Model School: Creating a School Culture That Drives Student and Staff Achievement
At Kathleen H. Wilber Elementary School we hold near and dear our school motto: “Inspiring Excellence: Culture Drives Achievement.”
We believe that creating a positive, engaging, and inclusive culture in our school allows teachers and students to come to school each day striving to do more, achieve more, and enjoy learning together. When people enter the building, they often tell us that something “just feels different” about our school -- and they want to keep coming back.
Wilbur, in Bear, Del., is the state’s largest elementary school with more than 1,100 students. We have spent the last three years creating a motivating way to come together and work toward meaningful common goals as a community.
Here’s how we do it:
Building a Positive STUDENT Culture
iCommunity stands for inspiring community and is what we call our monthly school assemblies. iCommunity meetings are built around the school character trait of the month – such as perseverance, growth mindset, honesty, leadership, or proactive responses to negative thoughts.
Our iCommunity meetings have a pep rally-like atmosphere as students enter and exit to drum line music and sing the Wilbur school cheer multiple times. Presentations during iCommunity meetings focus on a character traits using technology, videos, cooperative learning activities and high-energy songs that all require students to engage in conversations and dialogue about scenarios related to each character trait. As the school cheer goes, "We are WILBUR. We are INSPIRED. Hard WORKERS. Great THINKERS. We PERSEVERE!"
As an example, students in all grades learn how to recognize a “growth mindset” and a “fixed mindset” about their learning and to adjust thinking and self-talk so that they can combat the idea that they “can't” learn something.
This initiative has radically changed the culture of our building. By placing a high standard on character traits and making them a priority even in the time of high stakes testing, we are having an impact on the people that our students become.
Character Traits and a Growth Mindset: Daily “Give Me 5”
In addition to the monthly iCommunity meetings, each grade level has its own assembly where the character trait is explained to the students in an age-appropriate manner. To ensure that these tenants of character become engrained in our students’ mindsets, we developed the idea of using a few minutes during lunchtime for Give Me 5.
In the Give Me 5 activity, we set a positive tone for all students by covering a topic related to the monthly character trait. These short activities include discussions about various situations, scenarios, and quotes, all of which are focused on peer interactions, improving group cohesiveness, and the appreciation of individual differences. These five minutes used to be unstructured and prone to chaos for the 200 students in the cafeteria. Now they are a fun, focused, and important time of the day.
Continual Growth for STAFF
With a focus on creating a positive working environment for staff that allows for continual growth, we plan for regular, targeted professional development that balances high expectations with fun.
Last year, we needed to come up with a way to give regular, targeted professional development on reading or math intervention best practices because we have been implementing a Response to Intervention (RTI) framework in our district. To ensure that no one was overwhelmed, each staff member was invited to be a part of a “Dream Team” that met twice a month.
We divided staff into three teams: Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. Every other week, teacher leaders present a strategy that can be used right away in the classroom. The expectation is that all teachers take what they have learned back to their Professional Learning Community to share.
Friday Game Day
For our Friday Game Day initiative, teachers arrive every other Friday to find themselves engaged in a carnival game. As they sign in, they try to “ring the pole” or get to play a Plinko chip or try to balance a penny on a pencil point. Each Friday Game Day has a different game and staff are able to earn “Beth Bucks,” which can later be spent on instructional materials, casual dress passes, or late passes. This fun activity allows the staff to end their week on a positive note and models how we can be playful and have high expectations for performance.
Wilbur has become a place where each and every student can expect to find success. Community members and families often report that Wilbur students are better mannered and “nicer” than many others with which they engage. We feel that this is a direct result of the character-building activities we do with them on a regular basis.
When compared to other schools within our school district, the data shows that by the time our students reach the 8th grade, they are outperforming students who come from other schools that feed to our middle school on the state test.
Student attendance rates and behavioral data have also been positively affected:
- 95% of Wilbur students attend at least 90% of the time, the highest rate of persistent attendance in the Colonial School District, indicating a level of engagement with both students and parents.
- Only 14 students received more than one bus or school behavior referral. With a total school enrollment of more than 1,100 students, this is less than 1% and the lowest rate in the district.