Everyone Needs a Happy Gram:
Meet Henderson Middle School in Little Rock
By: Meghan Ables, 2016 Arkansas Teacher of the Year
Henderson Middle School in the Little Rock School District has made it a priority to build the morale of its staff. The principal is working diligently to turn this school around, from academics, attendance, extracurricular activities, and teacher growth. The Department of Education has provided HMS with intense support through its school improvement unit. I was extremely impressed with the effort being made to build the school culture and support the teachers in their own growth. I also saw some of the best teachers I have ever witnessed!
Teachers who do something that deserves recognition get a personal “happy gram” from administrators. These special cards have room for a personal note of gratitude and an explanation of why the teacher is deserving of the award. The principal invited me to go give two “happy grams” and it was so great to see the appreciation on those teachers’ faces. In this crazy world of education, teachers don’t really ask for much…..but feeling appreciated definitely tops the list.
The support these teachers receive blew me away. When the district asked them to start keeping track of data, the district also knew the work that would be required to create grade-level assessments. Because of this, the district paid the teachers to create all of the pre and post tests for each grade level. The teachers can use an app called Socrative to get instant results and track data. This is a free online program/app for IPad that allow students to log in and take teacher-created assessments. Because of this advanced planning and the App, teachers are spending more time deciding how to impact the data with new strategies versus creating the tests and sorting the data.
Now the part that will make all teachers across the nation extremely jealous……Henderson Middle is creating the perfect environment for teacher growth. Every teacher has a prep period (as usual) but also has an additional period for their PLC and team collaboration. Two days a week the teachers meet with others outside of their content to discuss student concerns and academic goals. The other three days, the teachers meet with their PLCs (common subjects) to track data and develop a plan to improve student success. I wanted to stand in the chair and shout when the principal told me this! Way to go, Henderson!
To make all of this work, the school needed to take a couple of minutes from each class to fit the extra PLC period in the day. While some may argue that students need to be in class longer than 45 minutes, I will argue that having the planning time to make that 45 minutes more meaningful and differentiated is more important. As PLCs became a focus for the building, the administrators started out leading the PLCs to show teachers how to run them. Then, a list of topics was created for the teachers to continue the process on their own. I went in to a team meeting and saw three teachers from different subjects planning together. It was such a refreshing sight to see! Everywhere I go teachers talk about how they would love to collaborate across the curriculum more but don’t have the time to do it. Here is the answer!!
Last, the staff is working together to complete a book study on The Hard Hat by Jon Gordon. This book is a part of the ever popular Energy Bus series. Many schools in Arkansas are on this huge ENERGY kick and the students are reaping the rewards from it. Education is a tough profession, but the teachers at this school are receiving support from every possible angle. Time, resources, energy, and happy grams! Strong mentoring is present and there is a possibility that the teachers will join the #ObserveMe movement. Exciting things are coming, and I can’t wait to watch.
One thing I love about touring schools around the state is walking into that classroom that mesmerizes me. It is crystal clear when a classroom exudes love, warmth, and trust…where kids are engaged and sitting on the edge of their seats eager hear what comes next. That classroom that is structured, disciplined with love and respect, and has high expectations for everyone. Boy, did I ever see it in Ms. Ledbetter’s class. (Thank you for being so great! You are truly deserving of a happy gram!)
I hope that all administrators will make it a priority to give some form of happy gram to their teachers. Having a strong morale in your building is crucial to student achievement. Providing teachers with time and resources is invaluable. Build teachers up, so they can lift students up too. Share those Happy Grams!!