Leadership · Curriculum · Lifelong Learning

UPDATE: Yesterday was the last day of my fifteenth year of teaching, and the last day in my transition as a specialist going back to the classroom. Here’s a quick recap:

Classroom Teacher → Specialist → Classroom Teacher

I was asked to fill in for a fifth grade teacher who was going out on medical leave, beginning on February 1, 2017. Therefore, I would temporarily leave my K-5 STEM Specialist position to assume my former fifth grade math/science classroom teaching position. In fact, I would be going back to my exact classroom and joining my former teammate of three years. Nonetheless, switching from a specialist teacher back to a classroom teacher has been challenging. I’m living this transition, and I’m embracing it as a dynamic learning opportunity. Come fly with me! Interact with my journey as I blog a series of reflections.

2002—2015 5th Grade Math/Science
2015—January 31, 2017 K-5 STEM Specialist
February 1, 2017—Present 5th Grade Math/Science

UPDATE: My long-term memory stored the journey of classroom teaching 2002–2015. I never forgot the rigors of classroom teaching. But I DID re-discover just how hard classroom teachers work. I confess: Part of me thought this would be an easy transition, and like it was meant to be all along. I was way wrong. But lucky for me, I was surrounded by a team that worked so well together, it was like a family.

Done Well, Teaching Never Gets Easier

Effective educators are constantly revising and seeking to become better for their students. This was NOT the same team I left in 2015. Rejoining the fifth grade team after just an eighteen month break, I had to learn a lot. In my absence, this team: improved instruction; integrated several new technologies; and they even changed or got rid of now-stale routines and practices, (many of which I had created just a few years ago). I had a lot of catching up to do. And that’s how it should be, when effective educators continue growing and improving to make student learning experiences better. I’m glad that I did NOT come back to continue “doing what we’ve always done.”

True Story: There were times when I could literally feel old pathways in my brain igniting anew, but when arriving where the sidewalk ends, I had to ask: “Okay, that’s how I used to do it, but how am I making [this learning experience] better this time?” Of course, I also wanted to continuously improve–and on this team–it was outright expected.

(Diverse Characteristics + Excellent Character) x Shared Vision = Effective Team

What are the characteristics of a highly-functional, effective team? Some may advise that assembling educators with very similar strengths, talents, and interests paves the path for successful teamwork. On the contrary! Fifth grade educators flew in formation because we had diversity in: content knowledge; technology skills; pedagogy approach; backgrounds; individual interests; expertise; and experience, ranging 30+ years. Many different students require many different educators on any team.

Yet, can team members have anything in common, and still be effective? I can personally attest that common characteristics of this effective team are character-specific. It was my absolute pleasure to work closely with educators who demonstrated incredible work ethic, endurance, perseverance, continuity, integrity, and kindness. Character isn’t simply just a list of traits you demonstrate daily. Character is who you are.


Team Leaders Make Team… Work

While pursuing broader, educational leadership opportunities, I find myself analyzing “the big picture” more often. Some of my recent analyses: People need their space–personally and professionally; you can’t share command; two can’t occupy the same niche; unique circumstances require extra care; and people crave clear expectations, vision, follow-thru, and follow-up. Perhaps one principal summarized it well: “Kids need structure, discipline, and a pinch of TLC. And adults need it, too.”

Joining the fifth grade team now, I had to learn how to use new technologies, such as: Mastery Connect; Seesaw; PowerSchools Haiku Learning; Class Dojo; Remind; and Google Apps for Education, including Classroom, Drive, Docs, Slides, Sheets, Sites. (I knew how to use many of these, but not as a classroom teacher. And there is a HUGE difference). In addition, these educators grew in using twitter; iPads; several apps; and they even had pleasant music playing while students entered. So many changes in such a short time.

But what I loved most, was how each teacher had a specialty area, and that it happened organically. We each had our own professional space. The expert in one area would humbly approach another educator to inquire about his or her specialty area. This team ran like a well-oiled machine, like geese flying in formation, because: we frequently sought each other’s help; no one had to be the expert in ALL areas; and we frequently sought opportunities to help each other.

Although migration patterns have changed, it was truly an honor to fly with this flock once again. A very special, heartfelt thanks to my fifth grade family for taking me under their wings.

One Reply to “Specialist Goes Back to the Classroom: Part II: Flying in Formation”

  • Kyle, this is a beautiful tribute to the complexities of being a classroom teacher! Thanks so much for sharing your honest reflections: What a tribute to your team and to the profession!

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