Bright at Brightwoods

“So, T. Lecy, if you don’t mind me asking…”

Before I finished, she interrupted, “I do mind.” And she gave that hearty and distinct laughter, she had been sharing all throughout our stay.

“I am forty,” she whispered.

“You look 39,” I replied.

If there is one secret that this school, Brightwoods School in Angeles City, Pampanga, could boast, it would have to be the mighty men and women behind the visionary leadership of its founder, T. Ana Yap-Zubiri.

We loved our benchmarking visit in this school, because every classroom is a visual masterpiece, every faculty and staff is bubbly and high-spirited, and every facility befits the school’s identity…”Brightwoods: our pride, our life.”

Earlier today, we were welcomed by T. Lecy and T. Joyce. It was T. Lecy, though, who sat down with us today. The T. Jouce that we have met a month ago seemed not in her very bright aura. Today, she holds the boss’s hat because they were settling a very important matter. Nonetheless, she accorded us her warmth. The school directness, T. Ana is apparently on an outbound trip.

Our team laid down the agenda with T. Lecy. For today, we would research about the micro details on the management success of this learning institution. Our talking points include the organizational chart and the function of offices and the personnel; the budget and finance and human resources concerns; the school curriculum, instruction, and assessment; and the best practices from the management to the middle managers down to the classroom level.

It was an exciting day.

T. Lecy first recalled the school’s humble beginnings from preschool to today’s complete basic education offering. There were few staff back then. It was T. Ana, some few pioneering teachers and an office assistant. Everybody must multi-task. In the business office, one person does the cashier, registrar, bookkeeping, and accounting functions. Today, they have close to 70 employees and have outsourced janitorial and security services. But what they have emphasized is to have a creative artist to design the rooms thematically and the office personnel who does communication with parents.

What was noticeable was that even T. Ana is not around, she was able to multiply herself to heads she left. They are called Management Committee, consisting of HS and GS head, Pre school head, Finance head, and General Services head. They are in charge of the day-to-day operations in the school.
The HS and GS head and preschool head handle the academic, extra-curricular, and library services. They maintain 2 libraries: 1 for preschool to primary, and 1 for intermediate and high school. Under the general services, there is unique Faculty Support Unit, creative artists, human resource, maintenance and security, concessionaire cafeteria, and healthcare unit.

The accounting unit is handled by Ms. Lise, a CPA. She works hand in hand with the business unit who does the collection, communication to parents, and record keeping. They use both index card and ms excel for records and updating. There are delinquent accounts but they are minimal because they give reminders and call the parents to update their accounts. This office also takes care of the employee salary and benefits, which they work with human resources unit. With a CPA heading the unit, it is abreast with accounting software for more efficient update and formulation of schemes to effective collections and budgeting.

T. Catchy entertained our queries on faculty supervision and evaluation, and curriculum, instruction and assessment. Way stood out to me was the Ateneo heritage and Singapore style of research-based, feedback-based, and frequent faculty talks and meetings to check on student performances. Because the grading ranges between 70% quizzes and performance evaluation (usually 100 items) and 30% quarterly exam (or 70-item test). In 1 grading period, the maximum points that a student must beat is 170 points. The unique thing is that these quizzes are prepared like exams, they are checked and revised before they are printed by the FSU and given to students. All teachers take time to prepare the quizzes. In a quarter, there can be 2-5 10 to 20-item quiz that are not just knowledge-based, but goes up the higher order thinking.

Checking the quizzes from the teacher’s draft to the laid out material tells about the different levels in the faculty. There is an academic coordinator for preschool, primary, intermediate, and high school. Under them are level representatives who mentor and takes care of newbie or novice teachers on their level. They are the ones who check the quizzes before the coordinator checks it finally for printing. The coordinator takes charge of weekly meetings or building expertise. They also design their own programs for evaluating teachers.

In teacher’s evaluation, there are 2 sets. The first set is a trial, sort of a clinical or prescriptive. It happens during the first quarter usually. Then, the 2nd one with ratings happen towards the 3rd-4th quarter. That is the performance evaluation. There is also a peer evaluation, a les formal one where teachers get to rate and comment everyone. It is the coordinator’s task to collate the data and report it to the head.

Each teacher has an 18hour per week load. That is because a teacher prepares not only the quizzes, but also a module for each quarter and daily non-grade assignments, drills and exercises. Only the quizzes area graded. but even the quizzes undergo validity testing and results interpretation. With this time, the teacher also prepares a parent teacher conference during the first quarter, where he or she schedules to meet the parents of each child. That is a 2-no-classes-day for the teacher to discuss with the parents the child’s performance and behavior. Since the teacher prepares for the module, books are not very much used.

In terms of student activities and clubs, the grade school maintain 5 organizations, honors circle, glee, varsity, leaders circle, and writers circle. There are teacher who handle the clubs and are give honorarium, provided they submit monthly reports of meetings and completion of 1 project per year. The writers circle produces a literary folio. The honors circle prepares for competitions. The leaders circle are consortium of class and club officers. The varsity and glee, are self-explanatory.

“What have you learned today?” T. Lecy asked before we leave back for Manila.

I answered, “we just confirmed our hypothesis at the beginning, that the secret of Brightwoods lie behind the great men and women under a visionary leadership.”

Hence, everybody stays young.

Faith at Emmanuel Christian School

As early as 8 am, our team was hitting EDSA. Unfortunately, heavy traffic had built up already. There was no way out. All I could see were cars lining up and moving very slowly. I dozed off.

Our team is heading back to Emmanuel Christian School. Remember early this month, all LifeCollege teachers were also there to visit and benchmark. Now, we are sent to get into the nitty gritty of the school’s success.

When I woke up, we were already in Taguig. I couldn’t help but see how blessed I was to be part of the core team to go here. The other day I was in Subic, now I am heading to Laguna. This is the party of my job that I love very much.

To whom much is given, much is required though.

By the time we got there, I suddenly felt my stomach churning. It felt like, I needed to ask the right questions and hit the correct buttons. We were greeted by Teacher Rubi, a slender woman in her mid 50s (but didn’t look like one) whose heart to serve you can really tell.

She welcomed us to her office, where we also met her husband, Bishop Rene. The couple happened to own a Christian school in a 2 hectare prime land in Sta. Rosa. From a very humble beginning in a small garage, the school now is home to 2,000 students. It even topped the 2010-2011 NAT in this area.

Despite this, the couple remained to be very humble stewards of the things God entrusted to them. Not to out mention, the property included two basketball courts, large parking spaces, swimming pool, 3-storey buildings with spacious lobbies and walkways, a big church and a small church.

Amazing! But the stories behind the success are more interesting.

Throughout the day, T. Rubi was our mentor. She was very generous in sharing what she had learned over the years. She emphasized it was all because of faith that the school existed and subsisted. Throughout the sharing, I’ve particularly learned:

1. Communication between the school and the parents through the teacher’s reports and letters defuses probable misunderstanding and solves looming issues outright.

2. Hands-on leadership styles work very well to ensure the effective performance of teachers in their day-to-day deliverables. This includes a laying down or feeding forward of expectations between the boss and The worker.

3. Visibility and modeling of school leaders and managers allow students to imbibe the expected behavior and discipline. T. Rubi ensures order strictly, evident in the demeanor of each students. At first I thought it was because here were guests but then I realized that they didn’t expect us to come and still they were very well mannered and behaved.

4. Even in the classroom, there was a very smooth delivery of lessons because the students are disciplined to listen. Though there was an instant where the teacher caught the attention of a whispering student and asked her to recite instead. I could also tell at even though most students are born to middle class families, they could speak good English.

5. It is possible for our school to adopt the half-day sessions, provided it would be done gradually every year, starting from Grade 3 and First year, until the whole school have adopted half-day sessions to cater more students.

6. Our Understanding by Design framework must be intensified. Our lesson plan must follow that format so that the essential understanding or big ideas really get into the hearts and mind of the learners.

7. Excellence is fine and micro detail. You have to define and make everything clear cut when it is about excellence.

And finally, we capped the day with prayer and thanksgiving. Here the greatest lesson I learned is God honors humility, obedience and childlike faith. If it is for you, ask it from God and He will give it to you.

T. Rubi asked for it, God honored her faith.

Standard-based Teaching

Everything is connected. Gone are the days that daily tasks and activities inside the classroom are carried out discrete and isolated from other learning areas. Take for example, a simple lesson on sun-moon-earth movement. The concept or facts (knowledge) will be universal and timeless. Yet, the manner of instruction may vary and the pedagogy on which is it taught can include the county’s educational mandate, legal framework of the educational system, the vision and mission of the school, and the personal commitment or the mission of the teacher. These are all connected to create a fun and unique learning experience for a child.

A teacher, like me, must be keen to this connection. That is my personal commitment to what I do. I long to see children become life long learners with passion to helping communities. Hence, I commit myself to coach, mentor, and transfer understanding. I will make sure that if I teach the sun-moon-earth, it goes beyond mere knowledge. It must include the skills and attitude, such that, never mess with the order of the universe, for messing it up has corresponding consequence.

Everything is connected and as a teacher it is my task to allow my students find this connections. It is when they see this that I can smile and say I have mad my maximum impact in his life or in her life. When this happens, the sun-moon-earth is not just a celestial body.