Last week after keynoting the OPI Assessment Conference I had the pleasure of observing and interacting with the 5th-grade team at Target Range School in Missoula, MT. This group of teachers, Dan Ries, Jenna Ekegren, and Michael Wilson, is the epitome of a collaborative, professional team. While only spending two hours with them, it was apparent that the team's hard work has paid off in the classroom. Their students are amazing learners---working collaboratively with one another trying to identify "problem-problems," sharing their thinking verbally and via models, and explaining the why behind their answers. Honestly, if you know of anyone not for Common Core math send them to observe these students. They'll be amazed!
Teachers' Voices are Powerful
One of my missions as the 2016 Montana Teacher of the Year is to share the voices of educators doing extraordinary work in the classroom. After this visit, it felt only natural to ask Dan, Jenna, and Michael to reflect on how they empower, exceed, and elevate their profession, school, and students. Here's what they had to say:
Our team meetings embody this word entirely. If you come to our classrooms for a visit during our 5th-grade team meeting (please do!) be ready for lively discussions, or better yet become a part of it. We might be in the middle of developing or revising a common assessment, meeting with a student to discuss their goals or behavior choices, or we might be reviewing various strategies as to how to approach next week’s lesson on equivalent fractions. Perhaps we are debriefing each other on a professional article one of us read, or we could be finishing up a discussion for a book club we are taking part in. Committing to being a team has been the most vital part of the successes we have had. When we make mistakes, we make them as a team. Our students see this teamwork and feed off it. Empowering teachers creates empowered students.
We exceed expectations by working as a team with a common mission and shared vision. We continually dedicate significant time working on improving our ideas and goals. The best part is, these are constantly growing and evolving into new and creative ideas.
As a team, we don’t rely on one resource; we are always innovating new and engaging methods of teaching. Whether that involves sharing resources, conversations, and ideas, we are dedicated to meeting the needs of each student.
Not all of our self-proclaimed brilliant lessons go as planned the first try. When they do, we are quick to share our successes. However when they don’t work, we are even quicker to provide feedback and persevere. We talk at great lengths about persevering, not only demonstrating this to one another but also to our students. We lead by example. Three minds are totally better than one.
By no means are we perfect. The three of us are still learning, and that is what makes this so exciting. Our passion for teaching and pushing ourselves to exceed all expectations never ceases.
We feel incredibly proud to tell people that we are 5th-grade teachers. To some, it sounds funny when you consider the reality of our day being packed plum full of Venn diagrams, unit fractions, theme, and point of view. However, we tell them that we are much more than just teachers of 5th-grade content.
For some students, we are the first person that greets them with a warm hug and a smile. For all students, we are eight hours of consistency, care, and listening ears. We are individuals who will challenge students to elevate themselves; to reach their fullest potential each day. Our 5th-grade team strives to help students realize their strengths and how to be their best self. We are certainly much more than just 5th-grade teachers.
Yes, Dan, Jenna, and Michael, yes, you are!