Every spring as the school year draws to a close, there is a particular topic that begins to permeate the conversations of our Dawson students, teachers and parents alike: class placements.
The topic is understandable. Before our families depart for summer break, the anticipation of a new school year with a new teacher and classmates is already building. Add to this anticipation the “unknown” (e.g., Who will our teacher be? Will this teacher meet my child’s needs? Will my child have any friends in class?) and what should be an exciting prospect becomes fraught with anxiety and tension.
As parents, providing our children with a smooth path to success is instinctual. We know the stakes are high, so we want to ensure they are given every opportunity to thrive and achieve in all aspects of life, and especially in school. At Dawson, we understand this deeply and begin setting our students up for success each school year with our class placement process. I often ask families to “trust the process,” but I realize that’s difficult to do when you may not know how we arrive at a specific class list. I want to take this opportunity to demystify and clarify Dawson’s class placement process so your family can feel confident and trust that the decisions we make always have your child’s best interests at the core.
First, let me take you through the nuts and bolts. The process itself takes about 10 weeks, beginning with an initial draft of class rosters created by each grade level. Over the course of several grade-level team meetings, teachers continue to review their lists, striving for balance in personality types, academic needs, learning styles, boy/girl ratios, and social-emotional needs. The next step is teacher placement, where, conversations focus on family needs and values.
Once there is a consensus on student dynamics and teacher placement, the counselors, teaching and learning specialists, directors, and the coordinator of student services review the rosters. They make changes based on the perspectives they hold as individuals who specialize in meeting specific student needs.
Finally, newly admitted students are added to the rosters and another evaluation of dynamics occurs until everyone involved agrees the final outcome is best for all of our students.
A Professional Partnership
The way Dawson approaches class placements is the result of the professional partnership between the teachers, administrators, specialists, and counselors who have taken the time to get to know not only our students but also their families and what they value. There is no dominant voice at the table; class placements involve thoughtful and deliberate discussions over the course of many weeks with a group of experienced educators who share the same goal: to create an optimal and balanced learning environment that helps all students reach their individual potential.
Contrary to popular belief, this process does not exclude parent input. In fact, it is a major factor in these decisions. Rather than allow the process to be guided by only one perspective, however, we combine the parent input with that of the team of educators who can give specific and detailed insight into the social and academic needs of each child.
Trust the Relationships
In the course of writing this blog, I had the realization that perhaps it isn't "trust in the process" that I am asking for but rather trust in the relationships with the many people on campus who come to know and care for your child as an individual. I often hear from families who are appreciative that their child is surrounded by adults who know them on a deeper level.
I would like to share an email I received recently from Dawson parent Carolyn Wood. Carolyn, the mother of two Dawson students, understands the complexity of class placements as well as the anxiety that parents often feel about this decision. Even when her children’s class placements may have initially surprised her, her consistently positive experience over the years has taught her to trust that we will do what is best for her children as we always strive to do for all of our incredible Dawson students.
Here is the email from Carolyn that inspired me to write this blog:
As this year comes to a close, I just realized that it is the end of our seventh year as a Dawson family. It feels like yesterday when we started Sophie as a preschooler! I planned to write to you to thank you for the experience we have had to date, and how much of it I attribute to their great teachers.
But reflecting on their teachers made me realize something else: they have ALL been great—each and every one. I am so grateful that I took your advice to “trust the process” of teacher assignment—relying on their current teacher to select their future teacher was the right way to go. Admittedly, as a parent, it was often difficult for me to sit back and not make a request. But, information was always limited to other parent recommendations, which were based on opinion, not teacher fit or classroom dynamics. No one knows future teacher fit better than the current teacher. Each and every teacher has been a perfect fit for my kids and their needs for that particular year. This is something not many schools can offer in such a way.
I am so glad that so much thought goes into each class build-out at Dawson. It is probably the one aspect I’ve overlooked all these years, but also one of the most important and what makes me so grateful we are here. Thanks again for everything!
By Roxanne Stansbury
Head of School
The Alexander Dawson School