Last week I had the good fortune of traveling to Bench Elementary in Cowichan Bay with some of the staff from Mountain View Elementary here in Nanaimo. We were visiting with the intent of seeing the balanced literacy program that has been adopted school-wide based on the Daily 5 by Gail Boushey and Joan Mosher.
In all of the classrooms we visited, we were warmly welcomed, and the teachers and students were eager to have us see the work they were doing. I got the impression that this was a school where everyone was on-board with balanced literacy. There was a common language in and between all of the classrooms around expectations and the intended learning of the students. Underlying that was a strong sense of community and caring.
The grade 4/5 class that I visited was an exemplar for high expectations and differentiation. When we arrived, students were involved in a writing workshop. Kids were writing; conferencing with one another and with their teacher and the student teacher; taking part in self- and peer-assessment; reading model texts; and just generally engaged in thinking. There was noise, there was movement, there was talking, there were pages being crumpled up and tossed in the recycling, there was learning! The expectations on these kids were noticeably high from the moment we walked in the room, and every one of the students were deeply engaged in their work. While chatting with the classroom teacher I learned that there were a slew of learning needs, and that the expectations upon each student were adjusted accordingly, but there was a universal expectation that everyone be engaged, and everyone learn to the best of his or her ability. These expectations were evident in the students' written work, evident in the level of reflective language they possessed, and evident in their knowledge of why they were doing what they were doing--they clearly saw their work as being important.
I appreciate an environment where expectations are high, and where students are given the tools and support that they need to meet those expectations. I appreciate an environment where the core learning outcomes are clearly communicated and modeled so that students know what achievement looks like. And I especially appreciate an environment in which there is a strong sense of belonging, community, and mutual respect so that all students can feel safe and dignified about who they are an what they can achieve.