Author and speaker Simon Sinek said, “It all starts with WHY. People don’t care what you do or how you do something, until they understand WHY you do something.” Loving Weller, Building Scholars is not just the mission and vision of Weller Elementary School in Springfield, but Loving Weller, Building Scholars is our WHY.
Weller Elementary is a school with a free and reduced lunch rate of 83% and an ELD population of 16%, making it one of the most diverse schools in Springfield. For years, Weller has been a school with high expectations for learning and behavior. Long-time systems, such as our P.R.I.D.E. Panthers (students who show Politeness, Respect, Integrity, Discipline, and Effort) and PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support), have been in place at Weller to help us meet the needs of our students. As our team began to really believe our “Why,” and the aftershock of the COVID-19 virus occurred, we began to seek ways to do more.
Last year, we took a team from Weller to visit the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta. This inspired us to create some new systems at Weller which have allowed us to build upon our “Why” of Loving Weller, Building Scholars. One of the ideas we have begun to implement since this visit is the use of a house system. All of our students and staff have been split into one of four houses. They are intermixed by gender, grade and ability… something like Hogwarts and a fraternity or sorority.
“PACK Time,” as we call it, occurs every Friday afternoon and is a time of celebration, fun and connection. This block of time is set aside so that we can be intentional about building connections with students and staff outside of our assigned classroom, grade level or role. We often connect our PBIS or Conscious Discipline lesson to this block of time, but in a nontraditional way. As the year has progressed, we have begun to have monthly house challenges as well. In November, we held Loving Weller, Building Scholars: Our “Why” BY NICOLE PARKE, SPRINGFIELD PUBLIC SCHOOLS S&C SUMMER 2023 | 21 a food drive to encourage houses to work together to collect canned food for those in need. In January, we challenged houses and families to an all-school read of the book “Matilda” by Roald Dahl. Thanks to a generous donor, we were able to give every student a copy of this book to read at home with their family. Students also participate in various reading extensions for house points. We have been able to perform various STEAM activities and Minute-to-Win-It games to practice teamwork throughout each house. We are Loving Weller!
Our school is known for its systems which prioritize learning. For many years, all teams have collaboratively planned, unpacked standards and participated in job-embedded professional learning and coaching. Recently, we have made some intentional shifts as we have worked to truly Build Scholars. Jumping headfirst into deepening our understanding of the true Professional Learning Community process, we have studied books by DuFour, Fisher and Frey and Schmoker. A team of staff also visited the PLC Institute to learn in-person. We no longer wanted to “say” we were “doing” PLC, but we wanted to believe that we are a PLC and that everything we do is truly aligned to that belief.
By pivoting our work with the National SAM Innovation Project, we no longer merely support the work of our principal, but have become a Schoolwide SAM School where we focus on strengthening and aligning the work of all our site instructional leaders. We hold a weekly Schoolwide SAM meeting where our principal, assistant principal, learning coach and school and family educator collaborate to focus teachers, build layers of support for staff, and problem-solve other instructional needs within the school. This intentional time ensures that we are growing teacher capacity in a more seamless way and that we are working as a united team to Build Scholars.
Every staff member at Weller is a teacher and every staff member works hard to connect with our students in meaningful ways. The teaching that occurs inside an elementary school builds background knowledge that all other learning in life will be connected to. It exposes students to strategies they can use to calm themselves when angry and it even shapes how a person sees themselves for the rest of their lives. While the teaching that happens in an elementary school is incredibly important, it simply cannot replace the teaching that happens inside a home. At Weller, we have decided that in order to best Love Weller and Build Scholars, we must do a better job of engaging our students’ most important teachers…their families.
In addition to the above changes, we have made a purposeful effort this year to Love Weller and Build Scholars by making sure we are more effectively communicating, connecting, equipping and empowering families. Prioritizing communication means that everything we send home to families is in their primary language and we provide interpreters at all events. All district grade cards are translated so that they are going home in students’ primary languages as well. Every engagement event has provided an opportunity for families to connect with other families and our staff, often providing an equipping strategy families can take home.
Our “Good Dads” meetings are one example of the monthly connecting and equipping events we have planned this year. Our site basketball clinic, all school movie night and schoolwide “Book Tasting” are successful as well. We strive to empower our families by encouraging them to be involved at Weller, to reach out with ideas and questions and to truly feel like they are stakeholders in our school. They have a seat at the educational table their child is invited to everyday.
Have we accomplished our goals this year and reached our destination? The answer to that is... No, and I am not sure we ever will. Each year, there are new people with new needs and new expectations. A wise person once said, “Distance alone is not what is important, it is direction that gets you to where you need to be.” This school year, unlike any other, we know the direction we are heading, and we are moving forward together.
Our “Why” is constantly pointing us forward and helping us to ensure we are Loving Weller, Building Scholars. As long as we continue to love our students, their families and our staff, we will be able to Build Lifelong Scholars who will also be able to love others. How could there ever be a better destination than that?