The BTU School, located near Forest Hills Station in Jamaica Plain, is a teacher-run pilot school serving around 200 students in grades K-8. On a large bulletin board at the entrance, individually designed “Me Posters” introduce each staff member’s family and personal interests with lots of photos!

When I arrived, a circle of first graders was playing a game outside under the guidance of Playworks Coach Dani. In Lesley Strang‘s K1 class, children were making pattern block designs, building structures with plastic shapes, and playing with Cuisenaire rods – classic math manipulatives introduced in the 1960s!

Jerry Pisani‘s K2 students were engaged in a variety of independent literacy activities while he led a guided reading group. A founding teacher at the BTU School when it opened in 2009, he appreciates the autonomy teachers have to design curriculum and to help shape general school policies.

Throughout the school students were reading self-selected books, taking text notes, researching information on computers, and listening to stories. Fifth graders were creating their own books under the guidance of Laura Davila-Lynch, their visual arts teacher. Music teacher Gilberto Rivera was energetically leading his sixth-grade class in singing and dancing to This Little Light of Mine.

Students in Alice McCabe‘s fourth-grade class were beginning a new research project on animals, while posters they’d made about Native American regional culture were put up outside the room. I was intrigued by a display of “Mathographies” – essays written by seventh graders in Lindsay Chaves’ class about their family and goals, as well as reflections on themselves as learners and their relationship to mathematics.

In Michael Dower‘s science class, a girl stood on a chair to test Galileo’s discovery that objects fall at the same rate despite having different mass. She dropped a metal weight and a tightly crumpled-up paper towel as her classmates watched to see if they hit the ground at the same time.

Teachers at the BTU School refer to their students as “scholars” in all verbal and written communications. The school-wide norms – respect, responsibility, rigor – are posted throughout the building, with site-specific behaviors listed under each category near common areas.

What are the ways your school builds a sense of shared language and expectations Please invite me to visit!

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Amika Kemmler-Ernst, Ed.D.