Towards the end of my visit, I observed a meeting with the building coaches, a district coach, and the principal. I have only heard about the coaches but never saw them in “action.” Seeing this process unfold brought to life the importance and benefits of having coaches for teachers. The group brainstormed ways to get teachers, many of whom are new to Northwood, to collaborate with each other, explore new methods of teaching, as well as learn about themselves and each other. Being a former teacher, I would have loved to have someone who was always watching over me, someone who was always there to bounce ideas off of, and someone to help me discovery ways of reaching my students. From everything I’ve observed at Northwood and other schools, it appears these coaches are making a difference in what happens in the classroom.
I so much enjoy visiting our schools, and Principal for a Day is definitely a favorite. I love to hear the stories from other community members who visit schools, especially when they have an “ah ha” moment and discover something about one of our schools that they never knew. There are many “hidden gems” in our district, but the gem I discovered today was Northwood Middle School.
Starting the day off with a good book sounds like a perfect start to me! The halls were eerily quiet at 7:30 in the morning as Principal Austin Couch and I peeked into classrooms while students read quietly to themselves. The morning reading is new for students, but all students were actively reading a book of their choice, maybe discovering a new passion or enhancing their vocabulary.
As I visit schools, the ongoing theme is students working in small groups or in pairs. Students aren’t always working on the same thing, but are actively engaged in their work. Technology, manipulatives, as well as a variety of mediums bring student learning to life. Every class we stepped into I saw students working with each other as they discovered and created. One class was putting strips of paper with sentences on them in the most logical order to tell a series of events or process. Another class was using M&Ms to learn about probability. They shook the M&Ms and rolled them out on the table 10 times to see how many showed the “M&M” side of the candy coated chocolate. While students were doing this, other students were using the M&M for erosion and other weather-related discoveries by putting the M&M in their mouths to simulate the eroding away of a substance.
As always, the day ended with a lunch prepared by the culinary arts students at Anthis. This gives those who were “principals” the opportunity to learn from others about what they saw as well as share their own special moments. I’m sure everyone went away from this day excited that Fort Wayne Community Schools is doing great things for young people.
If you need a little love, spend a day with the kindhearted, friendly students at Bloomingdale Elementary. What a surprise it was when the principal and I walked into a first grade classroom and immediately became involved in the learning of these young people. They had just finished a lesson on vowel sounds and were instructed to match the sound with pictures that had the same sound – cut and glue style. One little girl asked if I could find her scissors; another asked me what picture was that he was holding in his hand. I watched and helped as they matched the pictures to the letter sound. Interestingly, an olive certainly doesn’t look like an olive when it is only a black outline on white paper. I quickly learned that if I told them what color it would be if we colored it, they then realized it was indeed an olive. But I didn’t do too well when it came to the picture of an “ox.” After all, “cow” had pretty much the same letter “o” sound they were looking for. I did wonder why the cow had horns, but one little boy pointed out to me that it was an ox.
We moved on to a fifth grade classroom where the children were just as inviting. Two boys were playing memory with abbreviations and the word it stands for. They were eager to tell me what the abbreviations represented and invited me to play a game with them. We did a little reading as well and learned that Mars is the red planet, that the solar system of more than just the sun and planets, and that the planets rotate as they move around the sun.
As we entered each classroom, my guide and principal had no problem being an active participant on “the ground.” She quickly engaged with the children, helped them with their assignments, gave them encouragement and support, and showed an abundance of love to these little people. She knew each child by name, and it was obvious that she regularly spends time in the classrooms getting to know each and every student.
Visiting schools is the best part of being on the school board. Everyone needs a good dose of a child’s love. Spending time with these young Bloomingdale students brightened my day and warmed my heart. One little boy even said I was his new best friend!
Usually when I visit one of our schools, I am enamored by seeing the children actively learning and enjoying what they do. But today was a bit different because I was enamored by the building instead! I’m not sure if it were the location of Washington Center, or that there is so much history within the walls of the building that intrigued me. While I still don’t know much about the history, it is obvious that there is a great deal there. There are remnants of a building from the early part of last century, the 1950s, and 1990s as well as today. Somehow all of the time periods meld together to form this now pre-K through 5th grade building. Remnants of perhaps a K-8 building show through the lockers that are still being used in the upper grades. An empty computer lab shows that FWCS was cutting-edge in the 1990s with a one-to-one computer classroom methodology. But this room is only empty do to the many classroom sets of iPads and laptops that are being used daily by students, which represents today and the importance of technology. The building will undergo renovation soon, so I was glad I was able to see it and its view to the past. I wonder what caused the growth and made them add on during the various time periods. Is the cafeteria in the basement because this kept students and workers cooler in a non-air-conditioned building? Maybe someone who knows the history to Washington Center will be able to answer the questions. I’m sure there are many stories that could be shared.
The building and grounds to Washington Center are quite spacious which gives way to many opportunities for outdoors activities and indoor collaboration. They seem to take advantage of the space they have and feel lucky to have it. Mr. Goldfuss, the relatively new principal, is encouraged with the new families coming to his school. And soon, it will be even better! And there’s certainly plenty of room and always a warm welcome for new students.
I was able to capture a short video of one part of the day that students must absolutely love…I know I would have! Their music program is fortunate enough have several classroom sets of musical instruments, including a classroom set of hand chimes. This is what I love about FWCS: they understand the importance of the arts and find ways to bring these opportunities to all students. While probably few of these students at Washington Center will go on to be world class musicians, the skills and the rewards of learning these instruments will stay with them forever. When I heard the chimes being played, it reminded me of my time in music class – each student playing his or her part to form an amazing musical sound. Sitting in the middle of that has to warm one’s heart and lift one’s spirit.
Thank you for a great morning and a wonderful start to the week.
“Cuatro más uno es igual a cinco." If you don’t know Spanish, you may not know what that means. But if you don’t know Spanish and you go to Lindley Elementay School, you will have no problem discovering what those words mean. In Lindley’s Spanish immersion program, students not only hear Spanish; they see it and do it and become it. Yesterday I observed Lindley’s teachers explaining math concepts in Spanish, some with a very young audience, some with older students and more advance concepts. But every student understood the lesson as it was taught in the Spanish language. That’s because the teachers spoke the language, they used manipulatives to teach the concepts, and they engaged the students in active learning.
Being a former foreign language teacher, I have always loved the idea of Lindley’s Spanish immersion program but had never observed it. The use of the written language in both English and Spanish is consistently displayed throughout the building and lets young learners distignuish between the two languages. I appreciated the use of Total Physical Repsonse, a foreign language method I learned during my student teaching. It was widely used by teachers as well as many other foreign language teacher methods. It’s no wonder all students actively participated and were engaged in their lessons. Young minds can absorb so much – and this is exactly what these amazing young minds were doing during my visit to Lindley Elementary.
Watching a mixed level classroom full of students all working diligently and quietly, each on a task they have chosen, never seems to stop amazing me. I have been to Bunche Montessori on numerous occasions as this was where my children attended pre-school and kindergarten. But this was a visit where I wasn’t working for the PTA, I wasn’t visiting my child for her VIP day, nor was I volunteering for a special Mother’s Day project. This was the first time in a long time where I actually observed children doing Montessori work – work that they chose, and that they enjoy doing. As I noticed when my first child, who is now 18 and off to college, attended Bunche, the children are happy to be at school and doing works that will make them independent, resourceful learners. My intent on visiting was to see the results of a summer’s worth of work to install air conditioning and lighting. While I must admit the gym looked brand new with only the addition of some paint and lights and the removal of a few eyes soars, and the halls gleamed with brightness, and new carpet gave the place a lift, my eyes drifted towards the students who gleam even brighter because they are loving learning.
My next stop was at Towles Intermediate School where Montessori continues in grades 1-6 and a transition to New Tech happens in grades 7-8. Once again I witnessed students in the 6-9 and 9-12 clusters working at their own pace, perfecting their skills in math and language arts by using manipulatives that enhanced the skills they were working on. But I also observed “passion.” What did that look like? “Passion” is seeing people light up when they talk about their school – both adults and children. Passion is the teacher not even noticing you’re stepping into his classroom because he is so focused on the children and his goals for the day. Passion is when a principal takes the time to talk one on one with children and say something positive about them. Passion is loving what you do and making it show. It definitely showed today at Towles.
Principal for a Day and any day I get the opportunity to visit one of the many wonderful schools in Fort Wayne Community Schools is always uplifting. I leave the building with a sense renewal, pride, and enthusiasm. Our teachers and staff are doing great things with our children.
I visited Glenwood Park Elementary this past Thursday. Although the school is almost over its capacity, the staff has made creative use of the space they have and children are enthusiastic, on task, and don’t even notice the nearly “standing room only” in their classrooms. That’s because the teachers know how to move smoothly from one topic to the next, keep their students focused, and make learning a treasure.
I stepped into every classroom and saw countless ways our teachers keep students engaged. I watched as children worked at various work stations either in small groups or by themselves as they read from books, from iPads and on laptops. Students discussed themes of various stories they read and learned that many books share the same themes as well as have more than one theme. I saw children learning about the Constitution and our political system. I watched students transition quietly to their “specials” or take a trip to the library. I was impressed with the children’s eagerness and their respect for their education. The students welcomed me, but they also remained on task. One read a story to me, one asked for help with how to pronounce words, and several introduced themselves, shook my hand, and asked me questions relevant to my visit. What a delight it was to see these children so respectful and thoughtful to a visitor.
I was especially impressed with the Class Dojo app one teacher was piloting. With technology being such a huge part of our everyday lives, it was great to see this app being used because it blends well with the many other modes of technology being used in the classroom as well as the technology used at homes. This app is similar to Facebook, but it only includes parents and students within a given classroom. Parents can view photos and video in real time. This also means that a lesson can be recorded and viewed together at home when a child has difficulty understanding. This means that parents can see what is going on in a classroom and get immediate feedback on how their child is doing.
I know there is much controversy about “screen time” for children, appropriate use of technology in the classroom, etc. Personally, I loved seeing the array of technology being used at Glenwood. It is part of our world, part of our everyday lives. It makes work and school more efficient, less wasteful, and more productive. I commend the teachers for incorporating it throughout the lives of both students and parents.
I want to give a huge “thank you” to the staff at Glenwood Park for inviting me into their building and sharing the amazing things they do every day with our children. Visits like these always reinforces that the work of a teacher is difficult, demanding, and always fluctuating. It takes great teachers to keep up with these demands, and that is definitely what I saw at Glenwood Park Elementary.
To learn more about Class Dojo, you can watch a short video here.
Mr. Balsley giving the morning announcements.
Find your passion. Give back and connect with your community. Make good life choices. Develop excellent communication skills.
These ideas seemed to be the reoccurring theme from the guest speakers during the Career Exploration Day at Camp Discovery @ Northwood.
Rena Potts-Clemons invited me to attend one of the sessions where the students at Camp Discovery had the opportunity to listen to the career stories of successful individuals in our community. What touched me the most were the personal stories from these presenters – their struggles, their hard work, their determination. Each speaker seemed to reiterate the same theme: Don’t let anything hold you back. You can achieve whatever you want with willpower, resilience, and persistence.
Terra Brantley, news anchor on WANE-TV, used her personal stories to draw students in. She shared glimpses of her own childhood and the fact that it was somewhat rocky with violence in her home. She emphasized that no matter one’s background; don’t let anything hold you back. You can do whatever you want to achieve; you can overcome. She stressed the importance of giving back to the community and shared her one personal experience of a house fire where her family lost everything. She was touched by the outpouring of her own community and has since continued to give back.
Both Ed Harris, Assistant Director at Allen County Corrections, and Jason Barnes, NFL Pro Scout for Seattle Seahawks stressed repeatedly to the young people in attendance that one’s choices in life determine one’s future. Mr. Harris, being a person who continually sees individuals making bad decisions, emphasized to the young people that they always need to be conscious of every choice they make. Mr. Barnes stressed that decisions you make in high school…those 3-4 years of your life…will follow you the rest of your life. He told them that decision making is crucial and there is nothing you can’t do as long as you make the right decisions.
Christina Schimmel, formerly with the U.S. military and in upper management with Verizon, shared her personal struggles with the students. As she walked them through her personal stories about her career path and her life decisions, she connected with her audience. She continued to point out that you need to define your own success; don’t follow someone else’s dream for you. Do what pleases you, not what pleases others. She emphasized that with resilience and persistence, you can achieve anything. As young people, you must remember that change is scary, but Ms. Schimmel told them that the best changes in her life were the ones that scared her. Although Ms. Schimmel made $180,000 at one point in her career, this did not make her life a happy one. She told the students that drinking had become a major factor in her life, and after 30+ years , she hit rock bottom. However, she reminded them that “rock bottom” isn’t always the end. You can always pick yourself up. And this is what she did. She gave up her big salary, but is happier in life. Her decision to stop drinking and to find her own passion made her a better person and a better mom.
I don’t know whether or not these young people know exactly what it is they want to do with the rest of their lives. But that isn’t the important piece right now. What is important is that they know how to get there. Listening to the role models, many with similar backgrounds as these students, gives these young people hope and encouragement. Camp Discovery is giving these young people the opportunity to discover themselves. What a great program idea and, more importantly, a great execution of the true intent.
Dear Senator Miller,
My good friend Phyllis Bush forwarded me your letter to her. As I gave her many examples for responses to you, I realized I should write you myself.
What you need to understand is that teachers don’t go into teaching for the money. They know the salary isn’t the greatest. They go into teaching because they either love children or they love their subject area. They aren’t trying to see how wealthy they can become. Teaching is a calling. It’s a commitment to make our future society a better place. It’s about touching the lives of those they teach…striving to be as good as one’s own favorite teacher.
Giving a physics teacher $10,000 more than the average starting teacher’s salary sounds nice at first. But then what? Our new teachers didn’t see a pay increase for 5 years. So basically, you’re reeling them in on a lie….a big starting salary that remains stagnant.
So what do I suggest? I suggest you give teachers a pay increase with years’ experience as it was. Currently, teachers aren’t even sure what their income will be, and if they can afford to live on what they make. These new teachers want to start families, by homes, eat, take vacations…the experienced teachers have children to put through college, mortgages to pay. Being on a pay freeze for extended periods of time has to be devastating.
I also suggest there be a requirement to get a Master’s degree and incentives (pay increase) to do so. After all, do you want your children taught by teachers who have no further learning than what they learned in undergraduate school? I know I want mine taught by people who desire to further their education – learn as much as they can about their subject area or about pedagogy.
To fix the problem you need to look at what caused it. Salary freezes didn’t cause the problem, so pseudo-pay increases won’t fix it. What caused this problem was an overuse of standardized testing. Teachers feel forced to “teach to the test.” Degrading teachers and distrust in teachers caused this. “Let’s grade them on how well they can get children to perform on a test.” “Let’s grade their schools…and we’ll make it hard to jump through all the hoops…they’ll have to get better.” “Let’s ignore all factors children have to deal with…no food at home; being raped/abused/molested by mom’s boyfriend; no books, study area, pencils, paper, supplies; lack of sleep, a bed, heat; mom/dad in prison, being raised by grandma or foster parent.” Do you really think all children are going to go to school ready and willing to learn when many live in the conditions I mentioned? And then we grade/evaluate our teachers who have children like this as the majority of their students.
My solution is to lighten up on the grading and testing and degrading of teachers. I don’t need a test to know how my children perform, and I certainly don’t want my child’s teacher’s salary based on how well my child did. And my children are sick and tired of taking these tests…they’ve become a joke to them. My children are good students…I don’t need a test to show me that.
I haven’t seen this bill yet, but the one solution about reimbursing a teacher for college seems to be a better fit. After all, remember, people don’t go into education for the money. Therefore, knowing they won’t have student loans to pay back might actually be an incentive. Or what about paying back some of those loans of our current teachers? Most can’t afford a home in addition to their student loan.
Understanding the mind of a teacher is a must to find a solution. Please listen to our teachers. I’m sure you will receive letters from them. They live this daily. Listen to what has driven many away from the profession. I really doubt it is money. It is their working conditions. That’s what you need to fix.
Thank you for reading....
After my frustration at the teacher shortage hearing at the Statehouse, my spirits were uplifted after a morning at Saint Joseph Central Elementary School. Everything about this school is warm and inviting. The front office is spacious and welcoming and down the short hallway is the principal’s office. Mr. Critell, who has been the principal at St. Joe for 5 years, intentionally planned his space with his visitors’ needs first and his own second. Rocking chairs are in a circle with other chairs ready to be pulled in for larger groups. Students understand their options when they are in his office. There is a chair in which they are silent and a rocking chair for when they are ready to speak. And as I progressed throughout the building, I noticed that the rest of the school’s space was used purposefully as well.
Mr. Critell finds use in what others have tossed aside. He has found treasures for his staff and students at the warehouse on Catalpa Street. Stationary bikes, a bonus for kids who need to burn off a little energy or extra steam, sit under stairwells and around corners. Not too many areas in the school go unused and, thanks to the warehouse finds, are filled with chairs, tables, mats, and anything else that give students an opportunity to spend time alone or with classmates in a non-traditional setting.
It was pretty obvious that Mr. Critell knows how to find the positives in whatever comes his way. The school’s unfortunate moisture problem didn’t bother Mr. Critell, and he didn’t let it be a negative for his staff. The unusable carpet was removed from classrooms and tile added. Mr. Critell and his teachers used this to their advantage and purchased kid-friendly area rugs that were thoughtfully placed and meaningfully used in several rooms. Even the what-do-we-do-with-92-boxes-of-math-manipulatives situation that happened while I was at the school was handled with grace and humor. This attitude creates a wonderful environment for everyone in the building.
Yesterday is exactly what I needed. I witnessed a variety of teaching styles and classrooms with children in small groups – some working with volunteers, some with assistants, some with teachers, and some independently on computers or iPads. I witnessed a warm, friendly building filled with children with a broad array of learning styles and abilities happy to be at school. There definitely were no “shortages” today in engaged students and passionate staff!
Our trip to the Statehouse reminds me of the all the others hours of testimony I listened to on the livestream at the in.gov website. While most of the testimony I heard then was clearly against what the bill was about, the majority of our legislators didn’t listen to their constituents and voted with their party – or voted how it would most please their donors.
While there was no vote about the reasons behind the teacher shortage on Monday, I think it was pretty clear what will happen. Nothing…nothing to right the wrongs that have caused this shortage. Nothing to undo the damage that has been done to our public schools. While over 40 parents, educators, and concerned individuals waited five to six hours to be heard, most of them carrying the same message of how we need to undo the damage that has been done to cause this shortage, I’m sure none of their suggestions will come to fruition. Near the end of the hearing only 6 of the 16, legislators were left, so how could their heartfelt and impassioned testimony be heard anyway?
What took the majority of the day were the supposed “experts.” While some of these “experts” had some interesting data, I’m sure what most of our legislators will only remember a few words. The gentleman from Ball State ardently stated that there is no teacher shortage. The gentleman from Georgia suggested we use “alternate” teachers and ease up on teacher licensure. He also pointed out how many billions of dollars we would save if we dumped most of our support staff.
My visit to ACJC the other day reminds me of the world in which our legislators live. One of my colleagues who read my blog commented that I wasn’t prepared for my visit to this juvenile detention center. I wasn’t. Being a former educator and a guidance counselor, I really can say I’ve almost seen it all. But that was ten years ago. Since then my focus has been my children. I’ve been living in my own little dream world where everything focuses around my own family. I’ve forgotten about a lot of what I saw while working in public education. Why keep memories of children living in unbearable situations?
Our legislators live in their own little dream worlds, too. I’m sure they envision a school where all children come ready and willing to learn. Where all children sit quietly waiting for the next direction from the teacher. Where all children have been fed a healthy breakfast at home. Where all children come from functional two parent families. Where all children return home at night with books, pencils, paper, adequate lighting, a place to do homework, and a parent ready to assist when questions arise.
This is exactly why legislators with no background in education should not be making education legislation. What they believe to be true and our state’s reality are completely different things. I am sick and tired of fighting for what is right, yet I know there is no one listening. I’m tired of our legislators not listening to the REAL experts. Our parents and our educators know what is best in order to educate our young people. When will their voices be heard?
Being an advocate means speaking out for what you believe in. Sometimes that means stepping outside of one's comfort zone to show support for what you feel is right. These are some of the letters I have sent to various legislators and newspapers to show my position on public education.