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2017-2018 Features

Early Release in Action: Specialist Collaboration Team – 5th Grade Community    


What is a community? What attitudes must one possess to be a successful member of a community?  Those are the questions the specialist (P.E., Music and Spanish) teachers at McKinley Elementary School are asking during their week four early release time.

The team chose to focus their collaboration on community building with fifth-graders. "Last spring, our specialist team decided we wanted to design an inquiry-based unit with a focus on social skills development for fifth graders in order to build trust and community across the entire grade level," says Spanish teacher Benjamin Fong.

McKinley Elementary School is in the process of becoming a Primary Years Programme (PYP) school. The PYP attitudes students are learning include: appreciation, commitment, confidence, cooperation, creativity, curiosity, empathy, enthusiasm, independence, integrity, respect and tolerance.  These are the attitudes the team hopes to reinforce through learning experiences that incorporate problem solving, and puzzles that integrate social skills, thinking skills, reflection and communication. 

The team uses early release time on the fourth Wednesday of each month to design challenges for "tribe days." The team separated the fifth graders into 15 tribes, each with six to seven kids from a mix of all four of the fifth-grade classes, as well as students from the Structured Routines Center (SRC). On tribe days, the tribes are each given a challenge and must work as a team to complete it. "In their tribes, students practice being risk takers and integral members of a team.  They are working with a diverse group of personalities and no challenge can be completed without all members of the team," says Fong.  

"These are restorative places, where kids can feel safe, and when they feel safe, they learn," says P.E. teacher Dan Pitner.

At their meeting on November 29, the team debriefed the month's tribe day, the Human Machine. They watched video of the tribes' challenge, discussed what went well and what could be improved.  They also began planning for January's tribe day and the culminating event that will take place in May.