School administrators talk improvement

Oct 18, 2019

School administrators across Wareham took time at Thursday’s School Committee Meeting to discuss their goals for the school year and their progress towards last year’s goals.

Some objectives are on the agenda at every school in town: increasing the emotional intelligence of students and staff, listening to student voices, and providing more choices for students as well as more opportunities for teachers to learn from one another.

Emotional intelligence — the ability to be aware of and appropriately express one’s emotions — is a skill that teachers and students alike are working on. Schools across the district are asking teachers and administrators how they feel and offering more support to them. 

Both teachers and students are using tools from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence to better identify their feelings. 

“Emotions matter, and it’s okay to feel,” said Dr. Andrea Schwamb, the assistant superintendent.

Another focus for every school is listening to student voices and offering them more choices in the classroom. By giving students a variety of ways to showcase their learning, administrators explained, students can feel more ownership over their work. At Minot Forest, for example, students can often choose between a number of projects, including making a poster, a powerpoint, a video, or an oral presentation.

All schools are also working on finding better ways to assess students’ learning. Rather than relying on pencil and paper tests, the schools will instead focus on projects and other assessments that require students to demonstrate what they have learned.

Teachers are working on learning, too, with more opportunities to observe their peers at work and an increased focus on sharing lesson plans and strategies for the classroom. One high school teacher noted that he visited the art teacher to learn how to better design and execute lessons involving group work. At Minot Forest, one teacher with a particular skill in teaching word problems is passing that knowledge along to teachers in different grade levels.

Administrators also shared highlights from the previous year. At the John W. Decas Elementary School, students are now using more online tools for learning, including Mystery Science, which is a particular hit among second graders. The school also has a new tool to allow students to record themselves reading aloud. Students like recording themselves, and the files provide a record for teachers so they can better understand and track a student’s progress over the school year.

At Minot Forest, students participate in “Innovative Fridays,” which revolves around project-based learning. There is a “maker-space” in the library for teachers to focus on media literacy and technology. Teachers have also come up with a number of ways to support each other and spend time together, including a knitting group that meets before school once a week, a yoga class led by a teacher one afternoon a week, and potluck staff breakfasts.

The Middle School has a record number of students participating in music: 82 in band, 45 in chorus, and 15 in the guitar club, which met for the first time on Thursday. The school is accepting donations of any and all instruments, but percussion, woodwind, and brass instruments are the most needed, and the band director is able to do many repairs. The school’s “Viking Block” is used to give students extra support, extra challenges, social and emotional support, or allow them to explore their interests. 

At the High School, students have many opportunities to choose more challenging classes through dual enrollment, AP, and IB. High school students can take classes at Bridgewater State, and eighth graders can take some or all of their classes at a ninth grade level. The school also has new technology classes, including game design, computer science, and a class which is building an electric car. Teachers will be learning how to better teach students with trauma at a workshop next week, and restorative justice principles are part of how the school handles discipline.