Draft Day @ School
We just spent the past few days working with staff to complete the class placement process for the up-coming school year. Honestly, no matter how hard we try to re-tweak, revise and re-structure the process of placing students in classes for the following school year; the process still feels like a combination of (warning! sports analogy) the trade deadline and draft day rolled into one.
It is a given that our staff feel responsible for the placement that their students will have in the up-coming school year. I’m encouraged, actually, by the amount of time and energy that is invested in this process. It is also a given that parents and families invest a great deal of time and thought into this process, as evidenced by the many notes, forms and or conversations that occur between parents and school administrators during placement season.
Whatever the process, the placement of students into classes is a huge event that occurs rather quietly and discretely in most schools and, usually, without much negative fallout. As a Vice Principal, I like to consider and reflect upon a few key principles that help me guide the placement process and allow me to understand how this process can be used as a tool to assess the cultural wellness of the school in which I’m working.
Usually a healthy school has a few key components in place to the degree that they are evident in the actual structures of the school, the populating of classes being one of these structures. These components are:
- Trust exists in the working relationships among the professionals and between the staff and families
- Decisions and priorities are based upon student needs that are determined from the analysis of rich, school-based data sources
- There is a coherence between the school plan focus and actions of the adults and children in the school
Our process for placing students in classes is a work in progress towards this goal. We still see some of the puzzled looks and questions about the rationale behind some placements and a desire, from some staff, to manage the process and determine who they will receive in their class (the draft day analogy). This can be indicative of a less than fully developed sense of trust in the knowledge and integrity of the current teacher, or a manifestation of the perceived gaps that sometimes exist in the skills and practices of the receiving teachers. Or, it could be a reflection of a subtle application of self-interest to shift or avoid challenging classroom dynamics or students (the trade analogy).
When any of these issues surface they are best addressed as opportunities to learn and adapt, and as the context for talking about the ways we can create structures and processes that are student-focused, transparent and equitable for all stakeholders. Our process includes a standard form that enables parents to give input into the process by pointing out their child’s strengths, needs and peer needs (everyone ought to have a friend in their class). We also provide time for the current teachers to carry out the placement with a set of clear criteria that are designed to ensure balanced class populations and a good student-teacher fit. Lastly, we ensure that the voices that bring the needs of our exceptional and language learners are at the table when we are building our classes.
Each action I undertake as a school leader is a chance to communicate my values and beliefs and help to re-shape the school that I’m helping to lead. I believe that public schools exist to reflect our core democratic values and that seeking and acting upon input from those involved is important.
Our placement structures are a work in progress, we seek input, we work to ensure equity and we ensure that the process is carried out with integrity. One thing we do not (yet) seek out in this process is student voice. Any suggestions on how we can do this are more than welcome, just send your suggestions to the smaller office.