Creating Culture: DPS Schools Use Teamwork to Connect the DPS Vision

Sep. 1, 2016
Educators at Cory Elementary participate in a professional development workshop.

Before Denver Public School (DPS) students returned to school, educators at Hill Campus of Arts & Sciences, Noel Community Arts School, Cory Elementary and Goldrick Elementary were putting students first, team-building, creating culture and committing to the DPS vision Every Child Succeeds.

Hill Campus of Arts & Sciences

In the spirit of the Shared Core Values collaboration and fun, educators at Hill used their annual team-building activity to connect with students and families – and put a creative spin on the PokemonGo! craze.

On Aug. 15, 2016, Hill welcomed back its teachers and support staff with a back-to-school challenge. The challenge included 15 teams of three to five educators who visited more than 150 students’ homes in a span of three hours. At each home, the team of educators were photographed with students and a plush Pokemon toy.

The grand prize for the winning team was an opportunity to make meaningful connections with students and families, and put students first! Sean Kavanaugh, principal at Hill, said his educators returned from the challenge energized for a new year.

“We did this to connect to our kids in two ways that are relevant to their lives: to connect with something they enjoy doing, and to connect with them in their homes,” Kavanaugh said. “In the past, we’ve done Amazing Race challenges, and it was about our educators connecting with each other. But this year, it was all about the kids.”

Noel Community Arts School (NCAS)

True to a vision of systems, structure and accountability, the NCAS team visited the YMCA of the Rockies for a retreat that focused on team-building, establishing trust, and Whole Child and whole educator supports.

Team members filled out “Who am I?” forms to share stories, and then answered clarifying questions to help team members build bridges. They also discussed challenges, defined goals and values, and emphasized the importance of transparency. As a final activity, small groups gave presentations on what they had accomplished during the retreat.

“All NCAS educators are ready to work hard for students and were ready to define Noel’s legacy in the community and in the district,” said Assistant Principal Fernando M. Branch. “I have kids coming up to me and saying this is already one of the best years they’ve had.”

Branch said he’s already witnessed the positive effects of the team retreat, including the transparency, accountability and optimism that has spilled over into parent retreats and the classroom.

Cory Elementary School

After a week of diving deep into the Denver 2020 Plan, DPS Shared Core Values and Personal Success Factors, the Cory Elementary crew wrote personal commitments to support the DPS vision of Every Child Succeeds.

One Cory paraprofessional wrote that she’d “commit to supporting the Whole Child and reminding [herself] that every child has talent and potential.”

An art teacher wrote that she’d “commit to helping students find grit in their creative areas.”

The Cory team hung their commitments in their common rooms for daily reminders of why they’re doing the work they do. At the team’s New Year’s Celebration in January, they’ll review and renew their commitments to focus their work on the second half of the school year.

“It takes a team of people willing to write individual commitments to help us stay focused on what matters most – our students,” Harris said.

Jennifer Harris, principal at Cory, said she’s seen the focus of her team’s commitments, and how the Shared Core Values and Personal Success Factors have translated into the classroom. According to Harris, students are using the Personal Success Factor words, and they feel safe in their learning environment.

Goldrick Elementary School

To foster a culture of collaboration, Goldrick’s team of educators returned on Aug. 8 for two full weeks of back-to-school preparations. The Goldrick team visited The Nature Place in Florissant, Colo., for two days of team-building exercises and conversations on leadership. At the retreat, the team participated in orienteering exercises, using maps and compasses to navigate from one point of interest to the next, and then reflected on their experiences.

“The challenge of not using technology and relying on teamwork helped create a caring, thoughtful culture to start the year,” said Ricky Amparo, operations coordinator at Goldrick. “All of the activities really created this culture of unconditional support across our team.”

“That translates to the work we do with students. They see that we’re modeling teamwork and support, and it sets a standard for our students,” added Amparo.

Learn more about the DPS Shared Core Values here, and how educators are bulding supports for theWhole Child here.