A New Day
As I continue to share my journey, I realize I have had very few positive things to say about my first year at Brighton. To be honest, I felt there was not much to smile about during the first semester. In fact right before Christmas, one of our teachers told me I had lost my smile and they needed it back. This truly broke my heart. To add to this pain, my principal told me that the teachers did not want me at Brighton. As harsh as this seemed at the time, I needed to understand that much of the attention I brought to the school was more hurtful to the faculty than helpful. I also had to acknowledge to myself that “my dream” for Brighton may not be the correct path for the school and I may not be the right person for this job.
Then during January, there was a break in this negative climate. This bright spot came about as a result of the state mandated reading test scores for our Kindergarten and First Grade Classes. Our Kindergarten students benchmarked at almost the 80 percentile and our First Grade students benchmarked at 87% with no students labeled needing intensive instruction. This was an incredible gain for our school and placed these two grade levels at the top of our district’s scores and ranked them fairly high at the state level. There were shouts of joy and tears of happiness in our school that day.
Even though I was thrilled at this news, I was not totally surprised because I had been watching changing instruction taking place in these classrooms. Many Early Childhood Educators may not agree with what has taken place in our school, but we were given a very systematic and structured reading program to pilot in grades K-2. When I asked the teachers why they thought their scores had so improved, they replied the new reading program and intervention groups. One day I observed an hour of reading instruction in one of our first grade classes. During this lesson, I watched the teacher take this scripted program and bring it to life with her personality and the culture of the children. I was mesmerized as I watched her engage every student in the classroom with her energetic lesson. I was amazed at the amount of knowledge about reading the children had acquired in such a short time. I was also envious because I knew I could never teach this lesson with her rhythm and beat. My favorite part of the lesson was when she said in a very loud, expressive voice, “It is time for blending!” The students immediately threw up their hands, waving them in the air, and shouted, “Hallelujah!” I got my smile back on that day along with a few tears of joy.
I do not believe it was just the reading program and intervention groups that brought about this improvement, but a collaborative effort to focus on a need. Often what I have seen and heard about schools labeled low performing, they have many programs thrown at them with little direction. I heard of one such school that had thirty initiatives going on at the same time. This year with the help of our new reading coach, our district reading coach, and the company who piloted the reading program, our teachers have been involved in many hours of job embedded professional development for this reading program and for the strategies and methods of the Alabama Reading Initiative. This training has enabled the teachers to create a balanced approach to reading in their classrooms. This model of professional development to study, observe, demonstrate, and practice followed with feedback has been outstanding. I have watched the teachers in our school embrace and use what they are learning. I believe we have finally given the teachers some real teaching tools, not just another kit! This has been very exciting for me to grow and learn with our teachers and celebrate their successes. I think it is the beginning of a new day for Brighton.
I encourage those of you who have experienced similar successes in your school to share what are the teaching tools that make a difference? What is the most effective professional development you have been involved with during your career? What is it that can really make a difference in our classroom instruction?
The opinions expressed in Teacher of the Year are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.