What Have You Learned This Year?

School is over in less than two weeks, and what an incredible school year it’s been! I started the year as a kindergarten educator and ended it as a Reading Specialist. While I haven’t had a full year in this role, I’ve still been reflecting a lot on my learning this year. Here are some of my biggest takeaways.

  • Building relationships is as important for adults as it is for kids. In my current role, I spend almost as much time working with educators as I do with students. While I knew some teachers at this school before I arrived, many were unknown to me or just people with which I might have shared a couple of tweets or Instagram posts. If we’re going to be planning and teaching together and reflecting on learning as a team, we need a connection first. We need to trust each other. For me, this meant taking the time to chat before and after school, offering help with anything, bringing in a few snacks, especially at stressful times as people enjoy a few treats, and joining grade team meetings.
  • Differentiation matters for adults too. Just like our students, we are not all the same. When I was in the classroom with Paula, we always appreciated when Reading Specialists varied their approach with each educator team. This might mean supporting reading instruction in our classroom and pulling a small group in another classroom. It’s not about a right/wrong approach, but about knowing the educators and kids, understanding pedagogy, and being flexible. I think about this a lot, and often wear many hats in the school day: from doing small group, targeted instruction alongside classroom educators to facilitating a full class lesson to entering play and extending literacy learning to supporting literacy instruction outdoors to co-planning and co-problem solving with educator teams to doing just about anything else to get in the classrooms, to support reading instruction, and to connect with kids and staff. My time doesn’t need to look the same in every room. Often though, as educators talk and people see and hear about what I might be doing elsewhere, an option in one room is modified to become an option in another.
  • Always remember what it was like back in your own classroom. For me, this has been an easy takeaway this year, as I just came from a classroom. I remember those stressful and those exciting times, and I can also remember what I needed from others during both of these times. I try to be cognizant of more stressful times, and offer different support to educators during these times (e.g., leading a full class lesson so that educators can pull individual students for assessment or chatting about grades as a team). Report card times are not the times to send out additional emails or provide additional PD. I might not be able to write reports for educators, but I know how much I appreciated others acknowledging the challenge and the time commitment, and sometimes, just being heard is enough.
  • It’s okay not be everywhere all the time. When I started this position, I quickly realized that I had 11 classes to support and I tried to develop a schedule where I could be in every class, every day. Basically I was running between classrooms in 15-20 minute blocks of time, and not really getting to know anybody well. I recognized that educators wanted a consistent schedule of support, but was this really working for anyone? This led to me changing my schedule, filling in some required times, and allowing educator teams to sign-up for additional times. Since I get to set my own preps, I could be flexible with this time, and adjust the periods each day depending on staff requests and teacher timetables. Along with this sign-up system, I always send an email offering educators to reach out if they have questions and to email me if they want support but can’t find an available period. Then I can look at how to break periods in half or switch some times to accommodate others. I had to let go of being in every class every day, but I keep a close enough look at my schedule to ensure that I’m in every class at least once a week. This has allowed me to get to know staff and students so much more.
  • Mentorship is not just for new teachers. I love that this Reading Specialist position includes mentorship. My mentor is actually a teacher that I taught with many years ago. We got to connect each month for half-a-day on a topic of our choice. We spoke about everything from the reading/writing connection to targeted, small group instruction to literacy and play. Hearing different perspectives, engaging in meaningful conversations, and making plans for classroom practice was so incredibly valuable. New learning opportunities for myself, for classroom educators, and for kids, came out of this mentorship!

I know not every new position includes formal mentorship, but my learning these past nine months makes me wonder as well about informal mentorship. What might be possible and what might the benefits be?

  • Find that child — or many children — and be their champion! Rita Pierson’s TED Talk remains one of my favourite ones of all time, and I constantly hear her message run through my head at the strangest of times. In the classroom, Paula and I often spoke about Pierson’s TED Talk, and all of the kids that need a champion. I now support 11 classes of kids and a school of over 1000 students, many of whom might need someone. This position has made me even more aware of the Board’s Annual Plan, and the importance of planning, programming, and success for those who have been “currently and historically underserved.” I can’t help but think about the connection between these students and those that might also require a champion. We know that learning starts with relationships, and maybe it’s that most challenging child that might need this positive relationship most of all.
  • Take the risk, even when it’s a hard risk to take. This Reading Specialist position has intrigued me for years, but I always came up with a reason not to apply. This year, I took the plunge and sent in my application. As excited as I was about getting the job, I was also terrified. It was so hard to leave my fabulous teaching partner and amazing kids and families, especially as the year just started. I left with a lot of unknowns: what if I don’t like the position? What if I’m not good at it? What if the position does not get renewed again past this year? As much as I embrace change, I was scared. But with the support of my previous teaching partner, Paula, and amazing friends and family members, I said, “yes,” and accepted the job. I couldn’t be happier! This year, I’ve learned so much about reading instruction, the importance of flexibility, the value in strong teams and how to support these teams, the importance of listening more and talking less, and the value of some thought-provoking questions … even if they might cause a bit of discomfort. I’ve met wonderful people, found reasons to laugh every single day, and been pushed to re-think some of what I thought that I knew and some things that I might do very differently than before. The risk was well worth it!

While I’m not sure exactly what next year brings yet, I really appreciate my learning and growth from this year. What are your biggest takeaways from this past school year? There’s so much joy that comes when we remember what each year has taught us!


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