JAMAICA — When Principal Kim Hill took over P.S. 95 Eastwood in Jamaica in 2012, her goal was to build relationships between "team members," as she calls her staff.
The most important thing, she said, was to make people talk to each other. She opened her doors to everyone and created groups for teachers to interact and learn from one another.
“I think from the very start of my principalship I found that my work was to help change the culture in the school and to build trust,” she said.
Her approach has led to a collaboration among teachers, which last year placed P.S. 95, located at 179-01 90th Ave., on the short list of 37 showcase schools in the city, where teachers share their “promising practices" with educators from other New York City schools.
Teachers at P.S. 95 meet on a regular basis to discuss strategies best for each child and later discuss the impact of those tactics on individual students as well as how they might change their own teaching methods as a result, Hill said.
During teacher rounds, educators observe class sessions, provide feedback, and later work with small groups of students.
P.S. 95 also has a unique philosophy for its students — who are taught that they don't have to raise their hands to be called on when they want to say something. Instead, the school stresses the importance of discussion and conversation.
Hill, whose mother was also a teacher, said she developed her style after holding various jobs in public schools. She began her career as a school aide and later became a paraprofessional. After attending York College and Long Island University, she became a teacher at P.S. 116 in Jamaica, and then assistant principal at P.S. 195 in Rosedale.
The school — which is over capacity — serves more than 1,500 students in Kindergarten through fifth grade, some of whom have classes in a trailer located in the schoolyard.
Hill said the school stays within the city's Department of Education guidelines, not exceeding 25 students in a kindergarten class or 32 in the upper grades.
“Our community can learn on the roof, they are so happy here,” she said. "We make it work."
DNAinfo New York sat down with Hill to talk about her role as principal and P.S. 95's achievements. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What was your vision for P.S. 95 Eastwood when you took over the school 5 years ago?
Before I got here, the school had a more traditional style. I have an open door policy. When I first came into the building I told the team: “You come in whenever you want and we can talk.” But no one came. So I had to build that trust and relationships. I would go sit down in the teachers’ lounge and later we built small chat-and-chews, meet-and-greets and interest groups for professional learning. That led to our teachers’ collaboration which now translates into academic development. Our teachers meet at least three times a week to discuss different promising practices that would elevate academics.
How does this collaboration among the teachers work?
Teachers look at student work together and [ask] 'What skills does this child need help with?' Then they pull out three strategies that they can use to re-teach a concept so that it can be better understood by a child.
I’m sure many schools look at student work but I think what sets us apart is that we also take time to incorporate follow-up meetings where we talk about how did that strategy change your student and how did that change your teaching practice. So teachers are not only able to pull out three strategies and utilize them in a re-teach but in follow-up meetings they are able to reflect on their own teaching and how it impacts student outcome. It helps them with their lesson planning and their curriculum design. It’s all about collaboration and talking together.
Because of this collaboration among the teachers, P.S. 95 has been selected as one of 37 showcase schools in the city.
Educators from all over the city can visit our school and watch our teachers presenting promising practices seen at our school. And during that showcase time we talk about how we develop teams and why team building is important to help change the culture of the school. When people work together, they get to know each other and from getting to know each other you learn individual strengths and we also support them with their weaknesses.
Kids in the school don’t have to raise their hands because it's more important to you that they discuss things among each other. How did you develop this unique approach?
That actually came out of a teacher team meeting. When you look at how children learn, the best way they understand and comprehend the concept is through conversations. The traditional way would be where a teacher would pose a question and the children would raise their hands. But we found that a lot of times it would interrupt the thought process. They learn better through having more conversation and understanding what others are saying. So by using conversational prompts like: “I agree with Nancy because,” or “I disagree with her because” or “May I add on to what you are saying?” students can reflect as they are talking.
Once you start using conversational prompts, there is no need to raise your hand because that conversational prompt just led the person right into a follow up of someone’s response.