1.) Tell us about your role as an educator. What does your typical day look like?
As an instructional coach, my role is to collaborate with families, students, teachers, and administrators to ensure positive growth and development of the whole child. My typical day includes collaborative research, co-teaching, modeling, and working with teachers and students in the development of curriculum and instructional practices that have the greatest impact on student achievement for the unique strengths and skills of the learners in our community.
2.) What’s your education philosophy summed up in one sentence?
The purpose of education is to cultivate literate, independent and critical thinkers that are equipped to interact with and contribute to their communities and the larger society in a meaningful way.
3.) Why did you become an educator?
I became an educator because I believe my life’s purpose is to serve and teach others for a more just and loving world.
4.) As an SCASCD Emerging Leader, how do you hope to have a greater effect on education in your community and beyond?
My hope as an SCASCD Emerging Leader is to bring awareness to the policies and practices within the broader educational system that marginalize and maintain social inequities for students. I hope I will be able to use this unique opportunity to further serve those populations by facilitating discussions and sharing a variety of perspectives that make steps towards positive change in policy and practice.
I would love to use this opportunity to bring greater understanding of the role of social emotional competences in education for adults and students. My ultimate hope for the future is that each school system has an expectation for teachers to participate in yearly anti-racism and social-emotional training in which they are provided with the tools that are necessary to develop and strengthen the competences of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. I believe that both the rate of teacher retention and the rate of student achievement for marginalized populations will increase as teachers strengthen these competencies. Even the smallest steps towards this vision would be my greatest hope.
5.) What types of professional development (books, DVDs, webinars, courses) have made a difference in your career?
Zaretta Hammond’s books and webinars on culturally responsive teaching and the brain have had a huge impact on the way I view curriculum and instruction. I learned that being culturally responsive and more than learning about a student’s culture and honoring or reflecting that within the curriculum. She taught me that culturally responsive teaching is building the learning capacity of each individual student. It is a mission that now guides my decisions and conversations with teachers as an instructional coach.
6.) Was there a pivotal moment when you realized your career choice in education was the correct one? Describe that time.
I came to education after pursuing a career in the Marketing field. The week before my first year of teaching my principal shared some of her concerns about a particular student that would be in my third grade class. During this meeting the principal shared the emotional, academic, and behavioral issues the student had displayed in the past. After that meeting I had a mix of emotions. My primary feeling was how and why a student with that many concerns would be placed in a classroom with a first-year teacher.
I began the school year building a relationship with all of my students and their families, but I took special interest in getting to know everything I could about the student my principal had mentioned. I learned that he liked to ride dirt bikes and he loved helping his mother rescue and train dogs. He was a talented artist, but he got very frustrated when his art didn’t turn out the way he had intended. His mother was a single mom who worked three jobs to be able to live in the affluent community so he could attend a our school, so his brother got him ready for school each morning and helped him with his homework each night. Within a few months of school the student confided with me that his brother always yelled at him and it made him feel nervous and angry. I began to use the information I gained about this student and the rest of my class to adjust the routines and instructional practices in my classroom. I used my background in data and statistics to monitor what routines and practices were helping my students grow and which were not.
I brought all of this information with me to my first IEP meeting for this student. The team compared his academic abilities and behaviors with those from the previous years. The team was amazed at how well-adjusted the student was to school. They asked me which interventions I thought helped him make so much progress. I didn’t realize that the simple actions I had taken to support this student were viewed as interventions. Being that I received my certification to be an educator through a non-traditional path, I didn’t have the traditional views and practices of education. I was creating a non-traditional learning environment simply by using my knowledge of my students. As I searched for the interventions that helped the student make so much progress, I discovered they were all simple responses to the little bits of information I learned about him. I encouraged him to create graphic novels to build on his artistic capability, and he learned to love writing for the first time. After learning of his need to be perfect, I shared some breathing techniques to use when things didn’t go as planned. In response to learning about his struggles with his brother each morning I gave him some cool down time before he began his morning routines. Once he learned the number of books in the library about dirt bikes, bike riders, and dog training he began visiting the library all the time and slowly increased the amount of time he spent reading independently.
It was in that IEP meeting, as I began to list the actions I thought were typical practices that I realized my new career path in education was the correct one. It was a pivotal moment that guides how I serve in education even today. Education only benefits some students when it looks and sounds one way. I learned I had a unique perspective as a result of my non-traditional path that would allow me to serve students, and later teachers, to reach their greatest potential.
7.) If you could make one major change in education, what would it be?
It seems like such a lofty goal, but I would love to see assessments be developed by a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural group of teachers from around the country, that are then voted on and approved by the communities. I see the value of assessments as a tool to monitor progress, but the situations, scenarios, and language of standardized tests are often only accessible to students of the dominant social group.
8.) What is your most rewarding experience as an educator?
The most rewarding experience as an educator is the moment when a student is able to read and make meaning from a book. It is as if they have finally found the key to unlock the door to the life they choose.