“So Hard, yet so Rewarding”

I know it has been a while since I posted about my journey.  To be honest, it was difficult because I was on the brink of quitting.  Yes, it got so difficult I found it easier to say, “I’m done, I can’t do this” instead of adopting a growth mindset.  It took the words of a friend and a colleague to pull me up, a friend who actually shared with me my own words and story.  I am back and ready to continue my journey and story.

Teaching at a “high energy”, low-socioeconomic school is one of the hardest yet most rewarding experience of my life (outside of raising my children).  I am going to keep it real, it is tough.  I pulled out all of my books by Eric Jensen, Ruby K. Payne, and Christopher Emdin.  Going through the pages, I was trying to find something that can help me.  How do I reach these children who are two even three years behind students at other schools?  How do I deal with their anger and disrespect towards each other?  How do I get them to “want to learn”?  Then it hit me when a student asked, “Are you staying, Mrs. Routten?”  I replied, “Of course I am.  Why do you ask?”  He replied, “Because teachers don’t stay here, they leave.”  With these words, I realized these children crave stability and trust.  I have to build relationships with my students and build trust and respect!

I learned a few things (and continue to learn) this school year.  First, my students deserve my best, they deserve what every other student in my district receives.  Second, my (our) students CAN do it!  Their zip code does not define their capabilities.  Finally, I discovered I CAN do it!!!

At the beginning of the year my classroom was “electric”, and I do not mean that in a positive way.  When our reading coach came in she said, “I can feel the high energy!”  It was normal to break up fights in my classroom at least three times a week.  That has changed!  That same reading coach came in last week and commented, “Is this the same class?”  Huge change!!!  I learned to advocate for my students.  ALL of my students deserve to feel safe at school, in their own classroom.  Separating volatile personalities helped create a calm, safe environment.

Most importantly, I learned our students are capable!  They can do what every other student in our district can do.  Nothing motivates me more than when someone says, “Those kids can’t do that.”  Our fourth grade students have participated in “reciprocal teaching”, accountable talk, inquiry learning in science, Whole Brain Teaching, Kagan structures, etc.  The results have been phenomenal.  In fact, one of our fourth grade  teachers stated, “I’ve never had unit assessment scores this high before!”  After conversing with the reading coach at our “sister” school, we had three teachers from that school come watch our students participate in reciprocal teaching.  They are now implementing this strategy in their grade level.  Now that is what it’s all about!  Sharing what works!  Also, my students are participating in science inquiry!  All I can say is, “WOW!”  I’m amazed at the growth and the thinking.  They are doing the talking, thinking, and learning!

Finally, I discovered that I CAN do it, WE can do it!!!  Yes, it takes patience, chunking the information, and a LOT of modeling (and A LOT of prayer)!  Mostly it takes my voice, our voices!  I want to advocate for these children.  We need to advocate for our children!  Our students deserve it!







The Journey Begins with a Decision

Have you ever felt “unsettled”?  Like something is missing?  Restless?  This described me for the last two years, I felt as if I needed to be doing something, but I didn’t know what.  I LOVE teaching!  That wasn’t the problem, I just felt stagnant.  During this time I applied for and got accepted to participate in the Florida Teacher Leader Fellowship Program.  This was my first step in my “journey to hope”.  This fellowship allowed me the opportunity to pursue a passion for building capacity at my current school through an action research, teacher inquiry project.  During our first institute in Tallahassee, Florida, we received astonishing data.  The New Teacher Project (TNTP) conducted research regarding teachers’ understanding of the standards, shifts in standards, and designing student work aligned to the standards.  Only 7% of Florida Teachers made instructional changes required by Florida State Standard.  Only 36% of assignments indicated alignment to the standards. While 64% of Florida students met expectations of assignments, only 27% of Florida students met the expectations of the standards.  This led to my action research question, “What would happen if teachers participated in job-embedded, practice-focused professional development unpacking ELA standards translating them into practice to the depth of the standards?”

Although the restlessness was subsiding a bit, the feeling was still there.  About four months into my fellowship experience I was nominated to apply for Leadership Florida, Education Class II.  This was the next step in my journey.  Although I met the State Department’s Deputy Chancellor of Education Quality (Dr. Brian Dassler) previously, being part of Leadership Florida allowed me the opportunity to work with him.  His passion for students, teachers, and education was unrivaled and contagious.  Our many conversations centered on the question “How do we build capacity at Title 1 schools with high needs?”   During our last conversation, I asked, “So, how do we get highly effective experienced teachers to go to and stay at these Title 1 schools?”  The moment these words left my mouth I paused and said, “What about me?”  Then it hit me, that’s what I need to do.  I need to go to a Title 1 school with high needs!  Not to be a “savior” who was going to “save” a school, but to come in and work together with teachers, to learn from teachers, in order to meet the needs of ALL students.  When I revealed my decision to Brian, he smiled from ear to ear, his face lit up.  You see, he knew I had to come to that realization for myself.

The restlessness was replaced with fear.  Remaining in my comfort zone is safe.  Doubt crept in. Then two things happened.  First, Dr. Brian Dassler passed away unexpectedly. Florida’s education community lost an amazing person and educator.  I had to continue his legacy, his dream, his vision that every student is taught by a highly qualified teacher every day.  Second, I recently attended the Milken Educator Forum in New Orleans, LA. This forum was in conjunction with The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching’s TAP Conference.  TAP is the System for Teacher and Student Advancement.  Spending three days with amazing educators was invigorating and inspiring.  It was then that I realized that being a Milken Educator gives me a voice.  What is my voice?  Reflecting on these past two years and the events that led me to New Orleans, I realized my voice is for students at Title 1 schools.  My body of work is building capacity at these schools by leading from the classroom, working together with teachers, learning from them. With that decision, the restlessness is gone, completely!

So, here I am, three months away from completing my 19th year of teaching.  2017-2018 will begin my 20th year and a new journey.  Just know I am not going in with “rose colored” glasses.  I’m going in with my eyes wide open, but I’m jumping in ready and willing.  This is not going to be about ME, this blog will be about a team, a team of teachers who want the best for students.  This will be OUR journey!

Here is where we will blog about our journey with the hopes that more teachers will join us!  Yes, this will be an adventure, it will be challenging, I’m sure there will be tears, but it will be so rewarding on so many levels.