Collaborative Teaching

Goochland County Public Schools

What is a “Great Kid”?

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

I have a loving family. Today, my parents who have been married for more than 40 years live down the road and help my husband and me immensely with our two young daughters. I can not imagine my life today any other way. But years ago, when I was a twelve-year-old girl in the seventh grade, the unfortunate reality that we all end up eventually becoming exposed to became apparent: my mom and dad were not just my super heroes – they were humans, too. In seventh grade, my parents separated and my mom moved from Virginia to New York for a brief time. Needless to say, it rocked my world.

Everyone shudders at middle school memories. I was so intimidated by my peers that I barely ever spoke up in class. To this day, I remember raising my hand to participate in math class and the ‘cool girl’ saying, Oh my gosh…She can talk? I remember my heart beating uncomfortably fast as I wished I could disappear in the cloud of laughter that followed.

Today, I was not thinking about that girl, though. Today, I was thinking about how overwhelming teaching can be: how there are never enough hours in the day, how it is so hard to find work/life balance, how it is so much easier to tally the list of things I have not completed than the list of things that I have… And then I thought of the teacher in that seventh grade math classroom: Mr. Hayes.

Mr. Hayes’ smile as he asserted his famous line – There’s more than one way to solve a problem – still fills me with warmth. Mr. Hayes never took me out in the hall and told me that I was not living up to my potential, even though I remember other teachers who, with the best of intentions, had this conversation with me often. But it was not just his quirky lines or patient attitude that made a difference. Mr. Hayes did something else, too: He gave me an “F” on my interim report card and wrote “great kid” in the comments section.

I have no idea if Mr. Hayes knew what was going on in my life at the time. All I know is that by writing “great kid” on that report, he made me feel value at a time when I felt that I had very little. His impact was so profound that it still benefits me today, reminding me that it is not the completed to do list that defines me as a teacher, but the relationships I build with students, that truly make a difference. So rather than spend this Sunday drenched in pre-week teaching anxieties, I vow to spend the day sharpening my saw with the knowledge that the only way we can truly make others feel great is by first feeling great ourselves.

Inclusion Might Mean Starting Over: Do You Dare?

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

First year teachers are incredible, aren’t they? They walk into the classroom with little more than practicum experience and are faced with innumerable challenges. They have moments of joy when student engagement is present and relationships grow, but they also have moments of darkness when their directions are dismissed and connections fizzle. But they come back, most of them, every day, to do their job, and they get better. By year three, despite the exhausting learning curve they have climbed, they feel fresh. They feel confident. They feel capable.

As hard as the first year of teaching is, what teacher would want to go through it again? If what you’re doing in your classroom is working, why would you want to risk failing the majority of your students by including one individual who doesn’t respond to the system you’ve created? Many teachers wouldn’t, but a few teachers dare. A few teachers dare to take risks, enlist supports, and drive the bus toward global change. It isn’t easy, but I promise you if you’re willing to go all in, if you’re willing to feel as uncomfortable as you did during your first year of teaching, your classroom family will flourish in unimaginable ways.

What Does it Mean to Dare?

Nothing great can happen without trust, and trust doesn’t solidify overnight. Joe Beasley, (the general education teacher whom I co-teach with,) and I are in our second year of co-teaching. There were times last year when we cocked our heads to the side at the other person’s response to a classroom situation. There were times when Joe thought my supports were equivalent to “giving in” and there were times when I thought his expectations were “too demanding.” But then guess what happened? One of us would be absent, and it would be blatantly evident to the remaining teacher that it was not our individual strengths, but our combined qualities, that made our classroom strong.

If the unknown makes you uncomfortable, if reverting back to those first year teacher feelings makes you cringe, you are normal! Whenever Joe and I are faced with a new behavioral challenge, we both hold our breaths and brace ourselves even as we’re putting plans in place. Will we let our students down? Will we let each other down? Will parents be unhappy? All of these are possibilities, because every student is different and we are always learning. But what if we succeed? How sweet will that be? And what will we learn along the way to support others in their journey toward increasing inclusion?

If you think you might be brave enough to feel vulnerable again, talk to your principal. Talk to colleagues. Talk to parents and students. Talk to your community. If you think you’re brave enough to increase inclusion, you have to talk to others, because if you think it’s all on you, you’re wrong. One person alone cannot make this change. We are only as good as the supports around us, and I strongly believe that a world where all people support one another, despite our differences, is a better place for my children to live.

How do you work to increase inclusion in your school? What advice would you offer to those who are still unsure? Please share your thoughts below!

How to Get Your Mom to Let You Jump in Puddles

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

We got home from school today and the girls asked if they could jump in puddles on the way in. No. Please just go inside, I told them. I was stressed. I’d known the entire ride home that a run was what I needed. And it had nearly stopped raining.

We went inside, I changed into shorts, a t-shirt and running shoes, and I opened the front door. It was pouring. I asked my husband if he thought I should stay home. No. You should go, he said supportively.

I raced down the road and the rain continued to pick up. We rarely see cars and I was thankful I didn’t have to explain to a hunter driving by that running in the rain was actually my intention. We also rarely see bears, and I was thankful I didn’t see one of them either…

Running in the rain made my stress disappear. It reminded me that whether I am a teacher or a student, a mother or a child, I am a small part of the world.

I am no better than the stones beneath my feet, and no worse than the life-giving air that I breath. I am no more permanent than the falling drops of water on my face, and no less grounded than the trees around me. I am important, by my importance does not override my humanness.

And for me, in that moment, I felt better. I will always be teaching and learning, mothering and growing, so long as I continue to be.

As I splashed down our driveway back up to our house, I realized I couldn’t withhold this joy of being out in the rain. And so I leaned in the front door and beckoned the girls to get their rain boots on and come out to jump in puddles.

In or out, Mama, my eldest told me, referring to the wide-open front door.

Out! Come out with me!

And with that, we all went out to play in the rain, jump in the mud, and just be. Isn’t this the best night ever? My youngest asked me when we went inside. Yes. Of course it is! Rather than be overcome with the challenges of life, we were given a special opportunity to enjoy life’s gifts, and we did!

***

How does all this relate to collaborative teaching or co-teaching? I’m not sure that it does any more than it relates to any profession: We have to come to work ready every day, and we need to find ways to destress in order to share our gifts. In order to take care of others, we must first take care of ourselves, and only with practice will we truly know what that means.

How Do You Find Balance at the Start of the School Year?

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

This morning, I seriously considered exercising. I could go for a walk – maybe walk my parents’ dog – but I decided against it. This afternoon, the students will be coming for Back To School Night and I want to feel fresh and ready. But I knew I needed to do “something.” So then I considered meditating, which really amounted to trying to think about nothing… and then eating a cheese sandwich instead. I almost landed on the idea of going in to work early, and then I remembered that I could write.

Yesterday, we had a Being a Writer* refresher – a small group of teachers reflecting on our practice as teachers of writing but also as writers ourselves. We talked about the importance of authentic writing experiences, free of judgment and critique, to develop the young writer. We didn’t focus on creating writers as publishers of text, but as processors of feelings in a diversely complicated world. While I went to the training hoping for direction on teaching mechanics, I’m thankful that wasn’t our focus.

My dad, Tony Emma, hanging out with the late, great, king of gospel music, Andrae Crouch (circa 1983)..

Writing mechanics certainly wasn’t my dad’s focus when he wrote songs on whatever scrap of paper he could find. He used writing as a form of expression and his songs reflected the joys and struggles in his own life. He was talented enough to put his words to music using the piano, and brave enough to share them with those around him. As such, he inadvertently modeled the power of being a writer for his children.

I’m thankful he took these risks. Without him, I might not even consider that writing could help me during the yearly celebration we call the start of the school year. The emotional charge of this time of year for teachers is unique, and although this may sound absurd, I can liken it only to preparing for my own wedding. It is a time when excitement and hope and energy are as prevalent as the anxiety that often quietly plagues our teaching population. There are so many tabs about to be unceasingly opened in our brains. How do we quiet our minds without neglecting our duties?

I don’t think there’s a perfect answer. I think part of it is accepting that we won’t always be the person we hope to be. For me, my fear is that I will give all my kindness and love and energy to my school family and be short and irritable with my family at home. And really, it’s more than a fear. It’s a reality. It’s going to happen sometimes. And maybe that’s ok because it teaches my own children that you don’t have to be perfect to do great things – you just have to consciously care about your actions.

Teachers, what do you do to find balance at the start of the school year? Where do you draw energy from? Where do you find calm? I would love for you to share your thoughts below. I know I’m not alone in this and am grateful to be in a profession where the support of my colleagues is vital fuel.

*For more information on Being a Writer, click here

MSiC Make It: Minecraft

Click here for the Minecraft Presentation!

 

 

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