By MARK VOS
Principal, El Portal Middle School
Many in the Escalon community have heard of the district’s movement towards establishing Escalon Unified School District as a Professional Learning Community (PLC). While there are some specific tasks that need to be accomplished (defining our Guaranteed Curriculum and creating Common Formative Assessments are two examples), much of the PLC process is dependent on building a PLC culture. For a PLC to be successful this culture must exist in our district, at each school site, and especially in every classroom.
El Portal Middle School staff has identified and established characteristics we feel are needed within our PLC culture. Through the support of our district, 27 of our staff members were able to attend PLC conferences. They attended with colleagues and were able to learn what a PLC entails. Having them experience this together was very impactful and instilled within our staff the desire to further develop our PLC culture at El Portal Middle School.
The first step was to redefine our Vision. As a staff we discussed what we envision for the students of EPMS and what we will do to ensure this happens. The revised Vision for EPMS is: Through our collective commitments, we will embody a culture of continuous improvement as we prepare all students for success in high school.
We then identified eight values or collective commitments that are essential to our meeting the established Vision (all eight can be found on our school webpage). It is important to note that these collective commitments apply to students, staff and, in most instances, to EPMS families as well. The collective commitments of collaboration and relationships have been particularly important to our staff.
We define the commitment to collaboration as: We work together to ensure all students learn at high levels.
What does this look like at EPMS? Students collaborating may take the form of a group test in math, a science lab or project, a peer editing assignment in ELA, or encouraging another student in PE. Students learning from and with other students collaboratively is impactful and creates a culture of campus-wide responsibility. Teachers collaborating also takes on many forms. District-wide, grade-level and subject-specific teams have been identifying our Guaranteed Curriculum. The use of student-generated data being reviewed within teams to identify specific needs and strategies for student success is also collaboration. The point of sharing these examples is to highlight the role collaboration takes in building a positive school culture. This culture emphasizes the roles of students, staff and families as we collaboratively prepare El Portal students for success in high school.
The staff also identified relationships as one of El Portal’s collective commitments. We have defined this collective commitment of relationships as: We establish connections in an effort to further success.
The staff has acknowledged the importance of making connections as a means of promoting student success. They are extremely successful at it as well. Parents regularly express gratitude regarding staff members who have showed they “care” towards their respective student. However, by establishing this as a collective commitment we have agreed to be intentional in our efforts to help students feel included in the EPMS culture.
Not surprisingly, our staff has taken measures to address this. They are currently doing this in two very tangible ways. The first is through the activities of our PBIS team. Comprised predominately of staff members, they have been working with EPMS student leadership to create regular student rallies and assemblies focused on specific themes directed towards relationship building. A rally on January 10 focused on Panther Pride, school spirit and our school expectations of “Be Safe, Be Respectful, and Be Responsible”. As part of the rally, staff members acted in a short film co-written with EPMS students. The film can be seen via the PANTHER PRIDE link on our school webpage at elportalmiddle.org.
Another example of how we are addressing relationships is through the newly established and staff lead El Portal Wellness Team. They have been working on the implementation of a new program to help ease the transition into middle school. The program will focus on elements that are essential to middle school success. These elements include a strong sense of inclusion, belonging, and self-worth. As a means of promoting and cultivating these, the Wellness Team will employ a program known as “The Panther Impact”. It will focus on welcoming sixth grade students, and those new to El Portal, and assist them in their transition. To do this, we will prepare and train Impact Leaders to act as peer mentors. The program will make its first appearance next month when we launch the introductory project which will demonstrate and celebrate the important role every student and staff member plays in making a positive impact on our campus and in our community.
Collaboration and relationships matter to all our staff. Individually, every one of our teachers and support staff members work on these every day. Collectively, we are making efforts to foster a campus where EVERY student contributes to and is part of our positive school culture.
Principally Speaking is a monthly article, contributed by principals from Escalon Unified School District sites, throughout the school year. It is designed to update the community on school events and activities.