Mary Ann Ranells

Mary Ann Ranells, PhD, is superintendent of the West Ada School District in Meridian, Idaho. She has played a key role in aligning curriculum to meet state standards and directed several federal programs.

Joyful Noise

The framework, process, and structure of professional learning communities often consume our thoughts and actions as we strive to increase student achievement by constantly focusing on answering the four corollary questions.

We know that collaboration makes the difference between success and valiant attempts. The holy grail of alignment between the written, taught, tested, and graded curriculum ensures a guaranteed and viable curriculum. Using data to inform practices and support student learning pumps the lifeblood throughout the veins of a PLC. All components are essential, but there is one particular component we sometimes take for granted.

While visiting schools, I rediscovered the essence of professional learning communities from the joyful noise I heard, felt, and witnessed. The more time I spent in the schools, the more I became amazed and enthralled with the heart and soul of celebration. There seemed to be a tiered system of school-wide events, with teachers creating classroom memories, random acts of kindness, student voices, and more.

Dr. Robert Eaker often talks about the importance of ceremonies, rituals, and traditions. What are your memories of graduation ceremonies, homecoming activities, Veterans’ Day assemblies, concerts, plays, annual field trips, and community service projects? Each event is woven into the fabric of the culture of the school, and those memories bind us to the pride and loyalty we still feel long after receiving our diplomas. We remember the joyful noise.

Below are a number of examples that will remind you of the power of joyful noise.

The Graduating Class of 2026

One of our principals shared this story: 

“I attended a conference at a High School in Buckley, California. On the walls of the cafeteria hung banners signed by each of the students of the freshman class: ‘We Commit to Graduate.’ I thought, ‘what am I doing as an elementary principal to develop this mindset even before their freshman year?’”

“As a result, at the end of the school year, Discovery Elementary School held a Commitment Ceremony. At the ceremony, I charged students, ‘Today we are asking you, the 5th grade Discovery Mustangs, to commit to finishing what you have started. We are asking you to make a commitment to graduate from high school. You are not the Discovery Class of 2019. You are the graduating Class of 2026!’ As each student was called by name to sign the ‘We Commit to Graduate’ banner, to be hung in the gymnasium, they were awarded a commemorative t-shirt emblazoned with ‘Class of 2026.’”

Engaged, excited young citizens

Here is a fun story with a great community connection: Linda Belthoff (1st grade teacher) completes a service learning project in cooperation with Boise State University Elementary Education students. Linda's 1st graders make study booklets and encouraging cards for aspiring U.S. citizens as an authentic learning project for the Social Studies and ELA standards, as well as to connect with local community members. 

The study booklets ask and answer six questions that are part of the US Citizenship Test as well as the 1st Grade Civics and Government unit. Students also make cards that contain friendly messages (good authentic writing practice) to help aspiring citizens know that they are part of a larger supportive community.

‘Future college students’

Another story shared by a principal: 

“Each year, our English Learner staff and 5th grade EL students take a field trip to Boise State University to experience college life. This year, they attended a science class and observed an awesome experiment, took a tour of the campus, visited the ‘blue turf’ football field, and finally ate lunch in the Student Union with EL college students. It was a wonderful opportunity to show our students that they too can go to college! The students proudly wear T-shirts that say ‘future college student’ on the back.”

The art of beautifying

The students at Idaho Fine Arts Academy excel in their art majors; however, their involvement in the community as student leaders is second-to-none. An academy teacher provided this example:

“Last year, I had the opportunity to partner with the Faces of Hope victim advocacy center in ‘beautifying’ their campus to spark hope in the lives of their clients. I took this idea to Mrs. Valenzuela, our visual arts director, who viewed this as a perfect opportunity for her students to share their talents. Together, we informed the students of this project and were overwhelmed with the positive response. The students chose an inspiring quote and created an original piece that reflected their vision of the quote. In the early spring, our students finished their artwork, and the pieces were hung in the hallways of Faces of Hope. We were fortunate enough to take a trip to the Faces of Hope facility, in which victims can receive wrap-around services related to domestic violence, free of charge. The students were able to see what this incredible facility and staff have to offer to those in need.”

“But our story does not end there. Recently, Faces of Hope had their annual Light of Hope Gala. Along with one of our student artists, Gillian W., I was given the opportunity to attend as featured guests. The event proudly displayed some of the student artwork at the forefront of the stage. Not only was the artwork proudly displayed, but the auctioneer also went off-script and took bids for the art to be hung back on the walls inside the facility. These incredible pieces earned $1,500 in donations to be returned to the Faces of Hope facility to inspire more clients that walk through their doors.”

Poetry from the Poet Tree

One final example of joyful noise occurred in a kindergarten class: The teacher created a bulletin board by putting a large tree made out of butcher paper in the center. Hanging from the tree were pictures of famous poets: Maya Angelou, Shel Silverstein, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and others. 

These 5-year-old darlings were invited to pick their favorite poet from the Poet Tree, and the teacher would read poems aloud to the class and talk about the lives of the poets. As a culminating activity, the students wrote their own poems, and I heard one student exclaim “This is the most exciting thing I have ever done in my whole life!” Joyful noise ricocheted off the walls of the classroom.

In a professional learning community, joyful noise represents belonging, achievement, compassion, kindness, citizenship, and dreams for the future.

Joyful noise is something you hear, see, and feel in a professional learning community. Let the cacophony begin!

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