Our School Feels Like a FamilyAugust 1, 2019
In addition to helming her kindergarten classroom at Madison Elementary in Norman, Hailey Couch (OK ’18) also leads the Climate Committee. Its goal: improving staff morale, boosting retention rates and creating authentic connections among students, staff and parents.
Two years ago, I met with the principal at Madison Elementary to propose a new idea: the Climate Committee. I wanted to plan entertaining, enjoyable and engaging events for Madison staff and our school’s families to boost morale among students, parents and my colleagues. I had high hopes that this committee could impact our school in the most positive ways—and it has.
Throughout the school year, the Climate Committee organizes many activities exclusively for teachers, including team-building exercises, games and outings. We already spend a lot of time together at school, but we love having fun with each other. “The Climate Committee encourages team-building on our campus,” says special education teacher Stephanie Fowler. “They promote a positive mindset and incorporate school goals, while bringing staff members together for the benefit of our students.” Adds Principal Dominic Barone: “This committee is a great example of distributive leadership that helps to instill a sense of ownership in our staff and builds momentum and consensus for our campus initiatives.”
Bringing in the community
To encourage community involvement, we reach out to local businesses for donations when we have family nights, and we include community members in these enjoyable events. Family events have included Fall Into a Good Book Night, STEM Night, Movie Night, our Multicultural Fair, and Art Walks. At every event, local businesses donate food. More families come if we provide dinner, so we feed people at every event.
Our family events help our staff connect with parents, but also encourage parents to connect with their children. “The activities the Climate Committee plans are intended to help connect our families to each other and the school family,” says math specialist Anne Lawrence. “They are a non-stressful way to get families into the school. Many of our parents don't have warm and fuzzy feelings about their own school experience. This gives them a chance to change their mindset and spend quality time playing with their children.”
Stories, science, art and world cultures
Here are some of our popular activities:
Fall Into a Good Book Night: Faculty members dress up as storybook characters and create crafts and activities related to their stories. Families dress up, do crafts together and listen to teachers read stories before heading to the free dinner in the school cafeteria.
STEM Night: The Climate Committee reaches out to community members for help with this event, including guests from the public library, directors from the science museum, parents who are engineers, and professors from our local university. Families partake in STEM challenges like coding, minibots, creating circuits, all while exploring, designing and testing. The students are able to use different types of technology during STEM challenges that they do not have access to at home. Our attendance numbers for STEM Night increase each year.
Movie Night: Families come to school in pajamas to watch a movie displayed on the large screen in our gym while eating popcorn in their sleeping bags.
Art Walks: Families come see the beautiful student art displayed in our school hallways. Madison does not have a dedicated art instructor, so each classroom teacher leads art lessons and activities with their individual classes. We all create authentic art experiences by allowing our students to use oil pastels, watercolors, acrylic paints and other artistic media.
Multicultural Fair: This is a very special evening for everyone because we celebrate all the unique and extraordinary cultures represented by our students and their families. Each class at our school studies a country for the entire school year, and then has the opportunity to display their new knowledge through special art work. With our music teachers, students learn dances representing different cultures throughout the year, and they love performing these dances for their families.
Because of the Climate Committee, the morale at Madison Elementary has never been higher. My fellow kindergarten teacher put it best: “School should be fun for everyone, and the Climate Committee makes sure it is.”
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