This post is part of a series of blog posts authored by winners and finalists of the 2011 SCORE Prize. These posts highlight an aspect of their work that has dramatically improved student achievement.

At Page High School, we believe that our relationships—among faculty, staff, and the administration—are crucial to our success in improving student achievement. While our size certainly makes it easy to know everyone (there are about 60 of us on staff), it is the intentionality we bring to our relationships that makes the difference.

We have a myriad of informal ways we connect at Page: We post family pictures in the lunch room and share stories through email. We celebrate each other’s professional and personal accomplishments. We cheer on each other’s teams and clubs. We have potluck staff luncheons before holiday breaks and exchange recipes. We play dodge ball and do Zumba. We compete among departments in food drives. We contribute to a Sunshine fund which is used to purchase meals or flowers for those of us facing tough life challenges. Activities such as these have helped us develop a culture of familiarity with and respect for each other as individuals with diverse strengths and creative gifts that extend far beyond our efforts in the classroom.

Our administration is always available to talk to us. We can go into an office, shut the door, and talk through whatever we need to, and they actively listen. This helps us feel that we have a voice and that our perspectives and needs are important and valid. Our administration makes time for the issues that are facing us whether or not solutions are within their control.

Teachers at Page are a group of askers because asking is safe here. When we have questions or need ideas or help, we ask – within our departments, certainly, but also more broadly. We are not overburdened by the feeling that we must come up with ideas and solutions individually but view each other as co-creators of opportunities for our students.

There is no way to do justice to the scope of powerful collaboration at Page High School in such a brief blog post, but I have provided a few summaries that illustrate how this approach to relationships positively impacts our students:

  • Over the past three years, library circulation at Page has increased over 300 percent. This has been the result of the combined efforts of teachers, staff, and media specialists. Our media specialists devote many resources to purchase copies of the latest “hot” books and to advertise them through commercials, bulletin boards, special events, and contests. They award the top readers each quarter with free books and a party. They are attentive to teachers’ requests for class sets and research materials and solicit the funds to fulfill as many of these requests as possible. In turn, teachers across the disciplines have increasingly incorporated outside reading requirements into their curricula.
  • Our special education program is set up to encourage and cultivate relationships with the general education teachers. Assistants follow our students through their four years and work closely with their teachers to implement accommodations. Further, aides are scheduled as much as possible to assist in the courses that best fit their strengths and interests. Together, this sense of shared responsibility and appreciation for the individual contributes to the willingness and ability of our assistants to do such things as step into a teacher’s shoes in an emergency and prevent the loss of a day’s instruction.
  • Our math department strives to fit teachers to the appropriate courses based on their strengths and to monitor students’ progress throughout all four years. Further, some of our upper level math and science teachers collaborate to show students how their content connects – by proving chemistry formulas in calculus class, for example – creating that desirable but sometimes elusive “real-world” application that can make such a difference in students’ learning.
  • From our weekly Professional Learning Communities to our impromptu brainstorming sessions at the risograph, Page High School is an environment of consistent and pervasive collegiality. We support one another’s efforts to be better educators because we know that when one of us is more effective, our whole school is more effective – and the students are the real winners.

Nicole Guertin has taught English in Williamson County Schools for more than nine years. This is her fourth year at Fred J. Page High School where she currently teaches English IV honors, AP Literature and Composition, and Film as Literature. Guertin received her bachelor’s degree in English Teaching from Lipscomb University in 1998 and is presently engaged in thesis research for a Master’s degree in English at Middle Tennessee State University. Her favorite quote about teaching comes from her aunt, the late Donna Newberry, who said of holding students to high standards of conduct and achievement, “ I sometimes get very tired from doing that, but I never get tired of doing that. If I ever get tired of doing that, it’s time to get out of [teaching]. I hope that day never comes.”