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How Do Teachers Engage Students and Build Strong Relationships?

By Janice Miller, chairman
City of Fairfax School Board

At our last School Board Work Session on February 22, we were privileged to hear a presentation about "Best Practices for Teaching and Learning," by Fairfax County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Peter Noonan and his colleague, Kim Dockery, the FCPS Assistant Superintendent for Special Services.

In this issue of Close-Up Online, we begin with an interesting Q&A between Mr. Noonan and Superintendent Ann Monday as they discuss how teachers can best build relationships and engage students.

As part of the discussion, Mrs. Monday also talks with Marcy Miller, the former Director of Student Services at Fairfax High, who shares information from the American School Counselor Association on the framework used by our school counseling programs.

Further below you'll find information from our four City School principals who explain how school counselors and other support staff at their schools are an essential part of the academic team.

Enjoy this issue! It's filled with insightful information about what makes schools work best. The School Board agrees this approach is critical for student success.

Creating a student-centered learning environment: A Q&A with Ann Monday and Peter Noonan

By Ann Monday, Superintendent
City of Fairfax Schools

Creating a set of clear and consistent best practices for student learning has long been a priority for Fairfax County Public Schools. Last fall, the Instructional Services team accomplished that goal by identifying a set of research-based Best Practices for Teaching and Learning that have been proven to increase student achievement and help every FCPS child reach their academic potential.

Today we talk with Peter Noonan, Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services, about this new approach to teaching and learning.

Ann Monday: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. The School Board was very appreciative and interested in the information that you provided at our February 22 Work Session about your approach to best practices for teaching and learning. Can you tell us more about how you determined the essential elements of the document you described?

Peter Noonan: Certainly. To begin, we knew that each best practice would need to be applicable from Pre K to 12th grade. We also wanted to concretely define the concepts and terms, so that every teacher, principal, staff member and administrator throughout the entire county has a common understanding.

More than a dozen FCPS leaders worked on the project, including principals, specialists from the four core curricular areas, the Special Education and ESOL offices, directors of Cluster V and Cluster I, and representatives from the Department of Professional Learning and Accountability.

The group looked at an array of external research and initiatives that FCPS had focused on for the last two years, as well as training initiatives provided by teachers. The initial outline was reviewed by 992 teachers and 145 FCPS principals, who were asked to evaluate the impact of each best practice on student achievement. The synthesis of the information became the FCPS Best Practices framework.

Ann Monday: I am particularly interested in the section that refers to enhancing intellectual, social and emotional growth. Can you tell us more about that?

Peter Noonan: Our goal in this area is to build collaborative and respectful relationships with students, colleagues, and parents. To do that, we need to consistently encourage, support, and appropriately challenge students to ensure their success. We also need to facilitate development of relationships among students to promote mutual respect and support in the classroom.

The ability of the teacher to develop a purposeful relationship with each student is the cornerstone of student success. When I say purposeful, I mean teachers aren't just being nice to kids, a buddy to them, or are focused on having their classroom be a "fun place" to be. Of course, you want all of that to happen – but teachers need to take the relationship much deeper.

Ann Monday: Engaging students in a meaningful way is also critical, isn't it?

Peter Noonan: Absolutely. The ability to actively engage, challenge, and motivate students – and provide them with varied and ample opportunities to practice and process new information – is essential for teachers to be effective.

To accomplish that, teachers need to have an understanding of student development, and they must believe that every student is able to access and develop capacities at varying levels. They also need to be someone who builds a positive relationship with kids. We learn from people we like and from those who are interested in us.

Ann Monday: In my experience, school counselors and other support staff in the building such as the librarian and resource teachers also play a key role in accomplishing that goal.

The School Board appreciated that as part of your presentation at the February 22 Work Session, we heard from Marcy Miller, the former Director of Student Services at Fairfax High who this year was promoted to the position of Secondary Specialist (7-12) for FCPS. Let's bring her into the conversation.

Marcy Miller: Hello, and thank you for your interest in our essential counseling programs. I did point out that school counseling programs are collaborative efforts benefiting students, parents, teachers, administrators and the overall community.

At FCPS, we feel strongly that counselors should be a part of the students' daily educational environment. Our work uses as a reference that framework for school counseling programs that has been outlined by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA).

Ann Monday: Can you share with us the framework for a strong counseling program?

Marcy Miller: The ASCA model consists of four interrelated components:

1. A solid foundation. The program must align with the mission of the school and district.

2. A useful delivery system. The curriculum will consist of structured developmental lessons designed to help the students develop competencies and provide them with the knowledge and skills appropriate for their developmental level.

3. A strong management system. Organizational processes and tools must be incorporated to ensure the program is organized, concrete, and reflects the needs of the school.

4. Accountability. To evaluate the program, counselors must collect and use data that links the program to student achievement.

I think you'll find that most school counselors are tapped in to the needs and abilities of the students with whom they work. Like teachers and administrators, the team is determined to help each child achieve their potential. When the whole staff works together, it makes that goal attainable.

Ann Monday: I couldn't agree more. Many thanks to you both. We look forward to learning more about what you are doing at the county level in upcoming issues of Close-Up Online.

To learn how the Best Practices approach and ASCA National Model are being incorporated into the work being done at our City Schools, scroll down for details from each of our four principals.


We invite you to join us for upcoming School Board Meetings:

April 5, 7:30 p.m.

LOCATION: Fairfax City Hall
10455 Armstrong Street, Fairfax VA

1. Citizen Participation: Persons who wish to address the School Board should arrange to be placed on the speakers' list by calling 703/293-7132 or signing up prior to the meeting with the Board Clerk.
2. Student Representative Report: Jonathan Earley
3. Fairfax High School: David Goldfarb, Principal

ACTION ITEMS Items under this heading are discussed and voted upon by the Board.
Approval of March 1, 2010 Minutes.

SUPERINTENDENT MATTERS The Superintendent may present other items for information.

BOARD MATTERS Board members may ask questions and introduce topics for further consideration.


April 19, 7:30 p.m.

LOCATION: Fairfax High School
Multi-Purpose Room
3501 Rebel Run, Fairfax, VA 22030

1. Student Panel
2. Plan for May Focus Group (Critical Friends): Ann Monday, Superintendent
3. Draft Agenda for Annual Retreat: Janice Miller, Chair
4. Budget Update: Ann Monday, Superintendent
5. Legislative Update: Jon Buttram, Vice-Chair

Coming Up in the next issue of Close-Up Online...

APRIL 2010: School Climate and Student Behavior

In the April issue of Close-Up Online, you'll find information from Cluster Superintendent Linda Burke about the programs in place to ensure our schools are safe and secure.

Dates to remember:

Please mark your calendar for this year's Kindergarten Orientation in the City Schools

Daniels Run Elementary School
April 21, 2010, 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
3705 Old Lee Highway, Fairfax VA

Providence Elementary
April 26, 2010, 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.
3616 Jermantown Road, Fairfax, VA

Please attend these FCPS meetings, where the FY 2011 budget will be discussed:

April 6-8 Board of Supervisors Budget Public Hearings

April 6 FCPS School Board presents Budget to Board of Supervisors

April 27 Board of Supervisors approves County Budget, tax rate resolution and transfer amount to schools

May 11 & 12 FCPS School Board Budget Public Hearings

May 13 FCPS School Board Budget Work Session

May 20 FCPS School Board adopts Approved Budget

Contact Us

City of Fairfax School Board

Chairman Janice Miller
703 691-1748

Vice Chairman Jon Buttram
703 385-4643

Julie Knight
703 691-3406

Elisa Lueck
703 385-7911

Toby Sorensen
703 591-5899

Jonathan Earley
Student Rep

You can also send an email to the entire School Board at schoolboard@fairfaxva.gov

City Schools Staff

Superintendent Ann Monday
703 293-7132

Mary Ann Ryan
Assistant to the Superintendent

Lynda L. Pierce
Clerk of the Board
703 293-7132

Hope Katz Gibbs
Director of Communication
703 346-6975

Daniels Run Elementary

Daniels Run Elementary School
3705 Old Lee Highway
Fairfax, VA 22030

Resource teachers are fundamental to student success at Daniels Run

By Kathy Mullenix, Principal
Daniels Run Elementary School, www.fcps.edu/DanielsRunES

At Daniels Run, our resource teachers include the specialists that help with math, science, communications technology, reading, advanced academics, Latin, media and library, and more.

With the assistance and guidance of our Professional Learning Communities at school, specialists and classroom teachers are able to implement meaningful lessons throughout the curriculum. Together, they analyze student work, share ideas and discuss instructional strategies to determine student needs from one week to the next.

Our specialists also bring a unique perspective because they work with all grade levels. That means we are able to identify and address learning gaps within a grade level as well as from one grade level to the next.

Our resource staff and specialists work directly with children throughout the day, and provide additional hands-on, creative lessons based on individual student needs. Just as classroom teachers look for ways to integrate concepts across content areas, our resource staff also integrates concepts through the use of technology, manipulatives, and materials matched to instructional levels so that no child is "left behind."

As a principal, I am very proud of our classroom and resource teachers and specialists because they consistently work together to deliver standards-based lessons that engage the minds of all students. Our resource and classroom teachers don't shy away from the tough conversation about instructional practices. Each teacher feels a tremendous responsibility to improve student learning.

Providence Elementary School

Providence Elementary School
3616 Jermantown Road
Fairfax, VA 22030

Our support staff is essential

By Jesse Kraft, Principal
Providence Elementary School, www.fcps.edu/ProvidenceES

The work accomplished by the support staff at Providence Elementary makes a tremendous difference for our students. While we have effective and caring classroom teachers, they rely on our social workers, counselors, resource teachers and focus teachers to help give children all the individual attention and support they need, both academically and socially.

Our math, science, and technology teachers ensure that students not only learn at high levels in these three areas – they also stress the importance of critical thinking through their focus areas.

Through their coaching and team-teaching with classroom teachers and their direct instruction of students, they require students to take intellectual and creative risks, learn through inquiry and discovery, and use what they learn to construct new knowledge. Focus programs such as these are not typical in the Fairfax County Public Schoools, and Providence is fortunate to have this program.

Our school counselors also work tirelessly to counsel students with a wide range of needs, teach lessons to classes, and support teachers with strategies for working with children socially. At Providence, they are strong teammates with our social worker and parent liaison and connect with families to help them find resources to help themselves.

And through our Mentor Program, which matches adult role models from our business partnerships with students, we are able to bring strong leaders from the community into our school to work with the children. This program would not exist without the leadership of our counselors. It is a significant undertaking, but we feel it makes a real difference for our students.

Lanier Middle School

Lanier Middle School
3801 Jermantown Road
Fairfax, VA 22030
Tel: 703.934.2400

It takes a village at Lanier

By Scott Poole, principal
Lanier Middle School, www.fcps.edu/LanierMS

Student engagement and relationship building underlie many programs and initiatives at Lanier. Following are a few examples that demonstrate some of the initiatives currently underway.

Small Group Counseling As part of their application for the American School Counseling Association's Recognized Model Program (RAMP), Lanier's Office of School Counseling is emphasizing the delivery of small group counseling for relationship building and moving all students towards academic success.

Our professional school counselors have facilitated five small groups at this point this year. Three of these groups have focused on learning and discussing school survival skills.

So far, we have identified students at risk of school failure by analyzing previous SOL test results and grades. These students participated in six group sessions during the school day. The students returned parent permission forms to attend these groups.

Student welcoming groups is another new, effective program at Lanier Middle School. Earlier this year, students met with 8th grade peer helpers and participated in developing a description of who they were. Pictures of the new students were taken and placed on these descriptions and will be displayed in the building on a "Welcoming Board."

For students, these small groups provide a safe place to discuss whatever is on their minds and also serve as a place for them to feel that they belong at Lanier Middle School. We have invited the parents of the students in two of our school survival skills groups to attend a special dinner to discuss what we accomplished in the groups and to learn how they can support their child's continued academic success.

Peer mediation is another effective program that our counselors have been working on where they train a group of students to be peer mediators. In addition to practicing the formal mediation process, mediators learn effective communication skills to help de-escalate conflicts in their lives and to help foster good relationships amongst their peers.

Each March, they attend the Northern Virginia Mediation Conference at George Mason University, where students further develop their skills in promoting peace at their schools. Lanier peer mediators often continue in mediation at Fairfax High School; for several years, these students have played a central role as presenters and leaders at the Northern Virginia Mediation Conference.

Students, parents, and staff at Lanier Middle School who become aware of a conflict situation that could benefit from peer mediation are encouraged to contact Mrs. Ranallo in the Office of School Counseling.

Fairfax High School

Fairfax High School
3501 Rebel Run
Fairfax, VA 22030
Tel: 703.219.2200

Relationships + Engagement = Achievement for All

By Dave Goldfarb, principal
Fairfax High School, www.fcps.edu/FairfaxHS

At Fairfax High many of our teachers work closely with students to build strong relationships.

Teacher and assistant director of student activities Nancy Melnick builds strong relationships with students in her leadership classes as well as those participating in athletics and extracurricular activities.

She establishes trust with students by seeing the best in them and supporting their development. Ms. Melnick invests in her students to become better people and leaders. She creates opportunities for students to challenge themselves as well as play an active role in improving the school.

"It is important to challenge students to think outside of the box," Melnick says. "Every time a student takes a step out of their comfort zone, their confidence grows."

School counselor Jenny Washechek supports student learning at Fairfax by leading the Expanding Horizons group. The group focuses on overcoming barriers students face both at home and at school and provides study skills/techniques that will help them become more successful academically.

The group also discusses the importance of building relationships with teachers, counselors, administrators, and staff members. We also make an effort to make them feel empowered and believe that they can all be successful in school through dedication, hard work and a good outlook on education.

Student engagement in the classroom is connected to building relationships. It is essential for students to first feel that they are cared about and respected by the teacher. When students perceive that they are cared about and respected, they are more likely to open up and engage in learning as well as return respect to the teacher and their classmates. Comfort in the classroom encourages students to participate in group discussions and partner work more readily.

Chemistry teacher Cathy Williams explains, "When I develop lessons, I try to briefly present new material to the students followed immediately by an opportunity for students to practice their new knowledge with a partner or group. The material begins at a very basic level to be sure every student has a framework upon which to hang their new learning." Identifying the students' growing comfort level, Ms. Williams presents progressively more and more difficult material in the same fashion followed by an opportunity to practice and discuss.

In chemistry class, a minimum of 20% of classroom time is devoted to laboratory activity. Labs naturally engage students through the hands-on approach, giving students an opportunity for tactile and visual learning with group dynamics.

"It is essential for students to be continually challenged so that they don't shut down," Ms. Williams says. "There is a delicate balance between making sure every student gets it and moving on with more and more difficult concepts."

Newsletter by Hope Katz Gibbs, editor, Close-Up and City Schools communications specialist
Inkandescent Public Relations / Design by Michael Gibbs / Programming by Max Kukoy / Editing by Pat Gray / www.inkandescentpr.com