Victory is in the Classroom

Today’s blog is written by Michael Selkis, NCTL’s New York State Director, who reflects on his experience in expanded-time schools in New York.

Once, while on a school visit in Syracuse, a teacher in an expanded-time school asked a kindergarten class to compare an aspect of two books they were reading. Immediately, several five- year-old students raised their hands and one student confidently stated, “We need to look in the book for textual evidence.”  I almost fell out of my chair!

I once had a mentor who used to tell me over and over that when trying to support children and schools that “Victory is in the Classroom”.  I always understood what she was saying; I just never fully realized the implications of that statement - until now. As NCTL’s New York State Director I have many opportunities to travel the state working with many Expanded Learning Time schools in New York City, Yonkers, Rochester, and Syracuse. And although every school that NCTL works with is wonderfully unique, they also share many similarities that connect our work. First and foremost, these schools demonstrate the courage, dedication and innovation to add significant more time to the school day in order to provide their children with more opportunities to learn and to grow. Additionally, these schools use this additional time to provide their teachers and staff with more time to collaborate, plan, analyze student data and work with community partners to ensure that all classrooms in their schools provide their students with an opportunity to achieve victory. 

Recently, I was in Rochester facilitating a school visit with educators, policy makers, union officials and community leaders.  After touring the school, going from class to class observing the myriad ways this school had created to engage and cultivate their students, we gathered in the library to speak with teachers and students to about their experience in an ELT school.  The teachers spoke of finally having the necessary time to collaborate together and to use student data to develop lessons that connected all subjects. Furthermore, they were energized to create more opportunities for targeted professional development and teacher support. They were excited as they spoke about how more planning time increased their ability to individualize their instruction to better meet the needs of the each child.  They gave examples of how the extra school time now provided struggling students, who in the past, would have been pulled out of enriching classes like dance, music and art to receive extra help, now have the same enrichment opportunities as ALL children without sacrificing any extra help.  Lastly, the teachers spoke about how they were now able to work more as a connected whole rather than disparate individual parts.  

Our attention quickly turned to the poised fifth grade students sitting in the room with us as we asked them what they would change in their school if they had the chance.  After a pensive pause, each student told us they wished they had even more time in school.  They described to us how the added time had helped transform their school to a place where they could excel academically as well as be exposed to many fun and interesting enrichment classes.  They talked about how teachers now had time to meet with them individually to work together to set academic goals and to map out a plan to achieve these goals.  To me, what was most impressive was that these students reflected the essence of what Expanding Learning Time can achieve when it is done well: the development of the whole child.  When the meeting was over and the students dismissed themselves stating they needed to get back to class, we all sat there amazed by how impressive these children were able to articulate why Expanded Learning Time is a smart strategy for teachers and students.  What these students had just showed us was that through ELT, victory was indeed in the classroom.