Helen Keller Middle School Principal Steve Clapp. Photo by Rick Falco

With the new school year is set to begin at Helen Keller Middle School, students and staff will be asked one very important question: What are your hopes and dreams for the upcoming year?

Hopes and dreams will be the starting point so that students and staff will be able to understand one another better. This will help the school community build bonds of trust and belief and help develop strong collective efficacy, according to Principal Steve Clapp.

“We’re going to have this wall of hope, and we’re going to synthesize all of that information to try and come up with a school goal or theme for the year,” Clapp said.

Collective efficacy refers to the shared belief that through working together and using individual strengths, a group can lift up all of its members and improve outcomes across the board.

“As a principal, I know that my band teacher is awesome, and I know that my math teacher is awesome,” said Clapp. “But does my math teacher know that my band teacher is awesome? So what we’re trying to do more of is get teachers on instructional rounds, where they’re going and watching each other do their practice.”

The intent is that teachers will not only learn from each other’s techniques and methodology but also have more belief in their colleagues’ capabilities. That is the collective efficacy that Clapp wants to keep building at Keller during the 2023-24 school year.

“What collective efficacy is, is ‘do I believe that the people that I work with or at the place I go to school know what they’re doing and know how to do it?’ If you look at the educational research, the highest effect size of any practice you can do to affect learning is building up that collective efficacy.”

Math teachers at Keller will be able to show off their instructional capabilities as they debut a new program called Desmos. Desmos is a web-based graphing and teaching tool designed around using grounded, hands-on assignments that help students wrap their head around tricky concepts. One of the assignments that the school tried out over the summer involved mixing different colors of paint to teach students how ratios work. If the paint came out the same color as the example, the ratios were correct.

As this is a new program that they are piloting, Keller will not be introducing Desmos carte-blanche. Rather, it will be phased in to allow the school to decide which parts of it they like and which they do not.

For eighth grade students the school will also be debuting a new capstone program called the personal interest project (PIP). This capstone will involve students performing original research on a topic that they are interested in, and creating a website or other piece of digital media. Keller hopes to expand PIP to sixth and seventh grade in the future.

These new programs are intended to contribute to the effort to build collective efficacy across the school curriculum.

“If we leave the school year and I can look back and talk to teachers asking ‘how was the school year’ and they say ‘this school is so lucky to have that band program down there or that math teacher in eighth grade,’ it will be a successful year if I’m hearing that,” said Clapp.

Collective efficacy can only be properly built if a community works together and, according to Clapp, one thing that students can do to help the school community is to ride the bus. The high volume of drop-offs in recent years has created an untenable amount of traffic and contributes to tardiness and absences. Building a routine around taking the bus also helps students improve their executive functioning skills, which is something that is emphasized at Keller.

The school will have a new mental health team this year. Nicholas Willett will be the new school counselor, Bailey Keehan is the new social worker, and Dominika Pellegrini has transferred over from Samuel Staples Elementary School to be the new school psychologist.

As the new school terms begins, Clapp knows that building that strong sense of community and leaning on each other’s strengths will be the key to a successful year.

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