Relationships Form the Foundation for Student Success at Chesnee Elementary School

By: | 04/15/2021
Categories: Instruction, Distance Learning, Data Culture

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” All these years later, the words of Theodore Roosevelt still ring true. In our schools, caring helps begin high-quality relationships between educators and students.

“It’s important to meet students where they are, whether that means understanding a student’s behaviors or simply getting to know them as a person,” says Chesnee Elementary Principal Kristen Senn. Chesnee Elementary is part of South Carolina’s Spartanburg County School District Two. Through this lens, Senn and some of her faculty recently reviewed one student’s remarkable success story. The student, who we’ll call “Mark” for easier storytelling, entered the school as a preschooler in a self-contained special education classroom and is now a fifth grader in a full, general education schedule.

In talking through the successful journey Mark has taken, the faculty highlighted some common strategies―setting high expectations, personalizing instruction, and using data―which all build on the foundation of strong relationships. As the school leaders and teachers describe Mark and the approaches they’ve taken, it’s clear that Chesnee Elementary has a thriving school culture, with consistent implementation of key strategies to support student success.

It Begins with Relationships

The importance of developing and maintaining a strong relationship is a priority shared by Senn and each of Mark’s teachers. “He is in my fifth grade class this year and is doing extremely well because we have formed a relationship with each other, and [we’ve] gotten to know each other," shares his current teacher.

By developing a relationship with Mark—and achieving mutual trust—his teacher is able to try strategies that are helpful for addressing specific classroom challenges. In this case, Mark sometimes struggles to maintain focus, making it difficult to stay on task. As a solution, his teacher has come up with a timer system, which they both follow. “We set [the timer] for 10 minutes, and when it goes off, if Mark has stayed focused for the entire 10 minutes, he can have a walk break or a brain break.”

Mark has also recognized the importance of these relationships. “One of the biggest reasons [I’ve been successful at Chesnee Elementary] is all the teachers I’ve had to motivate me and not make schoolwork a big problem," he explains. "Their kindness has helped me want to learn and improve my grades.”

Setting High Expectations

Assistant Principal Brittany Green arrived at Chesnee Elementary the same year Mark began preschool in a self-contained special education classroom. The school’s leadership and faculty immediately set their sights on the goal of getting him to the general education classroom.

“Although we did see some obstacles, we saw a great deal of potential,” says Green. The school noticed that Mark had academic strengths in math, so they used those strengths to create more opportunities for exposure to the general education setting. They also used the students, which included building a personalized curriculum that addressed areas of need while highlighting these strengths.

The teachers at Chesnee Elementary use i-Ready for assessment and learning, and the insights provided by
enhance how well they know each aspect of their learners. “When we take [our focus on relationships] and we put that with the program of i-Ready, we can really get to know [students] on an academic level, know what areas we can help them grow in, and what their strengths are,” says Senn. The combination of relationships and i-Ready data gives the school a clear picture of the high expectations they can set for every learner.

Personalizing Instruction

In kindergarten, Mark’s teacher noticed that he had less anxiety and performed better when he knew what was coming next. She created a visual schedule that made it easy for him to prepare for upcoming activities.

As Mark moved to first grade, his special education teacher noticed a lot of intelligence, but they also saw a need for some extra support in work completion and coping skills. She took advantage of i-Ready Assessment data to see which areas required more attention. He was performing above grade level in math, and his teacher shares that Diagnostic data gave them information on what areas to focus on in the small group reading. She used i-Ready Learning to guide continued progress in both reading and math.

i-Ready truly helped me, as a special education teacher, monitor and adjust my teaching so that I could ensure all of my students had their needs met,” she added.

Using the Data

As Mark’s first grade teacher noted, the data provided by i-Ready is an invaluable resource for making the most high-impact instructional decisions.

“I used the math results to push him even further by co-teaching with his general education teacher in math,” she says. “This allowed me to give Mark the support he needed in his general ed classroom. I also used
i-Ready to assign individual lessons to keep him working above grade level and get that same content that the other students were getting in the general education class.”

“The data showed us that in second grade, Mark was the highest-scoring math student across the board, including general ed and special ed,” shares Green. Using this data, the school was able to show teachers where there were opportunities to give him more exposure to the general education classroom. With each successive year, “We increased the amount of time in the general education classroom and decreased in the special ed environment,” continues Green.

Getting students engaged with their own data is an important part of maintaining growth. In reviewing his data, Mark can see that he’s made tremendous progress in reading and is now on a seventh grade level. “My next goal is to do the same with math and further learning in i-Ready,” says Mark. “I will try to get 45 minutes every week and at least one passing grade by doing my best.”

A Remarkable Story

“Mark’s a remarkable story, now in the fifth grade all day in the general education classroom and thriving,” says Green. “We tune into our students, and insights from teachers show that this carries over into all areas—social-emotional, behavioral, and academic,” concludes Senn.

It's extraordinary what can be accomplished when students know how much you care.

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