How We are Reimagining the Possibilities with Our Middle School Staff and Supporting Innovations

 

Writer and executive producer of Put It Into Words, Tim Salem is the Principal at ScottsRidge Middle School in Ridgefield, CT. He has 20+ years as an educator and administrator and was named the 2009 Assistant Principal of the Year by the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS).

 

Tricia Raneri is in her second year as Principal of East Ridge Middle School in Ridgefield, CT. Her passion is working with early adolescents, and the middle school level.

 

Kimberly BeckKimberly Beck has been an educator for 25 years. Currently she works as assistant superintendent in Ridgefield public schools Where she has engaged community members to reimagine the purpose and possibilities of school.

 


Over the course of the last few years, the Ridgefield Public Schools in Connecticut have been speaking in terms of “future-ready,” meeting the needs of all learners, and social and emotional health with the purpose of preparing students for their tomorrow. As a district, we have engaged in dialog and actions to set the course for transformation.

At the onset of the 2016 – 2017 school year, the middle school leadership and the assistant superintendent of schools launched a forward-thinking process designed to identify what we, as a district, imagine the middle school experience to be when preparing our adolescent learners for their future.

The work thus far has yielded an initial set of beliefs and values from which to base decisions and actions.

We believe the middle experience should provide for ongoing opportunities to pursue curiosities and interests that assist students in their personal development.

We believe that a middle school experience should lead to success while attending Ridgefield High School and beyond.

We believe that a middle school experience is a unique time in a student’s education and that learning activities, instructional strategies, the learning environment and structures must fully align with our purported beliefs and values.

We believe that every school has teachers and staff with visions of something worthy.

We know there is untapped potential that if we pay attention to it and have space and room to grow it, the visions will be met. Representative middle school faculty formed “Team Imagine” and with Allison Zmuda, jump-started amazing conversations about ways we could fill our middle schools with opportunities for students to dive deeply into compelling issues that they are passionate about. Perhaps one of the most compelling aspects of this work was the opportunity for educators of various positions coming together to design cool (yes cool!) creative, fun learning activities that met the threshold to qualify as compelling, relevant and personalized.

Though we encountered some stops and starts along the way, our direction was crystallized through our internal shared vision of “engaging, relevant and personalized learning for ALL members of the community.” This helped us to take some healthy risks and make “Bold Moves” fresh off of our five session course with Heidi Hayes Jacobs.

We developed our own bold moves, coined “Imagine Moves.”

  1. Our first, Check it out! highlighted the powerful, timeless and contemporary teaching practices happening in our learning spaces right now. We invited all of our teachers to “check out” what is going on in other learning spaces throughout our two middle schools. This is intended to share the incredible creativity and innovation within our own buildings while also offering opportunities for meaningful feedback from colleagues in a non-evaluative, collegial manner.
  2. Our second Imagine Move, Can you imagine…? places the the Library Learning Commons as the hub of innovation for our schools— a place for great resources, inspiration and thinking. The evolution of the Library Learning Commons over the last several years promotes greater thinking about the space and purpose. Through collaboration with the Library Media Specialist and technology integrator, our schools can harness this power beyond the physical space of the LLC.
  3. Lastly, in Imagine Move number three Time to Lead! teachers and other faculty members have the opportunity and structure to drive the professional learning experience with the intention to share and grow innovative ideas with colleagues. This time is led by individuals and small groups from the faculty.

These Imagine Moves have become the cornerstone of the shared vision and actions that are informing how the middle school transformation will take shape in the next year and years. It is inspiring and awe striking to bear witness to the process and product. We are quite proud of the attention we have paid to both students’ and educators’ needs. In this time of change and evolution we have remained true to our beliefs and are dedicated to putting the students at the center every step of the way.

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