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June 1, 2015
Vol. 72
No. 9

In a Word

WHAT'S YOUR WORD TO DESCRIBE GREAT SCHOOLS?Click to see what <LINK URL="">Andy Hargreaves, Gary Marx, Peter DeWitt, Pete Hall, and Kati Haycock</LINK> had to say.

School CultureSocial-emotional learning


Whether it is committed to excellence or committed to high standards, the school's commitment to its vision and its students makes all the difference. Most important, for a school to be excellent takes the commitment and dedication of everyone—from administrators to teachers, to staff and to parents.
Michele Cirillo, curriculum supervisor, Ellington Public Schools, Ellington, Connecticut


Schools that capture the joy of their students for life and learning and the joy of their teachers for their work spread that to the community they come in contact with. These schools seem to more readily reach out to their at-risk students and inspire them with that joy-filled worldview.
Jessica Walters, teacher, Woodlawn Catholic Regional School, Pawtucket, Rhode Island


Excellent and effective schools consider and respond to the academic, emotional, and social needs of students, teachers, and the community.
Brandi Worsham, teacher, Hilliard A. Wilbanks Middle School, Demorest, Georgia


When there is a supportive environment, staff and students are willing to take risks to become better. I have been so fortunate to be able to work with a staff who takes this to heart in every sense of the word!
Heidi Kegley, principal, Delaware City Schools, Delaware, Ohio


A great school knows its priorities and invests its efforts in achieving those priorities rather than pursuing too many things at the same time.
Argee Abadines, teacher, Stamford School, Bandung City, West Java, Indonesia


I am inspired by schools that work together to place our students at the forefront of every decision we make. A culture based on values such as excellence, creativity, courage, honor, and optimism leads to maximizing the potential of every learner we encounter.
James Lane, superintendent, Goochland County Public Schools, Goochland, Virginia


Mutual trust and respect among all staff members has promoted student growth, individualized learning, and respect for differences in our school community. Everyone works together in the best interest of students, going above and beyond in a variety of ways. Much more than teamwork—the level of trust is exceptional.
Lisa Dugach, kindergarten teacher, Johnson Creek Middle School, Chagrin Falls, Ohio


Students need to feel that their learning means something. Purpose engages students and inspires them to strive for more.
Trent Rasmussen, teacher, Johnson Creek Middle School, Johnson Creek, Wisconsin


In an excellent school, everyone possesses a smile and zeal to learn. Positive energy is seen and felt. Experiences are real and relevant.
Zachary Haney, teacher, John F. Kennedy Middle School, Suffolk, Virginia


This word describes the approach that will prepare students with the necessary 21st century skills to be successful in life. The school's willingness to think outside the box, fail forward, and take risks has enabled it to shine bright as a lighthouse school that has piloted a successful 1:1 technology initiative in grades 1–3.
Douglas Elmendorf, principal, Chase Elementary, Middle River, Maryland


When we put ourselves in the shoes of our students, our parents, and our community, we are better able to serve them. That is our job, after all—to serve. Only then do we become their champions and provide them with the educational opportunities that they deserve.
Crystal Marr, consulting teacher, Escambia County School District, Pensacola, Florida


Our school embodies teamwork. We do not do anything alone. We plan curriculum together, and we ensure that students' needs are met. Our collaboration leads to a positive environment where every voice is heard.
Amanda Kim, teacher,J. Michael Lunsford Middle School,Chantilly, Virginia


With a sense of community, everything else falls into place. Students feel safe, teachers want to help them learn, and everyone has common goals. Everyone wants to help one another grow.
Kelly Gump, online instructor, CTY Online,Jacksonville, North Carolina


Trust among staff members and trust between staff and students create a safe risk-taking environment. Risk taking is the cornerstone of innovation, change, and a sense of belonging. These things make a school special.
Lisa Cosand, instructional leader,Crowley ISD, Crowley, Texas


Excellent schools value the uniqueness that each student brings to his or her learning and construct learning opportunities aimed to challenge each student just beyond what he or she is able to do. These schools meet students where they are and provide relevant, real-world tasks for them to apply their new learning to.
Chris Miller, guidance coordinator,Green Mountain Technology and Career Center,Hyde Park, Vermont


Because we are a small school, only one class for each grade, we work together and support one another like a family—a family away from home. The same families come back and raise their children in our school district. We have the pleasure to teach children of children we have taught.
Brenda Morrow, 5th grade teacher,Stoy Elementary School,Haddon Township, New Jersey


There is an unspoken agreement prioritizing the work that needs to be done and how that work will be pursued. There is a tone or a feeling that conveys a message that is welcoming and safe and ensures that all belong here. The day-in and day-out challenges and opportunities seen in the school are addressed with a clear, common approach and a shared philosophy.
Lori Lockhart, principal, Roosevelt Elementary,Willmar Public Schools, Minnesota


Awareness—of self, others, cultural phenomena, the LGBTQ community, race issues, media, technology, our democracy and beyond—was our school's theme for the year and saturated every lesson and classroom. Awareness of others leads to better manners, sensibilities, understanding, and empathy for our civilization.
Aaron Sherman, ELA educator,Arts and College Preparatory Academy,Columbus, Ohio


After working at several schools throughout several states, my best school can be summed up by one word: professional. When an administrator is comfortable as a leader, he or she can hire the best teachers in the field and then get out of the way and let them get to work. Test scores, ownership, absenteeism, and so on will take care of themselves if teachers feel they are appreciated.
Linda Brothers, academic intervention specialist, Santa Rosa County School District, Gulf Breeze, Florida


Steven Wolk's 11 joys are alive in our school. Every staff member has a genuine love for the students, and the students are joyful learners. Joy is what school should be about; it is what learning should be about.
Angela Lange, teacher, Mimosa Park Elementary School, St. Charles Parish, Luling, Louisiana


The school embraced the new push for educational technology and wasn't afraid to change the way it approached teaching. Staff members changed schedules and class groupings and gave teachers more autonomy to try new things to best meet students' needs through blended learning and digitally enhanced education.
Celine O'Hara, special education teacher and district edtech facilitator, Cajon Valley Union School District,El Cajon, California


It's refreshing to work in an environment where everyone is working on the common goal of maximizing the potential of every learner (including ourselves as lifetime learners) and sharing the core values of excellence, creativity, courage, honor, and optimism! We all work hard, but we are seeing great results from our students.
Debbie White, director of finance, Goochland County Public Schools, Virginia


A safe haven, summer sanctuary, with limitless information, entertainment, imagination, and community. The heart of the school, where print and digital resources meet and the world (real or imagined) is waiting to be discovered. With a librarian as a tour guide, the library is the center of every educational universe, big or small.
Rene Hohls, learning resource specialist, Ventura County Office of Education, Camarillo, California


Staff, students, and families at our school are all on the same page, both academically and behaviorally. This makes school a predictable and safe place to learn and excel.
Matt Renwick, principal, Howe Elementary School, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin


When educators and students are willing to take risks and accept failure as an opportunity to grow, then learning can truly happen. Great schools inspire risk taking, nurture growth, and model the art of perseverance. Difficult moments are not times of discouragement, but rather challenges that can bring out the best in each of us!
Richard Dosch, teacher, Ford Middle School, Woodbridge, New Jersey


St. Mary's Elementary School in Bethel, Connecticut, has the most welcoming spirit for children, teachers, community members, parents, and grandparents. The staff enthusiastically welcomes visitors with smiles and opportunities to visit celebrations of learning.
Thomas Brown, retired, Trumbull, Connecticut


Through genuine love, kindness, personal concern, high expectations, and moral accountability, the students at Tunica Academy are motivated to be the best they can be at all times and in all things.
Janice Barton, elementary principal, Tunica Academy, Tunica, Mississippi


At Rainbow Valley Elementary, every child is empowered to be a leader, and every adult leads the effort to provide excellent learning opportunities. The students' voices are heard, and their ideas are enacted; the impact they make on their world is inspirational. To build this culture, the educators teach in ways that give the students the skills and confidence they need to make their ideas and dreams a reality.
Chryste Berda, director of curriculum, Rodel Foundation of Arizona, Scottsdale


Schools that have leaders that respond to staff's identified learning needs for their students will produce notable results. Respond with integrity and be resilient in your pursuit of improving outcomes for students.
Laura Lee Millard-Smith, principal, Simcoe County District School Board, Barrie, Ontario


This middle school had a principal who had a vision. She believed it, lived it, and most important, she modeled it. Excellence for the children was the expectation, not the exception.
Tameka Thomas, English language arts coordinator, Griffin Spalding County Schools, Griffin, Georgia


The school employs teachers who really know themselves and honor and respect their students and the learning process.
Pamela Sexton, teacher, Southwest Licking School District, Pataskala, Ohio


We are committed to doing what is best for our students. We are committed to collaborative, inquiry-driven learning that engages the whole child. We are committed to creating a community of caring, global-minded thinkers.
Doriane Marvel, IB coordinator, Spicewood Elementary, Austin, Texas


Regardless of our role, we are all responsible for meeting the learning, growth, and developmental needs of students. Based on my 26 years in this district, in a variety of roles, understanding the high expectations for meeting individual students' needs was more important than any given role. The demand for excellence was a reality, even before state testing and accountability!
Melanie Mueller, director of research, assessment, and evaluation, Papillion LaVista, Papillion, Nebraska


  • Passionate advocates for students!
  • Passionate for differentiated and engaging instruction!
  • Passionate collaboration among teachers and administrators!
Jennifer Webster, special education teacher, Sendera Ranch Elementary, Haslet, Texas


Building relationships is key to any organization. Relationships build trust and morale and instill a positive culture where hard work is valued and appreciated. Having positive relationships helps productivity, promotes teamwork, and motivates individuals to do their best work and find effective and timely solutions to problems. An environment where relationships are built and nurtured ensures people want to come to work every day and put in their best efforts.
Shelly Vohra, instructional coach, Peel District School Board, Toronto, Ontario


From administrators to teachers to students, we loved one another. Leading by example, our principal created an atmosphere of mutual respect that made us want for our students what we would want for our own children. Former students have told me they felt that too, one saying, "Y'all loved us, and we loved y'all." Powerful!
Sherry Chase, director of data and accountability, Florence City Schools, Florence, Alabama


At Oxon Hill Middle School, we assert that Positive Energy Activates Constant Elevation. When there is a conscious effort to handle every situation in peace, the outcomes are always better. Peace is everywhere, including in the adolescent attire.
Ashanti Foster, academic dean, Oxon Hill Middle School, Fort Washington, Maryland


At Rocky Branch Elementary in Bogart, Georgia, the entire staff is committed to doing whatever it takes to provide students with the best educational experience possible. Staff members work tirelessly to enrich learning in dynamic ways. They continually hone their craft, and they are committed to be the best educators and develop the best learners.
Sheril Morgan, director, Schools of Character, Washington, D.C.


Excellent schools have a great community-oriented culture. The kids, teachers, and families all buy in to the expectations that the school community has created. Positive relationships come from that culture built on community.
Jenn Tiggs, instructional coach, Henry Ford Academy Elementary School, Detroit, Michigan


Every time I visit this school, I learn valuable leadership skills from the administrator. He has targeted 1st grade as his focus: conducting professional learning communities and data meetings—even hanging the 1st grade state standards on his office wall. He explicitly expresses his core values and has also led me to be a better presenter. All of this is due to his leadership abilities.
Melanie Lehman, curriculum coach, Peoria Unified School District, Glendale, Arizona


The projects where my students have learned the most have been the ones where science, math, history, library, technology, and art teachers have come together with a common project. For students to see that history matters in science, or library research can impact new technology we create, helps them understand real life better. Plus, multiple people coming together to create a project will always result in more meaningful learning for our students.
Becky Smith, middle school science teacher, Harpeth Hall School, Nashville, Tennessee


In schools that increase and sustain literacy achievement, teachers and the principal collaborate each day to ensure high-quality professional and student learning. Trusting and caring relationships among administrators, teachers, and students are the foundation and heartbeat of the school.
Regie Routman, ASCD author, national teacher and leader, Seattle, Washington


In 1981, I was at the American School in London doing my student teaching. The staff and student energy, enthusiasm, and excitement for learning were contagious! For example, the school put on the play James and the Giant Peach and the author, Roald Dahl, actually came in person. Field trips to the National Gallery and British Museum would go on no matter what the weather—picnic in the rain, anyone?
Alleta Baltes, principal, Ashgrove Elementary School, Riverton, Wyoming


Teachers have taken charge of their own professional development by facilitating a formalized peer-observation process that has been in place now for four years.
Catherine Beck, principal, Summit School District, Dillon, Colorado


Everyone pitches in and pulls their weight for the kids. No one complains or seeks recognition. Everything runs smoothly, and great things result!
Angela Robinson, principal, Loudoun County Public Schools, Ashburn Virginia


Without a vision, it's impossible to gain the ability to dream big. To dream big, we must encourage, dare, and challenge—challenge not only our students but also ourselves as teachers, parents, and our community.
Jana Diamond Klotzkin, kindergarten teacher, Red Bank Borough School District, Red Bank, New Jersey


Within our hallways and classrooms, our students, teachers, administrators, and community members fully support all that we do. It's wonderful to see how this pride is demonstrated in the amazing things that our students achieve. Throughout the trials, tribulations, and successes that every school experiences, it's pride in our mission that always makes us one!
Kelly Hussey, principal, Morris Community High School District 101, Morris, Illinois
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