Building A Strong Foundation: Reflections on Elementary Education
Michelle deKam Palmeri has served as the Elementary School Principal at the American School of The Hague since 2022. Her leadership is deeply rooted in a passion for working with children and ensuring they receive the support and guidance to be successful and thrive as learners. Here, she reflects on the principles guiding the elementary school's approach, and shares the core components shaping students’ development in these foundational years.
Relationship-building and Community: The Foundation for Academic Success
Everything begins with forming relationships, and understanding who we are as humans in the world. For a teacher, it’s important to understand their students at a personal level, and for students to understand who their teacher is…and it grows from there. Once those roots start to grow, the greenery starts to develop and the flowers can start to blossom.
Our students’ academic success relies on how we’re able to develop our relationships and form a strong sense of community. In Elementary School, we start by fostering an inclusive environment where each child’s identity is recognized and valued. This enables us to build solid relationships among adults and students, and between students themselves.
As a leader, I strive to establish conducive conditions for the development of meaningful relationships. Ensuring that our students thrive within an engaging, vibrant community requires me to provide unwavering support to the adults directly involved in their education. We as educators strive to work collaboratively to meet our students’ needs. Our alignment is akin to a cohesive flock of birds, ensuring we move in harmony towards shared objectives, mutually assisting each other in achieving our goals.
Strengthening Students’ Self-Development
At the Elementary School, we develop students’ confidence, their stamina, and their internal drive. These develop over time, so our direction is to foster an environment that provides rich opportunities for students to learn, to understand and to experience success. Day in and day out, they are learning strategies to become independent, to grow confidence and to become thinkers and problem-solvers.
Safe spaces are imperative in order for students to thrive academically. A safe learning space is one where students – as early as our Pre-Kindergarteners to our 4th Graders – can take risks. They can try something new, make a mistake and know that it’s okay; they can learn and grow from it.
When a student feels confident in themselves, they are more likely to positively influence and collaborate with those around them. That’s the direction we’re going towards.
An Integral and Thorough Approach to Academics
Intertwined with strengthening students’ social and personal development is academics. We are refreshing our views, strategies and teachings with knowledge from consultants and constantly examining current research surrounding children’s learning development and education.
Consultants like Paul Andersen for our science teachers have been powerful in aligning our science instruction; specifically around our inquiry-based approach, and in being intentional and explicit about our students experiencing the design process. We have learned to springboard with students’ natural sense of wonder and feeling of curiosity to design our lessons and bring their skills to a higher level.
With literacy, we have a great toolbox which includes top quality, rich resources and instructional strategies. To complement our resources, we look at what current research discovers on the best way to teach children language, and how to read, write, speak and listen. When we look at research, we’re able to sharpen and add to our current ways of teaching so that they serve our students better.
In literacy, we now have an assessment that we’re using from Kindergarten to 4th Grade. It allows us to track students and pinpoint where we need to intervene with more or different support. It also serves as a form of evaluation, to determine how our students respond to our instructional levels and adjust where necessary.
Although we work on a lot of foundational skills in the Elementary School – both academic and social – we also make sure students can connect these skills to the ones they will learn in Middle and High School. We do this to expand their learnings and visions towards the future, and burst any possibilities of operating in a bubble. To support this, we are creating more moments of connection between students in different departments; like High School music students sharing with our youngest students what their instrument of choice is, or Robotics students showing them their latest work.
Parents as Partners
We see parents as partners. Open communication is one of the biggest connectors to the partnership because we understand what’s going on in the classroom and can answer any questions parents may have. This is why we have focused a large part of our efforts on building a well-rounded communication system - online and in-person.
We try to provide parents with opportunities to be on campus. On many occasions, parents join us for informative parent coffees and are welcome to come and volunteer for all kinds of events and activities; from community events, to end-of-unit celebrations, or even celebrating milestones in the middle of the year. We are also adamant on getting to know the parents and families that are part of our community, so we truly welcome parents to be present on school grounds.
Michelle deKam Palmeri's leadership at the Elementary School emphasizes the crucial link between relationship-building and academic success. By creating safe spaces for student growth, her approach fosters a holistic and forward-looking educational environment, cultivating independent thinkers ready for future challenges.