Kathleen A. Murphy

Clark-Wilkins Elementary School
Amherst, New Hampshire

Best Practices

1) As an Assistant Principal for Curriculum, one of my primary responsibilities is instructional leadership. I have had the opportunity to work closely with all teachers on the development, revision, and implementation of curriculum and assessments. Over the past two years, I have served as the elementary level leadership representative on our school district’s strategic plan work and have had the privilege to work on district committees related to assessment, grading, and reporting. As part of our strategic plan, we developed a portrait of a graduate and determined that while academic competencies are necessary for students to succeed in life outside of our doors, work-study practices or “soft skills” were equally as important for the future success of our graduates. Through this work, we affirmed our beliefs in performance assessment and broadening our scope of student progress beyond academic skills to provide feedback and support to students in developing skills such as communication, creativity, collaboration, and self-direction.

Students need to be engaged in authentic learning experiences that provide them with the opportunity to innovate and persevere through challenges that are meaningful to them. I have served as the school lead for our work as a member of the state’s PACE initiative, Performance Assessment in Competency Education, which serves to use teacher-created performance assessments as a means of accountability in addition to standardized tests. In this role, I have helped teachers design, implement, and score high-quality performance assessments. For example, last year our third-grade students worked on a performance assessment related to the elapsed time standard that asked them to develop plans for visiting an amusement park. Students were tasked with building maps and designing schedules for a visit to a local amusement park. This summative performance assessment provided us with a chance for students to show us their knowledge as it related to the standard but also for them to think outside of the box as they built plans based on their individual preferences and ideas. It was much more exciting and interactive than answering a question such as “How much time is there between 1: 15 pm and 3 :30 pm?” I believe that students need the opportunity to engage with the curriculum in an authentic and meaningful way. This allows them to think creatively, innovate, and work with others to develop essential skills outside of the academic competencies.

2) While high quality instructional practices in content areas are essential, the most important component of an elementary classroom is the belief in the power of relationships and the formation of a positive school and classroom community. The use of Responsive Classroom practices at the elementary level allows for the creation of an environment that promotes belonging, significance, and fun. As an assistant principal, I model these practices and support teachers in establishing them in their classrooms. We develop lessons that consider more than just data on how students are progressing towards standards, but rather the developmental needs of a child. Instruction is engaging and promotes choice that allows for students to feel a greater sense of ownership over their work and ultimately students are more successful.

Over the past several years we have established a new school mascot to promote a greater sense of belonging to our school community and have embraced all things “Hootie” the Owl. We celebrate successes as a school community and build opportunities for students to become leaders through activities such as Assistant Principal’s Council, Principals Council, and Recess Rangers. These school wide initiatives help us to create a full community of engaged learners and provide opportunities for students to give back to their peers.