Friday, November 5, 2010

After the school day...

I got an e-mail this week from our Instructional Coach, Suzanne Shall. She forwarded an e-mail from a Teach for America teacher in an inner city school who asked for some writing samples from our students. I was happy to comply. This teacher came after school one day this week to pick up the samples. She is sharing them with a group of teachers that meet regularly to help them understand that we need to have high expectations of all of our students.

I had the opportunity to share with her my own "aha!" experience with high expectations. I had the amazing opportunity of being sent to Columbia University's Teachers' College for a Summer Institute to study with Lucy Calkins soon after I transferred to Chets Creek. Professionally, it was life changing. I had been with kindergarten students for several years in a high performing school and I really thought I had very high expectations for all students, but when I went to NYC and watched video after video of kindergarten students from some of the most diverse and poverty stricken areas of the city, who were able to talk about their writing and their reading in ways that I could never have imagined kindergartners doing, it changed forever what I would expect of our youngest learners. So I know what a difference it can make to actually see children doing things that you once thought impossible.

As I gave this teacher the writing samples, I invited her to tour some of our first grade classrooms, even though the students had left for the day. She spend the next hour with me walking and talking our way through first grade. We went first into Maria Mallon and Cheryl Dillard's classroom and they spent some time answering questions and sharing the way that they see things. I am always so proud to take visitors through our classrooms because I think - I hope, that it is obvious that we are collaborative, that professional development is embedded into the very pores of our existence and that we depend on professional conversation to make each of us better. I like for our teachers to also hear from teachers in other schools so that they can be as thankful as I am that we have made AYP each year and are not under some of the restrictive guidelines that would sap our professional time and energy. Because we have such freedom to envisions where we think are students should be, we sometimes forget what is going on in other parts of our country, our state, county. I also like for them to hear the different challenges that other teachers face and how their solutions and professional development, even though it is very different from what we do, can give us ideas to feed our own creative possibilities. We then went down to Debbie Harbour and Tenean Alleyne's classroom and even though they were getting ready for their Awards Ceremony the following week, they also stopped to have conversation with this teacher that they didn't know and hadn't expected. I think that's one of the things that we do well - we share and look to visitors as much to get information as to give it. We finished by stopping into Haley Alvarado and Denise Donofrio's classroom. Even though they had left for the day I felt completely comfortable taking her into their room, poking around in their student work and sharing with her some of the charts and work that I saw around the room. I am sure that they would have not minded because we have so many visitors walking through our classrooms that our teachers and our students are very comfortable with teachers snapping pictures, asking questions, and taking notes.

Of course, as so often happens, I was the one that really benefited from the visit. I was reminded of the enthusiasm and urgency that so many teachers at our inner city schools feel because they really are changing a generation of students. Their work is changing the direction of lives. Even with what must seem like insurmountable odds at times, they are making a difference and when you see the determination, the ability and the urgency in teachers like this one - who took her own time and initiative to come across town and look for answers - you know how fortunate our profession is. We would all be better teachers if we could find a way to collaborate in this bigger family of educators...


Maria Mallon & Cheryl Dillard said...

Having that young teacher come into our room reminded me when I was teaching at an inner city school just starting out. One day, my principal took a few of us to CCE to see a Reader's Workshop lesson and experience a debriefing. I was amazed when I saw standards based bulletin boards and the work that was on them. Little did I know a few years later, I would be teaching at this school! We really have to give all the support we can to our colleagues who are trying to make a difference in schools that care about their students as much as we do ours.MM

Suzanne said...

One of the things I find most remarkable about our school community is the openess and visibility of our work. The CCE teachers embrace the opportunity to share with others and give so freely. They enjoy visiting with educators from other places.

I'm not so sure they understand the full extent of what they give. I spent three days in another state this week. I was in two different schools, of educators and leaders who have visited CCE on several occassions, and was absolutely amazed by their work. At every turn, I found a CCE implemented idea, all the work of our teacher's sharing. Because they share, others implement, and students across our nation are getting richer experiences.

I couldn't imagine working with a better group of peers.