QUINCY — Iles Elementary Students working with Heather Schrage in the next school year may be spending more time standing instead of raising their hands.
The school’s science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, coach learned the technique during a visit last week to Atlanta-based Ron Clark Academy.
“All of Ron Clark’s students stand up when they are ready to speak. They turn and talk to their classmates, not just the teacher. I want to try to incorporate that,” Schrage said. “It will be difficult at first because we are so ingrained in the students raising their hands and being a little different, but it will allow the flow of conversation to go a little better, to be more authentic.”
Schrage hopes this small change will have a big impact on students.
The same goes for Iles third-grade teacher Tabitha Sullivan, who plans to add some of the song and dance she saw at the academy to her class.
“The music is so powerful. It moves you in so many ways, and I think kids really connect with that,” Sullivan said.
“We know students are going to have fun, and when they’re having fun, we know they’re going to learn,” Schrage said. “We hope they will become lifelong learners.”
Standing up rather than raising your hand and incorporating music are strategies offered by the academy to engage students so they can learn at a higher level — and two of many ideas shared when Schrage, Sullivan and 11 other members Iles staff who hosted one of the academy’s two-day conferences with a $25,000 grant from the Tracy Family Foundation.
Clark, known to many as “America’s Educator,” is a teacher, two-time New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker including at the Quincy Conference, and founder of the academy serving students in fourth through eighth grade.
The RCA Expo, according to the academy’s website, helps educators learn better ways to engage students, promote academic excellence, build relationships, and create a positive climate and culture.
“They used the culture of their students, the culture of their staff members in their school to empower themselves and their students,” said Sullivan, who taught for eight years at QPS. “It was amazing to see such passion, such energy, such dedication. It left me so inspired and energized. This experience changed my life.”
Schrage wrote the grant application in hopes of fulfilling his dream of visiting Clark’s academy and bringing along enough colleagues — from teachers to instructional coaches and a director of school administration, or SAM — to have a impact on islands.
The group meets on Tuesday to talk about things they can do this year, what might have to wait until next year, and how to spread the word about what they’ve learned from classroom observations and sessions. professional development with teachers from the academy.
“We need to show teachers who haven’t followed what we’ve learned, so we can inspire those teachers,” Schrage said.
Takeaways ranged from holding high expectations of each other to being bold and brave to do things differently and using a balance of structure, discipline and enthusiasm while focusing on the strengthening relationships with students.
“Seeing him in action moved us all. We are really ready to start the school year with our students,” Schrage said. “We love to teach. We just need to bring out that passion – for students to see our passion and become passionate as well.
Schrage, who just completed his first year at Iles after 11 years teaching at Payson, St. Francis and Baldwin Intermediate School, hopes to help other schools find ways to send staff to the academy.
“Another school in Quincy has asked to meet with me next week to discuss how I awarded the grant. They are excited to possibly send teachers to Ron Clark Academy,” she said. “Hopefully there will be a ripple effect to continue assigning more and more teachers.”
Inspiring more teachers will lead to inspiring more students.
Sullivan hopes to see Island students energized and see school as a place to thrive.
“We have great things going on at Iles, but there’s never less room for improvement,” Sullivan said. “We want students to love school, want to be here, love everything that’s going on, and have high standards and expectations that they can meet and feel good about.”