A few years ago, after rereading Debbie Miller’s book Reading with Intention, I led our teachers through an exercise of defining their beliefs about teaching and aligning practices. They named what they believed about classroom environment, structure, student choice, workshop, and student engagement. This was followed by a close examination to pinpoint where their practices aligned with their beliefs and an honest recognition of where they did not. This exercise, although it helped individual teachers, did little to stimulate coherence in beliefs and practice throughout the building.
And we wanted our school to be different. We’ve all been part of a staff where isolated islands, duets, and pockets of innovative and reflective teachers work hard to refine their practice. They are grounded in their beliefs, take a learner stance, and are always seeking to improve their teaching craft. We’ve all been part of a staff where some teachers were on the same page regarding instruction and for others agreement seemed elusive and put them at odds with one another—a staff in a perpetual state of taking one step forward and two steps back. We’ve all worked in districts that had competing initiatives pulling instruction and professional development in opposite directions, all in the same year. We decided to ask ourselves what we believed as a building about a variety of policies, systems, and procedures and to work to align our policy and practices with those beliefs.
This year we have examined and named our beliefs about a number of things. Because of the need to communicate with our families at the beginning of the year, we tackled our homework policy first.
Although we are proud of these tangible documents, we were reminded of the importance of the process. These published belief statements are the product of the interactive conversation and discourse that happened among our staff as we developed and drafted them. That process is what led to the learning, the aligning, and defining our beliefs in a united way that helped strengthen our advocacy for students and our connection with our families.
Homework Policy Process
We issued an invitation to those interested in the discussion to join an upcoming “brown bag” lunch after our early dismissal day. At the brown bag lunches we read and discussed research articles that posed different perspectives, watched TED Talks, discussed, and engaged in discourse, all while we practiced listening to differing perspectives and came to consensus about our beliefs.
We drafted position statements through Google Docs. Staff who participated in brown bags and discussions weighed in on the draft. This group refined the draft and presented it to the whole staff. A draft position was shared on poster paper, and the whole staff circulated and wrote thoughts in “graffiti.” We then had another meeting with small groups considering the draft and responses, with discussion and reflective writing.
Our initial study group then revised the draft again and presented the final version to the staff and community through a published newsletter and documents that went home with all students and families. You can click here to download the document.
This is where the “happily ever after” to this story takes a turn. Not all of our parents embraced and supported our policy. In fact, one parent actually withdrew her child from our school because of it. However, united as a staff, we didn’t blink. By working together through a collaborative process to define and align our beliefs about what homework should and should not be, we stood by with conviction—even in the face of a few parent phone calls to the district office and a family choosing to leave our school. That is the power of the process, and we repeated it for other important philosophical positions we tackled after homework.