Amid numerous teacher strikes, one Seattle charter reveals how their ship is sailing smoothly
Sep 11, 2022, 9:30 AM | Updated: 9:42 am
(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
With enrollment dropping and teachers striking across the Puget Sound, some schools are avoiding these problems, including Impact charter school Seattle Salish Sea Elementary.
A complaint among teachers currently striking is about classroom student-to-teacher ratios, with some classrooms in the area reaching well over 25 students to teachers. At Salish Sea Elementary, they have two teachers in the classroom in order to allow each student to thrive and get the attention that they need, Alex Harwoods, an official at Seattle Sea Salish Elementary, said.
“We know that our early elementary scholars really benefit from more individualized attention,” Harwoods said. “And having those two teachers in the room makes it really easy to provide ongoing small group support and things of that nature.”
The goal of Seattle Sea Salish Elementary is to develop social-emotional skills in its young “scholars,” what Sea Salish calls its students, and gives them the skills that families say are seeing great results in their kids.
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This increased focus on social and emotional development is important to the faculty and staff because it emphasizes individual student development rather than purely meeting state mandates testing standards.
Another focus of the school which helps support the staff by taking feedback directly from teachers and implementing them into their plans as an institution, including changing the schedule to better support the school as a whole.
“Working with teachers on the schedule, we actually revamped the schedule for this year to increase planning and preparation time,” Harwoods said. “That’s something that teachers advocated for that they said would really help with sustainability.”
The system not only supports the teachers but also benefits the students.
“It’s also good for kids, right?” Harwoods continued. “If teachers have more planning and preparation time, that’s going to improve the daily experience for students.”
Other support systems for faculty include a shortened Friday schedule, which gives teachers time to plan their lessons as well as important mental health breaks during their work time. All of these improvements come from being able to work directly with faculty to plan curriculums and be flexible and responsive to student needs.
“I think are what make us really attractive, professional development, strong mentorship, opportunities to engage in decisions around things like the schedule, providing benefits, like wellness Friday, and then quite frankly, coming into a school building that believes every child can succeed that is focused on joy, rigor, engaging instruction, it’s an attractive place for educators to come,” Harwoods said.
These changes don’t only benefit teachers, but are also suitable for supporting students and making sure that they succeed in their education.
For teacher Emily Lescombes, the freedom of having control over her lesson plans rather than relying on more structured, state-approved learning has given her the freedom to focus on teaching strategies that meet students where they are.
“I try and make it as fun as possible. And I know with second graders, they need to move a lot,” Lescombs said. “So it’d be unrealistic for me to do things without them saying anything or without the moving. So I tried to incorporate clapping their hands standing up.”
“In my past experience, I was given a binder or a box saying to teach this for the year, but no real guidance on how to use it.” Lescombs continued. “Of course, I could figure it out professionally, but taking that time to actually try and figure out what I’m going to teach here at Impact, they’ve already done that for us, so then I know exactly what I’m teaching within that week.”
This allows the scholars to have the room to practice critical thinking skills in deciding what they want to focus on in their academic careers, rather than focusing only on what they are being taught. This, Lescombs says, is the real goal of the Impact Charter schools system, to get students to think critically and find a passion for learning in whatever field they decide to pursue.
“If they enjoy it, they can look for what’s more along that same topic, or find themselves if they are not interested in a topic, then also knowing that it’s okay to like certain things and not like certain things because that’s just a human trait,” Lescombs said. “But in life, it’s important to be curious, and to keep trying, even if you fail.”