Double Down on Relationships

Things have continued to run smoothly as we’ve rounded week three. Dr. Geyer led the instructional leadership team in the first series of instructional rounds through the schools this week. I wish you could have been with us in Wednesday’s Leadership Team meeting to hear folks talk about their experience having spent hours in classrooms the day before. Engagement is in the air and it’s evident that our discussions throughout the summer have expanded through the principals to teachers and students.

These “rounds” are modeled after those used by medical professionals in training future doctors and are based on the principles contained in this outstanding book we are reading together.

“If the adults who work in schools and in complex school systems are actively learning about the relationship between their work and the work between teachers and students in the presence of content, then support for improved instructional practice will increase and become more effective and the work of teachers and students will become more effective.”


District leaders are scheduled periodically to make these rounds together, with specific strategic principles in mind as they spend time in teachers’ rooms, then they meet with Dr. Geyer to debrief. These aren’t tied to evaluations. These are opportunities for the professionals who are charged with envisioning and creating an exemplary instructional program – teachers, students, principals, and district administrators – to spend time together and dive deeply into the work we do. What bubbles up will be powerful.

We’ve talked quite a bit about relationships and the integral role they play in engaging students in instruction. We aren’t alone – researchers are building a tidal wave of support for the centrality of relationships to student success. I found these comments from the author of Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment, especially profound:

“If we’re willing to step outside of our surprisingly deep behaviorist rut, the answer is clear. Children don’t need prizes or praise, but engagement and relationship – with other people and with the work they are doing. If you love a child, you probably know this on a gut level. But the research confirms it.”


How about it, Goochland. Are we willing to step out of that rut and emphasize the importance of those relationships?

One powerful way to do that is through the mentoring opportunities in our schools. You may have heard of the “Man-to-Man” program that began a couple of years ago at Randolph Elementary, where community volunteers would be paired with students in a mentorship breakfast. These “Man-to-Man Mondays” sparked so much interest and success, the Rotary Club got behind them with both monetary support and volunteer mentors. The program moved to Goochland Elementary last year, and has expanded to Byrd Elementary. This year GES and BES will add “Woman-to-Woman Wednesdays”, which will feature a similar structure – a breakfast to foster mentorship relationships, specifically for female students.

I had the opportunity recently to mentor a 4th grader. What a powerful experience for me. It’s been my goal ever since to encourage every central office administrator to find a student in a school and begin such a relationship. We all have gifts, specialties, talents that can be brought to bear. Maybe it’s breakfast or lunch, maybe playing cards – for me it was teaching a child to play the guitar. The activity isn’t the substance – it’s the time that allows the adult and child to get to know each other and the powerful lessons learned along the way.

I hope you’ll consider being a mentor in one of these vital programs. If you’re even mildly interested, please give me a call so I can put you in touch with a principal. You won’t regret it – and the investment you make will pay dividends and resonate deep into the future.

Are mentorship opportunities only available at the elementary level? Not at all. Next week I’ll explain what’s happening in the middle and high schools. But if you have an interest in investing in students this way, don’t wait for the blog post – call one of our two secondary principals and ask about mentorships TODAY: Mike Newman, GHS, and Johnette Burdette, GMS.

The first edition of the GCPS instructional newsletter, Fall Explorations, has hit the streets this weekend. You’ll find these colorful booklets in various hotspots throughout the community, or you can access a PDF version here. Great work from Dr. Geyer, John Hendron and the instructional leaders of the division. Take a look and learn about the wonderful instructional innovations at work in GCPS classrooms.

The popular K-12 Instructional Literacy Academy returns to Goochland this September and October. This four-day Academy, offered in partnership with University of Virginia, is designed for teachers of all grade levels whose instruction is impacted by students’ literacy development. Held on site at Goochland High School, this unique learning event will expose teachers to an overview of literacy development, characteristics of each developmental stage, assessment that guides instruction, phonemic awareness and phonics, word study instruction, vocabulary and comprehension strategies, and connecting writing to the literacy curriculum. This academy is part of a multi-year emphasis on literacy instruction in GCPS that began last year.

A GHS alum came to visit first graders at BES. Take a look at this exciting activity from Sandy Wilcox’s classroom that integrated comprehension, writing and publishing.

Speaking of BES, I enjoyed learning about Fairness BLVD, highlighted during the instructional rounds when Director of Secondary Instruction and Technology, Tom DeWeerd, spent some time in classrooms at BES. I hope you’ll take a few minutes and stroll through Tom’s blog – let me highlight specifically this new program, initially brought to our attention by Board member, Kevin Hazzard, to promote safety among teenage drivers. Also don’t miss the ever-popular GHS Spirit Week Chili Cook-off, coming September 25 to GHS at 6:00. Be sure to enter and dazzle us with your chili recipe – or simply attend and be dazzled…

And on the elementary side of instructional leadership, Dianna Gordon, Director of Elementary Instruction, had an explosive experience at RES. Read about on her blog, here, where there’s also a link to a video – and see more pictures here.

Elementary Instruction Director, Dianna Gordon, experiences explosive learning at RES!

“Danger, Will Robinson. Robots are everywhere!” Bruce Watson, Director of CTE, doesn’t seem worried. In fact, he and the robotics coaches had it all under control as the First Robotics teams were organized last week in Studio B of GMS. Read more here about this wonderful program that combines “serious fun”, experiential learning and STEM instruction. And while you’re in Bruce’s blog, make sure you get familiar with this student-operated bookstore.

We are just a few days away from the County & Schools Employee Appreciation Picnic. This coming Thursday evening at 5:00, employees and their families will gather at Hidden Rock Park to enjoy food, games and fellowship with one another. Moreover, we will celebrate the inspirational partnership between the two governing Boards and the employees who work to help them realize their vision. And, yes – you’ve heard the rumors and they’re absolutely true. The County & School Division softball teams will play each other at 6:30. We practiced yesterday. I won’t divulge much, in case our county colleagues are reading. But suffice it to say that Mr. Hazzard-at-bat kept me running after repeated line-drives to midfield. The competition should be wary.

New GHS teacher, Kellen Jones, fields a ball during practice in preparation for the big game this Thursday.

As we head into week four, and complete our first month of this journey into unprecedented excellence, I’ll leave you with these words from Seymour Papert:

“…because if you are going to be confined to what you can get to be accepted everywhere equally, you’re not going to make very much progress. You’re going to make incremental steps.  That’s the task of putting forward something really different, you can’t expect that it will be accepted by everybody.”


Let’s continue to uncover that vision we have for education in Goochland, and strive to engage and inspire our students to grab hold of it.

Here’s to another unforgettable week of something absolutely amazing.



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