Reflecting on the school year in June is tough and oftentimes unproductive. The culmination of all year long initiatives, fundraising efforts, state exams, and relationships built with students over ten months usually leaves me feeling tossed about. Only after a proper rest and reset can I look back and think about what happened and how I’m going to move forward. That moment came unexpectedly this morning in between weeklong literacy institutes and in the midst of impending budget issues as well as major teacher review decisions to be made at school.
My major reflection points? My fifth year was a solid one. I took on the role of Lead Teacher, a UFT-appointed position which is half coach and half teacher. When a leader of the program interviewed me and asked me to reflect on my year, I said that the position is precisely what I’d like to do in the school. In spite of a challenging first year working more directly with teachers, it’s a position where real change in the school community can be affected while still giving me the time and space to teach eighth graders/wicked awesome students.
In part because of the new coaching roles, I feel that our school made important progress this school year. From my perspective, there was a shift in staff culture to include the desire to improve as professionals. While some teachers are apprehensive of engaging in the work (especially veterans whose satisfactory ratings for many years have declared that they have been doing a good job already), by the end of the year the majority of the staff saw that newly established coaching positions as resources, even if there was work to do in making the positions, mine included, more effective.
We also adopted a backbone literacy program in the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) for our middle school grades to follow and learn. While critics say that it’s overly prescriptive, advocates say the opposite, explaining that the methods allow for a lot of flexibility, especially in content- the thing that most teachers are so adamant in selecting. Adopting this core piece of curriculum was one step in paring down the many, many initiatives we have working at our school to a few select, guiding programs and principles. I hope to help identify more this year to cut, in the process identifying which initiatives will help us to define the work we do as a community.
This is one added feature of the lead teacher role I've assumed- I get to take some administrator action without dealing with much of the time-sucking nonsense that comes along with that role. The TC work is an example of how I was able to take a new initiative to my grade-level team, get their approval, and help them implement it. Having the maneuverability to bring things to the team, and when necessary remove them, is an incredible benefit to the work. For instance, we implemented a separate writing workshop class last spring, felt it could be absorbed by my history class this year, and changed the way we're doing business.
In my classroom in particular, and in part because of the TCRWP writing workshop piece, my writing instruction began to improve last year. In college I took a mediocre course entitled “Reading in the Content Area,” likely under the assumption that as high level readers, collegiate types would need strategies for varied reading levels to effectively teach students how to improve their reading skills. Why the architects of the program didn’t feel the same about writing is beyond me. The literacy piece is something I intend work hard on to understand better, even after five years of grappling with it.
Moving forward this year, I intend to continue much of the work I’ve helped to pull together on my grade level team over the past five years. One of my biggest “frienemys” at work likes to point out how many initiatives I’ve taken part in over the years. I tend to counter with a list that I’ve let go and recite a small list of the things I’ve kept. Those things as well as the various curriculum changes, team cohesion efforts, and improvement in my coaching are things I’ll be working on as the year approaches. While the Midwest is already back in session, we have a lot of work to do before Labor Day rolls around!