Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Working on Wellness

A little over a year ago, members of the Beaver Dam Unified School District expressed a desire to find ways to enhance the overall wellness of the staff.  A district Key Performance Objective (KPO) grew from this idea, and for the past year, a committee of certified staff, administrators, support staff, and board members have been researching and implementing strategies to improve employee wellness.  

The committee began its work by researching healthy living and reading the book Blue Zones:  Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, by Dan Buettner. In the book, he describes the keys to longevity as the following: lifestyle, diet, outlook, and stress-coping practices.  Leaning on this information, the Wellness Committee developed and implemented a staff-wellness program focusing on strategies in the following three key areas:  workspaces/environment, public relations/communication, and community resources.

Staff were introduced to the Wellness Program by committee members at the beginning of the school year.  A Wellness webpage is currently available on the district website to communicate initiatives and share information.  Staff is encouraged to take walking breaks, use stand-up desks, rearrange workspaces, collaborate with colleagues, and increase healthy options in vending and break-rooms. Walking routes at each district building are mapped.  The committee continues to reach out to community resources in order to offer health screenings and informational sessions on topics such as financial wellness and mindfulness.  Reflecting on the  importance of implementing wellness strategies Sarah McClanathan, Lincoln teacher,  notes, “being healthy isn't a fad or trend; it's a lifestyle.”

As interest has grown, individual buildings have also created their own wellness committees.  These groups implement strategies such as fitness classes, walking groups, healthy lunch days, and scheduled-social activities. A district-wide walking challenge was recently launched encouraging teams to “walk” to Florida. Fitness classes are open to all staff and are held at the high school each week.  Concurrently, the middle school implemented a “positivity wall” and redecorated the staff workroom.  Washington School staff fill a fruit infused water cooler daily for staff,  and Prairie View school staff get together to exercise after school.  

When asked about the impact of the wellness programs, Katie Schwartz, BDMS teacher, stated: “Our building wellness challenges have offered staff opportunities to participate in positive and engaging dialogue and activities that are not normally part of our daily routines. It's a refreshing change as we are focusing on being well in multiple ways, while supporting and challenging each other to be better each and every day. Wellness has the ability to transcend to our personal and professional lives. This makes the whole community stronger!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Transforming Learning Space

Through our discussions with staff, students and parents about transforming our learning space at Beaver Dam High School, I received the article below.  The author presents 20 questions educators should ask when designing learning space.  I propose the 20 questions are appropriate for anyone that organizes a classroom, media center, breakout space or other student learning area.  Steven Weber, Superintendent in Fayetteville, Arkansas is the author.  The article was originally published on ASCD's professional networking community for educators website at www.edge.ascd.org in December, 2016.

Transforming Learning Space:  20 Questions Educators Should Ask

All students deserve a learning space, not a classroom. As teachers and administrators continue to transform learning spaces, they could learn a lot about classroom design by visiting a playground, children’s museum, or public library. When you observe students on a playground, you will see collaboration, communication, critical thinking, teamwork, problem solving, citizenship, innovation, and community. We need more academic playgrounds. If teachers and administrators took time to reflect on the importance of design, purpose, and space, they may find that the old structure is a barrier to student achievement.
20 Questions To Ask About Learning Space:  
1.  Does the current space support the learning goals?
2.  How does the space encourage collaboration and communication skills?
3.  Where can students brainstorm and develop their own ideas?
4.  How does the lighting impact teaching and learning?
5.  Does the learning space influence student voice and student choice?
6.  Is the space age appropriate?
7.  Do students have multiple seating options?
8.  Are the walls used for “Learning Walls” or simply posters from college and pro sports teams?
9.  How will students interact with technology in the learning space?
10. Can students work in isolation or are they required to work in a group at every seating arrangement?
11. Does the learning space provide students with opportunities to contribute?
12. Does the learning space encourage compliance over student contribution?
13. Does the space take into account the varied abilities or all students?
14. Is the space designed so students can brainstorm and write on the floor, walls, and/or desks?
15. Does the space encourage student innovation?
16. Does the space tap into students’ natural curiosity and imagination?
17. Is there a sound system to enhance student learning and opportunities to connect with multimedia?
18. Does the space encourage formative/ongoing assessment?
19. Is the space designed for project based learning?
20. Have you asked the students what the learning space would look like if they were the architect(s)?
Once you design a space that meets the students' needs and preferences, you may be surprised at the change in student performance. When you are blogging or reading the news at home, do you put your feet up in a chair? Do you drink a cup of coffee and sit on the back porch? We do our best thinking when we are relaxed. Students can collaborate, communicate, create, and think critically in inspiring learning spaces.
Too often, teachers and administrators see a trendy classroom on Pinterest. The goal should be to design learning spaces that meet the needs of today’s learners, not to purchase bright colored bean bags, neon colored paint, rocking chairs, and lava lamps. Learning space is often overlooked in education. When teacher teams begin to ask these questions, they will reflect on the learning goals and ways to support student understanding, rather than transforming a traditional classroom into a trendy classroom.