Jen Robinson Education, Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Teacher Leadership

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First quarter has drawn to a close and I am taking some time to reflect on the past ten weeks. Taking a breath and looking with open eyes and a clear mind. Wondering what is working and what needs to be adjusted. The past several weeks have been a whirlwind, we as a school have been preparing for our lighthouse readiness review. This process is about demonstrating sustaining evidence in each of these areas: Leadership Principles (professional learning, scholar learning, family learning), Leadership Culture (leadership environment, shared leadership, leadership events), and Academic Systems (school-wide goal achievement, scholar led achievement, empowering leadership).

Along with our evidence binder, we will also have an extensive on-site review. The readiness review will provide us specific feedback to help inform our practice and prepare for our official lighthouse review in February.

Honestly it was exhausting pulling it all together, but very enlightening. Through the process we began to see things differently and look at teaching and learning from a different lens. We started to see how the pieces fit together, what we were doing well and where we had gaps. We paused to reflect on our four-year journey and what we as a school have created and accomplished. Although our state test scores and letter grade do not indicate this success, yet – it does give us a starting point as we move forward.

We looked through pictures and videos of our scholars and how much they have grown and changed the culture of our school. We stopped to notice what they are capable of, what their potential is, and if given the tools and time, the impact they have on our school community. Here are a few examples that made me stop and think how proud I am to be part of this process.

In a parent meeting, a teacher shared that a scholar was having trouble finishing his homework. In her class, she has homework monitors who check whether or not homework is completed and turned in. These scholars approached her and expressed a concern with another scholar who was not completing his homework. They thought it would be a good idea if they sat with him and came up with a plan to help him finish. The teacher created space for this to happen and now they have a plan! At dismissal in the cafeteria where scholars wait for parent pick up, they sit off to the side and help him finish his homework. His mom was so happy the other scholars cared enough to help him. This is just one example of how our scholars come together and create win-win solutions.

Another a-ha moment was when I was meeting with our 5th grade S.O.S.A.’s (Scholars on Special Assignment). They approached me with a concern about other S.O.S.A.’s who were not taking their roles seriously or who acted one way in front of me and another way in their classroom. I asked what they thought we could do. They brainstormed and talked back and forth and came up with a plan. If another scholar or S.O.S.A. was not acting in a responsible manner, they would check in with the teacher and ask to step out into the hallway to speak privately. In that conversation, they would be honest and let the other scholar know what they saw and ask them what they could do to change their behavior. They would give them time to switch their behavior. If it continued they would ask for a team meeting with me, but they would facilitate the conversation. I just had to be in the meeting, not running the meeting. In this meeting, they would discuss concerns and come up with an action plan to move forward. I am not sure how to say it other than – it was just really cool to see our scholars working together and negotiating the norms for our culture of leadership. Four years ago, our scholars didn’t have the tools or the mindset to execute this plan.

So, taking a breath, clearing my mind and opening my eyes was a powerful strategy to really see what we are doing and where we are going. To see how we are creating space for our scholars to lead the way and create solutions on their terms. I wonder how to keep this mindset and focus and not get sucked into the day to day whirlwinds that cloud my thinking, limit my sight and narrow my focus. How do you stay focused on what is most important in the midst of day to day whirlwinds?


Jen Robinson

Maricopa, Arizona

Hello, my name is Jen Robinson. I have been in education for over 20 years. I began teaching in Buffalo, NY in 1992, as a pre-school special education teacher. My experience ranges from primary grades through high school. My husband and I moved to Arizona in 2001, where we were fortunate enough to teach at the same school. In 2004, I achieved National Board Certification and currently support candidates. In 2011 I completed my Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation. My dissertation research focused on supporting National Board candidates through their certification process. During the 2012-2013 school year, I completed my National Board renewal process. It was humbling and very powerful to step back into a classroom. I am currently an elementary principal. I am excited and hopeful for the new school year. I also serve on the Arizona Teacher Solutions Team where we are solutions focused in an effort to transform and elevate the teaching profession.

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Comments 11

  1. Susan Collins, NBCT

    WOW! great things are happening with you Scholar’s program. Student leadership, accountability, collaboration….fantastic way to teach our students how to navigate life in the 21st century!

  2. Lisa Moberg

    I love how you “label” your students as scholars. What a great way to set them up for success with identifying them with high expectations.

    1. Jen Robinson

      Thanks Lisa! Last year we made a conscious effort to shift our thinking your student to scholar. Teachers created charts with attributes of each and the big shift was students passively accept learning and scholar create opportunities for learning :)

    1. Jen Robinson

      Yes Amethyst, we are looking past third grade and fifth grade and teaching them skills to be amazing in LIFE. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Sandy Merz

    I’m right where you are, reflecting on the first quarter. I know I need to make some changes regarding management and routines. But what most stuck in you piece was how irritating it is that our schools’ letter grades so inadequately represent what we achieve. It’s so easy to grade a school on its test scores compared to the work it would take to fairly judge us, that that’s what’s done, regardless of the fallout.

    1. Jen Robinson

      Thanks for sharing Sandy. I agree the letter grades don’t even begin to evaluate our schools. They don’t take into account parent involvement or culture or leadership opportunities for scholars and teachers. I wonder how the “A” rated schools would score if a holistic grade were given??

  4. Yolanda Wheelington

    Thank you for this article. I caught the way you refer to the students as scholars. Being addressed this way brings a certain level of expectation to the student, the teacher, and the environment. I will implement this label and term more purposefully in my class.

  5. Eve Rifkin

    It’s amazing how invigorating it is to take the time to reflect on all the good things we do in our schools. You clearly do plenty! It’s also amazing how reflection is, unfortunately, what we do the least of, during long breaks or in preparation for a site visit. Wouldn’t it be great if reflection was something we did in our schools on a daily or weekly basis? Thanks for showing us the incredible power of taking the time to look deeply at what we do.

  6. Treva Jenkins

    Dr. Robinson, I absolutely love this process that’s you’re doing with your teachers and scholars (lighthouse readiness review). What a powerful tool to engage all stakeholders in purposeful reflection and conversation centered on school culture, leadership and scholar led achievement. You know I especially loved when you shared how the 5th grade scholars addressed an issue and problem-solved a solution!!! Right on! It just doesn’t get any better than that. Student leadership and student voice is one of the most powerful ways we can truly transform our campuses. Scholars have untapped expertise and knowledge that can bring renewed relevance and authenticity to classrooms and education reform efforts. Your campus is truly blessed to have you as their principal! Thank you for reminding us to stay focus and not get sucked into our “day to day whirlwinds that cloud [our] thinking, and limit [our] sight and narrow [our] focus.” Wow. I truly needed to be reminded of this right now! Thank you!

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