things can unintentionally be taken for granted. Using the Responsive Classroom philosophy allows us to take stock in the here and now and allowing for students to own their learning, but also clearly understand specific expectations and necessities for each student. This lifts the mystique that can so often surround expectations and general classroom management.

Right now students are experiencing many instances of “interactive modeling” as well as writing down their hopes and dreams. Interactive modeling is very precise modeling of expectations from something as simple as using a pencil to something more intricate like how to work in a group and ensure for all group members having a voice. Again, this creates a classroom environment in which students know and understand what is expected. Students are currently sharing their hopes and dreams as the initial step of creating classroom rules. We discuss hopes and dreams when creating classroom rules so we can acknowledge everyone has those and we need to work together to allow for each other to achieve their respective goals. Simple, but very deep. We will scaffold this experience to then have representatives from each class meet as a whole to create whole-school rules using a similar process. I can’t wait! The general rules still apply, but the rules created by the students for the students hold tremendous weight as they meet their needs at a core level.

Another aspect of Responsive Classroom that is occurring now is Morning Meeting. Each class has set aside time for Morning Meeting, which has four distinct components: greeting, sharing, group activity, and morning message. The greeting is composed of students greeting each other by name accompanied with some other type of activity like a handshake, clapping, singing or some other activity. Clearly this changes as the grade levels increase. The sharing component is an opportunity for students to share something interesting about themselves with the class. The group activity is a short activity aimed at creating community within the classroom. Finally, the morning message is a message the teacher will create for the students that will jumpstart the academics for the day. Very often this is an interactive message written on a large posterboard that students will also write on in response to the teacher. All of these activities are created to build cohesion as well as to meet each child where he or she is at.

When you get a chance this weekend, ask your children about their hopes and dreams, how the classroom rules are going and/or how morning meeting is going. This is a fun and challenging adventure for us and we are really looking forward to the progression of Responsive Classroom as we continue to build upon its progress.

We have gone with a new photographer for school pictures this year. Clix is a New England based company and is very excited to become our new school photographer. School Pictures are September 13. Check your child's backpack for the order form. Keep it with you and have your child bring it with them to hand to their teacher on the 13th. Optional retakes will be October 20. Keep in mind that if you want retakes done, you will have to turn in your original packet to the photographer.

Thank you for your patience to all parents whose children are riding the bus. Bus routes have changed some this year and the drivers are still getting used to their routes. Buses may be arriving a little late or early, but this will even out with time. Just a reminder we will not have school on Monday in observance of Labor Day.

Finally, in the spirit of Responsive Classroom, we have changed our recess routine. We used to have three adults out as recess monitor. We now have five with three of the adults being the same each day. This creates consistency in approach and expectations for all involved. We have gone over the boundaries at recess and have interactively modeled the use of all equipment. Each adult at recess has a specific area he or she is covering and each grade reports to the same person at the end of recess to be escorted down to lunch.

We are also providing an organized game at each recess for those students who would like it. Our newly installed Gaga Pit (thank you DES PTO, the PTO volunteers, and Morin Contracting Services for all your efforts) is the organized game for this week. I can easily say this has been a popular destination for students and we are having upwards of 20-30 students gladly playing at a time. It is fun to see. By instituting these changes, it is our hope that recess is a much more relaxed and inviting atmosphere for students.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact your child’s teacher or any of us in the office.


Owen Harrington