As I get ready to start a new school year, at a new school, I am reflecting on my previous years experience as a Vice-Principal. My mind is filled with so many questions. What worked in my previous assignments? What didn’t work as well? What would I like my goals to be for the upcoming year? Where will I fit in this new school? How will things work? …. Above all else, one question keeps returning: What lessons have I learned that will help me in this new assignment? While all these questions are important and will likely be addressed in future blog posts (or dreams – I tend to dream about work a lot – sad, I know), I am going to focus on the last question here today.
Of course, I have learned so many lessons in my 6 years as a Vice-Principal, I will concentrate today on just one of these lessons. The lesson I am thinking of is focused around believing in each and every teacher, regardless of where they are in the stage of their career. I had worked with the teacher I am thinking of for about 1 year (I’ll call her Mrs. M.). She was a good teacher. Mrs. M. was effective with her students in many ways, had a wonderful heart, worked hard, and loved her job. She was a great teacher with whom to work.
Mrs. M. wasn’t, however, “up” on the latest teaching strategies, with respect to the differentiation of instruction of reading. As a grade one teacher, she had no choice but to differentiate most of what she taught because, even with these young learners, they ranged in scholastic ability from pre-kindergarten to Grade 4. Mrs. M. was not, however, using Guided Reading in her classroom as a strategy to differentiate the reading instruction of her students.
Mrs. M. had been teaching for over 30 years. She had seen the pendulum swing from one side to the other with respect to reading instruction. She had taught through “Whole Language”, “Phonics”, Blue Bird/Busy Bee/… reading groups. She saw the implementation of the “new” Guided Reading of today as just another “fad”. She was very sceptical that it could work with Grade one students now. These kids are different from what they were 20 years ago. These kids could not work independently if their life depended on it. Or so she thought.
As a primary teacher myself, before I became an administrator, I had strong beliefs about the importance of differentiating reading instruction for students in Grade one (and in other grades, of course). I used guided reading in my classroom each day when I was a Grade one teacher. As an administrator though, things are different. You can’t just tell teachers what you did as a teacher. They don’t buy it. They don’t see you as a “teacher” anymore, sadly. So, I decided that the most effective way to show them how Guided Reading and Literacy Centres could be done in a Grade one classroom was to have them visit a Grade one classroom in action. Then, they could witness, first hand, how Grade one students could work independently at Literacy Centres while the teacher taught reading to small groups of students.
Now, releasing teachers is not always easy to do – especially when it is during class time. It can also be quite expensive. A Teacher On Call costs about $200.00 for a half day where I am an administrator (X3 teachers). Yikes! But, it would have been absolutely meaningless for the teachers to just talk with the other teacher after school. I knew they had to see the kids and teacher in action.
There were three Grade one teachers, of which Mrs. M. was one. Now, I should mention that Mrs. M. had one year left in her teaching before retiring. Hmmmmmmm… Yes, you know what I was thinking. Would this experience visiting another teacher at another school, to see innovative teaching, be best used with Mrs. M? I admit it. The thought crossed my mind. It would be easier to send just two teachers, I thought. But no, I knew it was important to send all three of the teachers. So, along with two of our Learning Support team teachers, we taught the Grade one classes while the three Grade one teachers visited the other school.
I was not disappointed. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised and incredibly impressed by Mrs. M. She and the other Grade one teachers spent the morning in the other Grade one classroom, observing the students, talking with the teacher, soaking it all in. The took notes. They took pictures. The came back to the school excitedly chatting about all they witnessed, about all they learned, and about how they could implement what they have seen with their own students.
Mrs. M. was probably even more excited than the other two Grade one teachers! She was invigorated. She was infectious with her enthusiasm. She was changing her practise the year before she was going to retire! Mrs. M. spent evenings and weekends making Literacy Centres the students could use while she taught reading to small groups of students. Every Monday, she would come to the school with more laminating that needed to be done immediately so that she could introduce the new Literacy Centres to her students. I was dumbfounded. I was absolutely amazed!
I didn’t think that this visit would mean anything to Mrs. M. I thought that with one teaching year left, how could this visit really change anything for her. I actually thought that she may have a negative attitude and this attitude may hinder the enjoyment of the visit for the other Grade one teachers. Boy was I wrong!
Mrs. M. continued the following year differentiating her reading instruction for her students. Not only that, but she was excited about teaching. She had a positive, can-do attitude. She had a wonderful end to her career.
I always think back on the visit those teachers made to the other school. I think about what may have happened if I had made the decision not to send Mrs. M. I wondered how her career may have ended had she not had that experience with her colleagues. I wonder how the year would have been different for her students that final year.
I think of Mrs. M. often because I admired her so much for making so many changes that final year of teaching. I am in awe when I think of all those hours she spent making materials, planning different lessons, and rearranging her classroom. She didn’t *have* to change her instruction. She didn’t *have* to go visit the other school. She didn’t *have* to do anything differently at all. In fact, it would have been easier just to do the status quo – just do what she’d always done before.
It just goes to show you that you can not judge someone based on their age or stage in their career. It is so important to give people the benefit of the doubt. We must believe in them.
Mrs. M. epitomizes the statement Lifelong Learning. She belongs in this blog because she IS All About Learning.
I will go into my next assignment thinking of Mrs. M. and believing in every single teacher, regardless of their age or stage in their career.
It’s going to be a great year with wonderful teachers!