WOW! My Visit to North Star Charter School

WOW! My Visit to North Star Charter School

       I just recently started supervising a student teacher at North Start Charter School in Newark NJ. What an amazing experience. I had read a great deal about Uncommon Schools who runs the charter school and their effective teaching and classroom management techniques so I was excited to observe a classroom. I was also a bit skeptical that it would be as good as I had read and seen on their videos. Well, I can tell you that it was even better, especially seeing it in person. What was so good about it?      

       Well, the 1st grade classroom I visited had 30 children and during the time I was there, I watched a short math lesson and a read aloud. During this time (about an hour), 100% of the children were on-task, engaged in critical thinking, and demonstrating effective learning behaviors. There was absolutely NO wasted time and NO problem behaviors. The teachers kept the pace quick and the learning expectations high. The children responded to this with very thoughtful responses.  It was clear that this was an environment that modeled high expectations and provided strong instruction for them to meet the goals. I couldn’t help compare this class to the dozens of others I’ve seen in Jersey City, Newark, Elizabeth, Union City, and the surrounding areas. It was SO DIFFERENT!
     Okay, so what could we replicate from this? Well, to start with, we could be teaching children procedures in a clear, strong way so that they learn the behaviors they need to be successful – such as how to make transitions, how to sit on the rug properly, how to answer a question, how to track the person who is speaking, how to pair off to share ideas, etc. And then we need to reinforce these behaviors with positive feedback. At one point, my student teacher said to a student, “I like your straight back.” I watched as about 25 other children quickly straightened up their backs to listen to the story. It was so effective and so simple – positive feedback!!

What I really learned is that there is no excuse for having so many behavior problems in schools.  I highly recommend the book, Teach Like a Champion (see below) to get more insight into what makes this school so different. Here’s a link to some of their videos which speaks to their belief (and mine) that any teacher can learn to be a great teacher. The book has a DVD of more videos. As I make more visits this semester, I’ll keep you all posted about what I observe and learn!

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