ENHANCING OUR LEARNING PROGRAM: A Strategic Plan Initiative

On most days of the week, I carve out time in my day for a “walkabout,” my tour of the Valley campus and of each classroom. Always my favorite part of the day, this tour lets me see for myself what kids are learning.  I am always impressed by the engagement, comfort, and energy of Valley kids, whether they are seated around a table working together on math puzzles or constructing an obstacle course on the playground.  Learning is what we do in school, and so a school’s strategic plan, on some level, has to consider the quality and the development of the learning program. 

During Valley School’s Strategic Planning process last year, I participated in a six-person task force that also included two teachers, our librarian, our Curriculum Coordinator, and a Board member who is both a parent and Seattle Public School administrator.  Over the course of several months, we considered those elements of our program that needed to be preserved and those parts that needed enhancement.  Many of our “Enhance our Learning Program” goals have already been met:

  • This year, we increased the frequency and breadth of formal evaluations by adding a mid-year report in first and second grade and two progress reports in pre-K and kindergarten. Including the fall and spring parent-teacher conferences, we now provide four touchpoints for sharing our assessment of student learning with parents.
  • We developed a framework for the Board’s oversight of the learning program. Although leading and assessing the learning program is the responsibility of the Head of School, in collaboration with teachers, our Board has an interest in knowing that our students are being well served by our curriculum.
  • We are enhancing the use of the Valley School playgrounds as our “second classroom.” One of the main trademarks of The Valley School, our playgrounds have long been the setting for rich learning and growth.  This year, a Playground Committee has been introducing different elements to spark the creativity and exploration of children at all grades.
  • We have also made changes to our curriculum to reflect more cultural diversity and a growing commitment to our goals of inclusivity and equity. Whether it’s a new unit on the Underground Railroad in second grade, a unit in third grade on the international character of Seattle, or an examination of Washington state history in fourth through the lens of “counter narratives,” our students are gaining a sense of the complexity and richness of the human experience.
  • In keeping with our goal of identifying and addressing areas for improvement, this year we adopted the Bridges math program in grades one through five. Using Bridges ensures a consistent scope and sequence across the grades and an integrity of instruction in helping our students develop numeracy skills and a math mindset. 

We’ve made progress in this first year of our Strategic Plan. And over the course of the next several years, this plan will continue to provide a catalyst and framework for our efforts in solidifying and strengthening our learning program. Specific future projects include:

  • Examining our use of digital technologies, in the context of both our school philosophy of child-centered learning and current research, and articulating our goals for appropriate digital literacy and citizenship in elementary education.
  • Articulating the benefits of heterogeneous classrooms as a dynamic environment for powerful learning, while taking measures to ensure that we are, in fact, meeting the needs of students within a broad range of development. 
  • Gathering data and testimonials from alumni about the benefits and outcomes of a Valley School education.
  • Continuing to develop All School Sing as an extension of our curriculum and a place where we celebrate our community while learning in ways that reflect and extend the classroom curriculum.

In looking ahead to my “walkabouts” in coming years, I anticipate walking through classrooms that will look and feel very much like the ones I walk through today.  And yet I anticipate seeing new activities, new teaching methods, and new educational tools that point to a dynamic and responsive school that reflects both changing times and a long-standing commitment to the wonder and distinctive experiences of childhood.