THE FWSU STORY: GEMS Celebrates Culture

Our January school assembly at Georgia Elementary celebrated the different cultures and ethnicity that make up our school community. Conversations in classrooms blossomed over to a school wide celebration to honor and celebrate who we are. To begin our morning meeting (Pk-4 students and staff), adults and students modeled the different greetings to one another for each grade level to observe in a variety of languages:  “Bonjour”  “Nihao” “yeoboseyo”  “kon’nichiwa” and “aloha”  were all greetings shared pointing out the many different languages that represent our family.   A guided African dance followed “Che Che Koolay”  as a movement activity and for students to gain a  deeper understanding and meaning of how we communicate differently and value different cultures.
Our Georgia school community is special and made up of unique, diverse, individuals who have different ideas, beliefs, and thoughts from our world.  What we know about one another is that we all belong to our school community and our bond is that of treating one another Respectfully through Responsible and Safe choices.

Middle school students who are part of a film project put together the following video to exemplify our entire community PK-8.  Another wonderful example of the collaborative, thoughtful, work that students exhibit through actions and creations to acknowledge who we are.  Our Innovation Lab students have captured our school culture from day to day.

THE FWSU STORY: FWSU Evaluation Committee Looks Forward


Six years ago, the first FWSU Evaluation Committee met and began the process of reshaping the teacher evaluation system. The committee was successful and since that time that group has never stopped working on making our evaluation system even more relevant and effective for all of our teachers. This year is no different. The committee has been hard at work updating our system so it remains true to the goal of improving teaching and learning in our districts.

Mindfulness jars!

 The goal of the committee this year is clear. It has been working on making the evaluation system less passive and more evidence based, similar to the the proficiency model we are now building for students. The committee’s focus so far this year has been on how to incorporate micro-credentials into the evaluation system. Micro-credentials are like mini-degrees, or certifications, in a specific topic areas. The topic areas chosen by the committee are the four FWSU Action Plan Targets – Proficiency Based Personalized Learning, Leadership, Flexible Learning Environments and Community Engagement.

Along with the proposed enhancements, the committee is recommending that many of our current practices stay in place to ensure a model of evaluation that allows for growth. The aspects that will stay the same are our mini-observation model and our stakeholder feedback. What will change is the cycle for teachers will increase from two years to three. Mini-observations are conducted by administrators and capture a brief glimpse into classroom instruction, followed by written (and often verbal) feedback to teachers. Stakeholder feedback is a great opportunity for our FWSU families to share their perspective on their child’s school experience.


Members serving on the FWSU Evaluation Committee include teachers and administrators,  This year they are Ned Kirsch (FWSU), Heather Skiorsky (GEMS), Chris Dodge (FES), Linda Keating (FWSU), Mariah Mandigo (GEMS), Juliet King (BFA) and Karen Witalec-Krupa (BFA).

FWSU New Teachers discuss.

We set the bar high for continuous learning by our students. We do the same for our teachers. The work of the Evaluation Committee helps to ensure that the process is clear, relevant and supportive of our FWSU educators as they grow and discover new and exciting strategies for facilitating the best learning available.


THE FWSU STORY: Fletcher Students “Check Out” Positive Behavior

Checking in and checking out is not just for hotels, library books, and airports anymore. At Fletcher Elementary, Check-In Check-Out is an important part of the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) approach to maintaining a successful school climate.


A student checks in on their behavior goal progress.

Check-In Check-Out, also called CICO, is a targeted behavior intervention. Students begin their day by meeting with the School Counselor, teacher, or another adult, to review their behavior goals for the day. During this brief conference, the child and adult review strategies for challenging parts of the day and the student receives positive encouragement that sets a positive tone for the school day to come.

Students are supported throughout the school day by checking in with an adult after each academic subject, as well as arrival, lunch, and recess. They receive between zero and two points for each of seven scheduled blocks, based on their success following the school-wide expectations of being respectful, responsible, safe and caring. Each child has a personalized points goal that is adjusted to meet the child’s current needs.

Stickers are used to help support progress toward reaching goals.

Stickers are used to help track progress toward reaching goals.

At the end of the day, School Counselor Sandi Simmons “checks out” with students to tally the day’s points and, if they meet their goal, recognize them with stickers that may be cashed in for small prizes or banked for larger rewards. If a student does not reach his or her goal, the conference serves to talk about strategies for the following day and as a supportive reflection on what went wrong.

“Checking out with students at the end of the day is a favorite time for me. When students reach their goal, they realize that they are not a bad kid,” School Counselor Sandi Simmons said. “They feel proud. Sometimes I am surprised at how such a little thing can  make such a big difference.”

When students are supported in following school-wide expectations, more time and energy is available for academic learning for all students.

“When children feel acknowledged in a positive way, they are not seeking that attention as much negatively during an academic block,” Literacy Teacher Leader Julie Steves said. “For some students, the frequent reinforcement is what’s needed to help them have an overall good day. That creates a learning environment that is more efficient and positive for every child.”


A student uses points earned to be Principal for 30 minutes and makes a phone call to the Superintendent.

Rewards for students range from small trinkets to being Principal for 30 minutes.


A snapshot of the behavior goals that students are working toward.

“I love Check-In Check-Out,” second grader, Rylan, said. “I don’t forget about the rules because a teacher helps me remember them every little while. I feel so happy when I reach my goal that I want to do it again tomorrow.”



Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Welcomes Incoming Sixth-Graders to Middle School with Orientation Guide

BFA Fairfax sixth-graders were off to a great start this fall and spent a lot of time learning the routines and expectations of middle school. Moving from the elementary building to the middle school wing can sometimes be a little intimidating, so the sixth-grade staff always takes it slow at the beginning of the school year to ensure a successful transition.

New sixth graders are welcomed with an orientation presentation designed by their peers and teachers.

New sixth graders are welcomed with an orientation presentation designed by their peers and teachers.

Four students who registered just as school started were a part of this process and received the benefit of our beginning-of-the-year activities. After about a month into the school year, the sixth grade received several new students and teachers and students did our best to make the new students feel welcome. However, after a couple of days, we realized a few things had been forgotten here and there and wanted to do more to help our new students feel more confident and successful with their transition.

Students greet incoming sixth graders.

Welcoming new incoming sixth graders.

Librarian overview

Providing information to new students on how to navigate resources such as the library.

Mrs. Carpenter met with the most recent “new to BFA student” and a couple of other sixth-grade peers to brainstorm the issue. It was decided that we needed a better, more personalized orientation guide to provide to students and families when a new member joins our grade, in addition to the Middle School Handbook.

Getting comfortable with lockers just takes a bit of practice. Here are some instructions to get started.

Getting comfortable with lockers just takes a bit of practice. Here are some instructions to get started.

Peyton Metruk and new student Hailey Shoram took on the project and immediately jumped in with many new creative and outstanding ideas. The two students tailored the orientation guide to the BFA Fairfax middle school and collaborated with Melinda Carpenter (6th Grade Science/Geography Teacher), Principal Tom Walsh, and Nichole Wehman (5-8 Guidance Counselor) to make sure they included everything a new student may need to know or wonder about coming to Fairfax.

Introduction to Science & Geography with Mrs. Carpenter.

Introduction to Science & Geography with Mrs. Carpenter.

Peyton and Hailey questioned each other, peers and adults that support the 6th grade, independently problem-solved and checked in with Mrs. Carpenter for feedback, and then made improvements. Both students demonstrated a high level of leadership by making appointments with staff for pictures and interviews, learning new technology, and by holding themselves accountable for high-quality work with notes and checklists. Peyton and Hailey used excellent communication and presentation skills to complete the 42 slide project and Peyton spent many hours of time outside of school to ensure exceptional quality, a testimony to her dedication and engagement.


The overview also included details about school lunch.

Specifically, the Google Slides orientation will be used to introduce new students to teachers, learning spaces, expectations, unified arts, voice levels, field trips, flexible learning opportunities, and much more around BFA Fairfax. Toward the end of their work, Mrs. Carpenter asked Hailey and Peyton to reflect on the experience. Hailey, our new student, thought the project really helped her get to know the sixth grade even better and thinks it is a great resource for new kids coming to Fairfax.

Unified arts opportunities like chorus and music were also featured in the presentation.

Unified arts opportunities like chorus and music were also featured in the presentation.

Peyton described her excitement at working on a project that enriched her writing and communication skills, which are personal goals for her. When asked about which step in FWSU’s Action Plan best demonstrated her work with the project, Peyton identified Leadership and Flexible Learning Environments as clear indicators of her engagement in the BFA Fairfax Sixth Grade Orientation Guide. Many thanks to Peyton and Hailey for an excellent and informative resource that BFA’s staff will use for many years to welcome new students!

THE FWSU STORY: Students Design Solutions to Water Bottle Waste Problem

For the seventh grade Project Based Learning class, the students and teacher, Mrs. O’Brien, talked about ways of reducing waste and that one of the big things is water bottles that go into landfills and litter our roadways. Team building activities that centered on our environment were done the first week.


Students collaborate and explore creative solutions.

The next couple of week’s teams were formed and each team started to design a water bottle to be judged by the eighth grade.

Promotional poster designed by students.

Students share their innovative design in a poster.

The teams went to the Innovation Lab and used Tinkercad to produce scaled-down versions of our water bottles and printed them on the 3-D printer.

Students design their solution in the Innovation Lab.

Students design their solution in the Innovation Lab.

Labels were then designed and the winning design was sent to Zazzle, a company that personalizes items.  Each person in the class received a water bottle matching the winning design.

THE FWSU STORY: Educators Develop Innovative Professional Learning Practice

Identify-Learn-Improve cycle

Several teachers from all 3 schools are wrapping up their graduate-level professional course offered by FWSU. In the Innovation Mindset Through Collaborate Apprenticeship course, teachers explored ways to incorporate innovative ideas to improve learning.

Innovators Mindset by George Couros book cover

Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset: empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.

Throughout the course, teachers were challenged to actively design an innovative learning practice for implementation. Participants began by identifying an authentic, practical innovation practice for their own instructional setting that connected with a personal set goal. After some research, teachers selected an idea they wanted to deepen their learning about and agreed to develop a plan through a coaching partnership with the instructor.

All of the learning was completely personalized for each teacher. Instead of meeting in traditional sessions, teachers organized their course schedule around research, planning, implementation, and reflection. A variety of amazing new learning activities developed as result.

In the end, the participants collaborated with colleagues and the instructor to share their creative learning ideas, and most importantly, develop emerging strategies for innovation!

THE FWSU STORY: Classroom Meetings Build Community, Academics in Fletcher

Classroom meetings have long been a tradition in schools. Most commonly, Morning Meeting is an opportunity for all students in a classroom to gather with their homeroom teacher for community-building and the teaching and practicing of both academic and social skills. Typically, these classroom meetings take place first thing in the morning, setting a positive tone for the day and lending predictability and routine for students by reviewing the day’s schedule. The Responsive Classroom approach to Morning Meeting details four specific components that must be present: a Greeting, Sharing, Activity and News and Announcements chart.

A greeting is an important part of Morning Meeting.

A greeting is an important part of Morning Meeting.

The Greeting component of Morning Meeting promotes a sense of inclusion, importance, and belonging. Every child and adult is greeted by name and all students are able to see each other, typically sitting in a circle in the classroom meeting area. The Greeting is infused with countless social skills such as learning a proper handshake, making eye contact, and practicing appropriate voice and tone. Greetings range in complexity based on grade level and time of year. As students grow more comfortable with their peers, the Greeting includes increased risk-taking (i.e. shaking hands vs. simply saying hello.) Greetings also often incorporate academic skills. For example, a child may greet a classmate by name, followed by reciting a multiplication fact. Greetings are often themed, as could be the case if a teacher asks students to greet a classmate and then tell them the name of one state in the US. Greetings, as well as the other components of Morning Meeting, are adaptable to any skill – social or academic – chosen by the teacher.

Students enjoy music during Morning Meeting.

Students enjoy music during Morning Meeting.

The Activity component of Morning Meeting, while continuing to reinforce academic and social skills, often focuses on cooperation amongst members of the larger classroom group. The Activity is often a game and may involve listening, strategizing and working together toward a common goal. Students learn important skills for supporting each other and persistence, and these skills carry over into other school and home settings.

Students read a Morning Meeting greeting.

Students read news and announcements during Morning Meeting.

Giving students an opportunity for Sharing lets them know that they have something important to say and that they are valued. It affords the student a chance to practice public speaking and all of the skills associated with that. Typically, classmates ask questions or make comments to the person sharing. Often, these conversations give the student sharing a great deal of practice backing up their share with specific details. This skill frequently carries over into academics like writing, where details are essential. Sharing may be news that is lighthearted or serious. It allows students to practice socially appropriate responses to a variety of events. Preferably, students share news verbally, rather than physical objects. However, as students learn the routine these props can be helpful.


Students also engage in sharing during Morning Meeting.

The News and Announcements chart – also frequently called the Morning Message – is an interactive document usually written by the teacher. Students are typically asked to respond to a prompt or solve a problem. This allows them to share information about themselves (i.e. Do you have a dog?) or showcase their academic skills or thinking. The Morning Message also orients the class to the daily schedule and any changes in routine, such as special events. Students read the Morning Message upon entering the room, even before the meeting begins.

Morning Meetings are a fantastic opportunity to showcase student leadership, particularly for older students. With support, students can write the message, lead the activity or facilitate the sharing.


Ms. Locke shares with the class.

The importance of Morning Meeting necessitates that all students are at school on time each day. It teaches and reinforces important academic and social skills. It orients students to the schedule and creates a sense of importance and belonging. Missing Morning Meeting can cause undue stress and cause students do not have information that is given to the general group.

Mornings are fun at Fletcher Elementary!

Mornings are fun at Fletcher Elementary!

While Morning Meeting is the cornerstone – a daily occurrence – of classroom meetings, many classrooms also conduct a closing meeting or problem-solving meeting, when needed. Closing meetings are typically held at the very end of the school day and give students an opportunity to reflect on the day, how the group worked together, and on their individual successes and challenges. Frequently, the class and/or individual students set goals for the following day. It continues to build community, but is less formal and typically last for less time than Morning Meeting.


Preschool students in Ms. Hurt’s class enjoy Morning Meeting.

Problem-Solving Meetings are conducted on an as-need basis. They gather the entire class in an effort to address systemic challenges and plan for the groups’ success. These meetings encourage collaboration, peer support, honesty, respect, and envisioning an approach to create future success. During these meetings, the teacher (or sometimes students) facilitate and ensure a respectful, caring approach.

Classroom meetings are a great tool for building community and supporting academic and social skills development. 


Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon