To get teachers across the district thinking in new ways whatever their grade level or discipline, the Gorham Atlas community brought 36 of them from six schools together in a Summer Institute last year. One hundred thirty-five students from kindergarten through grade eleven attended the Institute every morning for two weeks; assigned to one of nine multi-age groups, they provided a laboratory for designing and reflecting on new ways of teaching and learning across a pathway.
During five days of planning set aside from late May to early July, teachers met with an Atlas coach and with their “site developers,” or school coaches, to plan and prepare for the student sessions. Their groups included both elementary and secondary teachers, guidance and special education staff, and a music teacher, as well as several assistants and administrators.
Once the Institute began, each morning began with an hour of preparation and planning. From nine to twelve, teachers worked in teams with students who spanned three or four grade levels, on projects that explored the theme of community in different ways. Some groups explored the community of animals living in and around a tree; others investigated ant life, or worked on a historical perspective of the Gorham community. Several groups took on community service projects: creating field guides to the school-yard environment; cleaning the railroad brook and creating a nature area; helping students new to Gorham; planting flowers around a local monument. Each group prepared a culminating product or performance to present in final exhibitions for fellow students and families.
Every afternoon, teachers came together again for three hours of collaboration and reflection. In the context of their morning’s work they practiced teambuilding; they worked on assessment design and portfolio development; they developed new ways of involving and communicating with parents and community members. The school coaches practiced their facilitation skills. Teacher leadership and supportive reflection provided a constant theme.
The school year began in the fall with a workshop in which the Summer Institute teachers shared their work with the entire district staff-the first, they observed, of many pathway meetings that would continue to build their emerging skills all year.