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Starting Off Right!

A glimpse inside the first staff meeting of the year at Changemaker School Lusher Charter.

By Laura White

In May 2012, Laura graduated from Tulane University with a B.A. in Political Economy. While at Tulane, Laura brought her Youth Venture project, Swim 4 Success, to New Orleans, LA, and was a founding member of Tulane’s Ashoka U Changemaker Campus team. As a member of the Empathy Initiative, Laura manages the Changemaker Schools network, a group of schools that have given empathy as much priority as math and literacy. Laura is passionate about changemaker education, empathy, and transforming early childhood education.

September 9, 2013

While schools across the country are diving into the 2013-2014 academic year, the start of the fall semester looked a little different at Changemaker School Lusher Charter in New Orleans, LA.

A collaborative, team-oriented learning community, Lusher’s inaugural staff meeting last week centered on the important theme of evolution. Looking back at Lusher’s history pre- and post-Hurricane Katrina, the whole staff was able to examine the growth and change of the entire school as well as the growth, goals, and passions of each teacher in the building.

By reflecting on what aspects of the school experience have changed the most, the staff identified what topics to focus on this year. For example, the staff determined that one of Lusher’s most remarkable areas of growth is its work in student well-being. For the coming year, the school social worker, the positive behavior interventionist, the physical education teacher, and a lead teacher have formed the “Caring Counts” team, which will work to ensure that student social and emotional growth is just as strong as academic growth. Furthermore, the staff decided that student leadership on this team is crucial for its effectiveness, so they will be electing fifth grade representatives who will serve on the team and help plan service-learning projects.

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In addition to making plans for whole-school growth, Lusher’s back-to-school staff meeting also made room for each staff member to make a personal growth plan. But instead of sharing professional growth plans solely with evaluators, Lusher teachers brought their work into sharing circles with their colleagues. During this time, teachers shared videos, charts, books, articles, student work, and other artifacts to capture their personal journeys. Colleagues took careful notes and asked questions so that each teacher’s personal growth plan reflected a community growth plan.

The opening meeting also presented an opportunity for Lusher staff to share their expertise and passions with the whole staff. This year, two teachers taught their colleagues how to use cooperative learning structures to better engage students in collaborative environments. Also, artists delivered training on arts integration and demonstrated how Common Core Standards can be connected to the arts standards of every art form. There was even a body percussion and dancing lesson, a fun way to share interests and build a strong sense of community.

By starting with the past, the Lusher staff succeeded in creating a shared vision of the school’s future that addressed the growing school-wide topics of interests as well as the individual goals and passions of teachers. This reflective and community-based way of starting the school year is a great way for any school team to build community and provide a high quality, holistic education for their students.