Beginning Teacher Interstate Connections: Looking Back to Move Forward

Beginning Teacher Interstate Connections: Looking Back to Move Forward:  Part 2

In the last Beginning Teacher Interstate Connections Blog, Dr. Adreian Pitts did an amazing job of guiding beginning teachers through a reflective process with an emphasis on classroom instruction and professional growth.   As you reflect upon all of the ever-changing events of this difficult year, remember that you have modeled the skills of flexibility and resilience for the students you serve.  As an educator, you can be an influencer for positive change.  Creating a  culturally responsive learning environment can be critical to the social, emotional, and academic success of your students.  With the shift to a virtual or blended learning structure, moments of truth and vulnerability have provided you a better understanding of how your students not only thrive but struggle, outside of the brick and mortar school setting.  During these unprecedented times, we can look to experts to help us grow a professional skill set that ensures every student is provided a judgment-free and safe learning environment.  Dr. Brene’ Brown, endowed research professor, at the University of Houston and author of five New York Times Best Sellers, is an enlightening mentor for promoting equity and cultural responsiveness. She provides support on topics such as courage, shame, vulnerability and empathy. As you continue to “look back to move forward”, consider this Brene’ Brown quote:  Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we can do.”  

Let’s take a peek at a few amazing beginning teachers, who are reflecting upon this year and serving as positive change agents for the students they serve…

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all” -Aristotle

In the UNCP region, Mrs. Zee Walker, teaches third grade at Southside Ashpole Elementary School in Rowland. Southside is a part of the NCDPI’s Innovative School District. Mrs. Walker is a 2019-20 NCCAT Beginning Teacher of the Year Nominee and 2019-20 ISD Beginning Teacher of the Year.   She is completing her third year of teaching and will be exiting her Beginning Teacher status at the close of the 2020-21 school year.  She has made implementing a culturally responsive learning environment a prioritized  professional learning goal this year . In her April 28th  post to Twitter, with permission from the student (Khloe) and her family, Mrs. Walker provides evidence of her dedication to this endeavor.  In a tweet, she shared a photo of Khloe’s response to a writing prompt centered around current events in our state and a hope for change. Khloe’s desire for people to see beyond skin color brought tears to Mrs. Walker’s eyes. She said that if she had not been vulnerable and courageous enough to have these conversations in her classroom, she would be doing a disservice to her students.  She said, “Sometimes, you just have to stop the plan and address what is on your students’ minds in order to keep learning going in the classroom.”   As Mrs. Walker’s instructional coach, I took the opportunity to link her teachable moments to the area of providing effective feedback to students.  While Mrs. Walker could have easily focused on conventions of writing, spelling, or language development for Khloe, she did not. She embraced Khloe’s emotional message with tears and had a meaningful conversation about the writer’s craft and use of voice for sending a message of hope and positive change. Of course, she will eventually support Khloe with those additional writing techniques to help her improve her message.  However, at that moment in time, it was more impactful for her to explain how her courage to share her feelings can be a powerful means for impacting those who read her words. 

“Where words fail, music speaks.” -Hans Christian Anderson. 

In the UNC-C region, Peyton Wulff teaches K – 5 music at Unity Classical Charter School. Although this is her first year teaching, Ms. Wulff has not let COVID 19 stop her creativity or her passion for music. During a time of much uncertainty a love of the arts has brought the world a small piece of joy and a much needed expressive outlet. “As an educator, it is my goal to try to implement other subject areas into my own instruction. Since this is my first year teaching, I am still getting my bearings on that technique, but it has been very motivating personally to try and be as creative with my own instruction to help these amazing scholars learn music while also doing math, language, geography, and so much more. This year, the name of the game is retention, and if I can help in that area in any way, I will! In my class, we do a lot of “Rhythm Math”, where the students are adding and subtracting (for K-2) the beats of rhythms that they have learned! In 3rd-5th grade, we created a “virtual choir” where we performed Africa by Toto. We had a geography lesson where we learned about the continent; we learned about its culture, landmarks, language, and much more. Once we started the song process, students were able to showcase their own “spark” by showing themselves doing their favorite hobbies, while also having a music-related job! The students had a blast with this project, and it showed! Overall, this year has been nothing short of a challenge, but I feel I am a better, more effective educator for it!” Here is a link to the Voices of Unity Virtual Choir.

There is no magic secret for implementing cultural responsiveness.  As you continue to “look back to move forward”, remember this powerful quote from Margaret Wheatly…

Contributors: Jami Graham, UNCP and Maghan Kirschner, UNCC 

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