Nicole Vibert

West Woods Upper Elementary School
Farmington, Connecticut

Best Practices

1) Parent and Community Relations: During my first year at West Woods, my principal asked me
to read Community: The Structure of Belonging, by P. Block. This book has formed in me foundational
beliefs in the power of connection and community to drive change. This informs everything I do,
including my participation in district-wide committees, such as the Community Council for Equity and
Inclusion, as well as school-based practices, such as positive office referrals. A parent provided
valuable feedback to me early in my tenure at West Woods. She critiqued my phone calls: “I only ever
hear from you when something is wrong, and I worry that you only know my children in that context.”
Of course, that wasn’t true. I knew her children as learners, as friends, as classmates. But she was
right: I only ever called her when something was wrong. This led me to implement the Positive Office
Referral system, which allows teachers and staff members to refer a student to the office for meeting
schoolwide expectations. Together with the student, I then call home and brag about all of the ways
each student makes our community a better place. This year, I’ve also started tracking my own phone
calls and emails, and I’ve started making an intentional effort to reach out a few times per week to a
family of a student who stood out in some way.

Within my role as assistant principal of West Woods, I oversee many systems and structures that support effective home-school partnerships. This past summer, I attended a conference at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education led by Karen Mapp. This conference allowed me to continue to build my own understanding of best practices and effective family partnerships, through the Dual Capacity Framework. In partnership with our Family Engagement Specialist, we’ve already brought some of this learning back to our District Leadership Team to help promote effective communication with families throughout the community. This learning has also helped me to coach into the teams I lead in various ways. For example, I oversee the SEL program at West Woods. This program is for students who receive special education support in the development of behavioral and emotional regulation skills. A significant component of the program is regular family meetings. We build trusting and caring relationships, so that families know they have allies and partners within the school setting, despite some very difficult situations. Additionally, I lead the Family-School Liaison team for Farmington Public Schools. This team is funded by the Open Choice Grant, and it allows for a representative from each school, including West Woods, to connect with all families to promote belonging and agency. As a team, we facilitate events for families to connect with each other, we troubleshoot obstacles for students, such as transportation, and we help connect schools and families with community resources and extracurricular opportunities. We regularly meet families in Hartford, to connect, celebrate and learn together. I live in the community I work in, and my children attend Farmington Public Schools. I have immense pride in our school system and believe that together with our families, we can create endless opportunities for our students.

2) Student Leadership: My role at West Woods is to lift and center the voices of students as a lever for continuous improvement, particularly in the area of climate and culture. Several teams I lead have helped to develop a culture that promotes student voice and agency. Examples include: 1) The Wildcat Pack: The Pack is a student leadership team that is learning focused and action-oriented. Each year, a group of 12 students are chosen to be a part of the Wildcat Pack. Students are asked to gather recommendations and complete an application, which a panel of teachers reviews. Upon selection, their first experience is participation in the CAS Leadership Conference. They then continue to study the habits and dispositions of leaders as fifth-graders, before putting that into action as sixth-graders, through peer mediation, grant writing, instructional rounds, and a number of other opportunities that showcase their voices as positive peer role models. An example of our Wildcat Pack fulfilling Farmington’s Vision of a Global Citizen was the successful application for a grant to fund the creation of Outdoor Classrooms at West Woods. Over the past several years, these spaces have served to support our work around SEL, as well as provide spaces for interdisciplinary units of study. This year, the Wildcat Pack is receiving training through the Farmington Land Trust on what it means to be a “Steward” of the land. 2) Another example is the implementation of EL Education’s “Crew” at West Woods. In partnership with our EL Education Coach, a small team of teachers has led the development of Crew over the last several years. Crew is important in our school, because it provides a time and structure for SEL learning. It is also important because it promotes a mindset of collective accountability and active citizenship. Like all instructional pedagogy at West Woods, we believe that learning within Crew must be student-led. This is reflected during our Crew Community Meetings. During these “assemblies,” students do much of the talking. They reflect on shared readings, they present portfolios of work, and they reinforce our schoolwide charter as models of the types of community members we want to be. 3) Student voice is an important driver for our work at West Woods. We solicit and incorporate feedback at all levels. Teachers are encouraged to collect student feedback to drive planning and instruction. On a schoolwide level, school development planning is heavily driven by survey feedback. Each fall and spring, we hold student focus groups, where we ask students to share their opinions and make recommendations about how to improve their learning experiences at West Woods. Students are invited to share their voices in district-wide settings, including Board of Education meetings or on our Community Council for Equity and Inclusion. These three examples reflect some of the many ways I partner with our school community to ensure student voice is driving decision making at all levels.