Re-energizing and Reinvigorating

While the rest of the country has been slowly reopening over the summer, Wicklow Democratic School has been preparing to reopen the doors to its community on September 6th. Staff members, parents and teachers have been working hard to rethink the space to best serve everyone. The team is very excited to now have Wifi available in all rooms and prefabs. Our community came together to brighten and re-energise the library, which is freshly furnished with new desks and shelves. We left some space for new books, too, the subjects of which will depend on the interests of our students. We are really eager to see the library grow with our growing community.

In addition to revamping the library, our community and staff have deep-cleaned all rooms and reorganized the placement of furniture to create an environment that is easy to navigate, comfortable and inviting. We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to everyone who gave their time and energy (and maybe sacrificed a few t-shirts) to paint the school. With some walls painted a deep green and others a light lilac; all they need now is some student artwork. We hope to create many more community murals this year, and we plan to leave space for spontaneous group art projects as we all discuss curricula during SEW (School Evolution Week).

We have put together a researched plan to implement our Open Curriculum Project. This plan takes into account various learning styles and the tools that can best support them. Students can choose to work with a staff member to map out an area of interest that they would like to explore over the course of the year, or meet with staff to discuss a skill that they would like to develop. Our goal is to coordinate an advising network that is tailored for each student’s academic success, career preparation, experiential learning and personal growth. We aim to converse with students about their interests and prepare supporting documents to best facilitate the exploration of these interests. We are inspired by Gaisce to put together a means of learning for students that leads towards a personalised portfolio. These student portfolios will showcase incremental growth in skill-building such as cooking, drawing, refining forestry techniques and many, many more. We also hope to create more opportunities for portfolio work to culminate in certification. Students will be able to record their work and progress with a digital document, and staff will continually connect with students through each stage of the process.

A  major priority of our school is that of maintaining a clear sense of connection with students. We plan to continue with our regular check-ins and student groups, and over the summer we have also been redefining and expanding our idea of what it means to facilitate children with tools like the GROW (Goals-Reality-Obstacles-Way Forward) Coaching Model. This model lays out guiding questions for students and staff to consider so that they can make sure that the student’s needs are continually being met as they explore interests and cultivate passions. These guiding questions will also help to clarify confusions that may arise as students progress with developing their skills. As with everything in the school, we view the GROW Coaching Model as a live document that is always subject to change and reconfiguration.

This summer, we have also been busy reconfiguring our literacy program and researching methods that best support student engagement in literacy. We are taking into account ways to incorporate phonics, reading groups, storytelling, and various literacy games to best facilitate reading and writing. The team has also been discussing ways to add to the environmental print through decorating our walls with imagery and posters to support, encourage and celebrate our readers (we like to emphasise that along with the written word, visuals and symbols are also a part of reading).

Staff members enjoyed reading extensively about a range of topics this summer, including building trauma-informed policies, mentoring and sociocracy. These texts on sociocracy have informed staff on ways to improve the effective and equitable running of the school. We are continually working on the manner in which the school is organised in order to ensure that responsibilities are evenly and clearly distributed. This year, we hope to give parents many opportunities to contribute to policy-making in the school with regular Parent Meetings. 

Our staff were happy to work together over the summer, whether it was in-person in the school building, or coming from Brazil, Dublin, Wicklow, and America to meet and discuss ideas over Zoom. We are excited to implement ideas now that the school is open again, and we look forward to further developing procedures and policies that can best support the school. As always, our policies are open to change and improvement depending on the needs and desires of our community. We hope that you will continue to share ideas and ask questions should they arise as the year unfolds.     

We were very excited for the many games, events and snacks that greeted our whole community during Welcome Week last week, and we are looking forward to School Evolution Week this week! 

Written by Tess Sheridan