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The Rhythm of the Learner Year: Opening of School

When we started working with schools as an external change agent, we immediately noticed a problem with school calendars. In a nutshell, most of the school calendars are scheduled around adults.  This adult-centric schedule mandates when the district checks for student progress, how districts develop student curriculum, and what pace lessons were to be taught at.  

So, our team took some time to ask the question, “What would the school year look like if we centered it around the needs of students?” After two years of development and several restarts in our process, we have developed a philosophy of student learning that provides unique opportunities for student achievement.

The key to development is starting with the output side of the school year to look at what is expected of students in state standards, state tests, and exit expectations.  Once that was established, we worked to build a list of competencies that students would have to have in order to meet expectations, as well as the experiences that they would have to have in order to gain those competencies.

It quickly became apparent that there was more to the expectations set than just content knowledge. And each time a new element was identified that was critical for student proficiency the team would decide how that element was developed and when in the student year it was most appropriate to develop it.

Our Rhythm of the Learner Year, is a process that we use to develop learners and performers to the level of proficiency defined by the state, and creates a calendar of experiences that will enable all students to build and then reach their potential.  Each calendar year is built upon these phases:

}  Opening Period

}  Formative Period

}  Calibrating Period

}  Testing Period

}  End of Year

}  Summer Period

}  Next Year Opening Period


This first post in our Rhythm of the Learner Year Series has to do with the Opening of School.  The opening of school is one of the most important of the year. If we do the right things it doesn’t guarantee that we will win the game but it does enable us to win. If we do the wrong things and create the wrong conditions we can lose the game during this opening.

We look at the opening period as a five-week block of time – two weeks before school opens and three weeks after the students arrive – where we have to do those things enable all students to be successful. In many classrooms in the second week of school students and teachers already know who the “good” students will be and who the “failures” will be. A successful opening means that everyone – teachers and students – believe that all students have the potential to be successful.

We have several objectives to complete in order to prepare for the Opening Period, and this is where it can be extremely helpful to have an external change agent partner with your school to create the change you want to see. 

Establish a student-friendly culture and climate.  Students have to feel safe, welcomed, and valued in order to succeed.  Your school climate sets the tone for the rest of the year.  Be prepared and let students know that you believe in them.

Establish proactive behavior management rituals and routines.  Effective classrooms are ones that focus on optimum learning behaviors.  Have a plan for positive reinforcement of good behavior, and find creative ways to discourage any bad or distracting ones.

Establish academic rituals and routines.  Be sure to provide students with core competencies that they can rely on to do the learning work and performing work required in every class.

Set short and long term goals for students and the class as a whole.  Be sure the students know what these goals are and let them be active participants in developing actions plans for reaching these goals.

Assess student readiness.  Data management is critical to designing lessons for the students that we have in class.

Prepare students to be effective learners.  Teaching students to learn is a prerequisite for teaching students to learn content.  Make sure to build in exercises and activities that build their capacity to learn.

Prepare students for assessments.  Start the year by introducing them to the format, venue, duration, complexity, etc. of the state exams.  Build in familiarity with these facets of the test taking process so that they are comfortable when the time comes.

Teach annotated lessons and units.  Annotation alerts students to why specific teacher work or student work is included.  It prepares students to be partners in the teaching/learning teams.  It also prepares students to become independent learners.

Need help implementing these objectives, or have questions about how to start this process in your school or classroom?  Contact us today and let’s get the conversation started about how we can partner to achieve the goals you set out for your students and classrooms.

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