Lifelong Practices Live Within

My Educational Journey

I have been in education for 15 years and throughout my career, I have served in many roles at the Elementary level. This includes Teaching Assistant, Classroom Teacher, Reading Specialist, and most recently, Instructional Coach. Throughout the trajectory of my career, I have always worked to challenge myself in every position I have ever served in. Each position has taught me how to fine-tune what I know and do; each position has allowed me to see and focus on my strengths and the strengths of others in order to provide the best opportunities for students to reach their social, emotional, and academic potential; each position has allowed to me stay true to my core beliefs while learning new ways to approach teaching and learning. And because I have been fortunate to travel this path, I recognize the value every role brings to an organization. Over the course of time, I have asked myself, “How can I continue to honor my core belief system as I navigate the different roles I serve in?” At the heart of this journey, it became clear to me that developing relationships, connecting, being human, and leading with empathy and grace, opens doors to creating a community of learners who work together to ambitiously develop solutions to instructional challenges.

Not the Same Educator

Five years ago my school district decided to invest in job-embedded professional learning at the Elementary level. They reached to educators within the organization who had a strong background in literacy to elevate literacy practices and bring shared experiences to four buildings. When I took on the role of Literacy Coach, my school district had already committed to embracing the balanced literacy approach; this is an approach to reading and writing instruction I feel very strongly about to the core as learners can authentically engage in rich literacy experiences including the reading and writing workshop, interactive read alouds, shared reading, small group instruction, one-on-one conferencing, and have choice and voice as they get to self-select from diverse texts across a plethora of genres. This was an opportunity to work side-by-side with teachers as I got to collaboratively write curriculum and develop meaningful assessments with teachers, students, administrators, and literacy consultants. Over the course of a few years, we developed 73 Units of Study that were grounded in the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project philosophy. I got to work intimately with the other Literacy Coach, a brilliant colleague, and friend as we rallied teachers together to analyze, reflect, and revise a live curriculum to meet the needs of a diverse population. Additionally, we purposefully and intentionally took an audit of all elementary classroom libraries and ordered books and mentor texts to support learners and enhance the curriculum. Furthermore, we vertically aligned the curriculum, so there was a smooth progression of literacy development from K-5 that was aligned to the learning standards. In the last few years, I worked with my other Instructional Coach colleagues to ensure continuity of instruction in the Reading and Writing Workshop model, provided meaningful professional learning experiences during faculty and grade-level meetings, and participated in formal and informal conversations about student learning. All of this heart work has always been grounded in best practice. Best practices and systems are what guided this incredible experience. During this time, my coaching belief system was shaped by Jim Knight’s Seven Partnership Principles (introduced to me by Jessica Gruttola during an Instructional Coaching workshop). These principles influenced conversations, theory, and practice. These are the principles that supported my team as we embarked on the mission of creating positive change. If we modeled the change we wanted to see by consistently using the Partnership Principles as a guide while keeping learners at the heart of the decision-making process, we were off to great things!

Jim Knight

It was this work that led me to deeply understand what teaching and learning practices would best support learners in order to move them to higher levels, guide them towards independence, and create lifelong learners.

Coaching 1        Coaching 2Coaching 3  Coaching 4

Coaching work I facilitated in faculty, grade level, and one-on-one meetings.

Taking A Leap of Faith

This year I am taking a leap of faith as I enthusiastically join the Middle School team where I will serve as a Literacy Specialist. Although I will always keep my years of elementary experience close to my heart, I am incredibly excited to continue to collaborate, connect, network, reflect, and share all I have learned in every role I have ever had the privilege of serving in with colleagues and learners. I am also inviting the learning curve that will come with acclimating to a new culture and climate. I will learn for, about, and with new leadership, colleagues, and learners. In making the transition from Elementary to Middle School, I believe that there is great strength in knowing and understanding the building blocks of learning, where the students are coming from, and what skills they should have mastered. If we work together towards building a bridge that will reinforce what they know while making new connections to learning, there will be a strong vertical progression of literacy development.  As I make this transformation to the middle level, there is one thing I know for sure… I will continue to honor my own core belief system and the teaching and learning practices I am so insanely passionate about. As I continue on my educational journey, I will never forget the experiences I have been a part of and the people who have impacted my growth along the way. They are all a part of who I am, and that will never change!

Keeping Partnership Principles at the Core

I created the infographic below to demonstrate how Jim Knight’s Instructional Coaching Partnership Principles translate to working with learners using a balanced literacy approach. I believe that belief systems in education can be applied to any learning environment, if they are in fact, best practices!

Keeping Partnership Principles at the Core (2)

Keeping Partnership Principles at the Core

Moving with Time

My Perpetual Internal Clock

5:30 am… this is the time my morning routine begins. This is the time, my mind begins to race as I instantly start to think about all of the things I want to accomplish in my day. This is the time my internal clock is set to, even when I don’t have anywhere specific to be. This is a time when no one else in my house is awake yet. It’s my time. A time to ponder, to think, to analyze, to reflect, and to set new goals. I’ll admit, it’s REALLY hard for me to turn off the thoughts and ideas that speed like wildfire through my head. It kind of feels like a dream, the ones with different scenes that overlap with one another. The kind of dreams where there are problems that present themselves as barriers and you have that urgent feeling to search for the right solutions. The kind of dream where you encounter various people you have met in your life and you are happy they are there to be the thinking partner who will help you overcome the challenges. Do you ever think about how you can navigate your days with intention and purpose and who you may invite to come along for the journey? 

Choosing Time

Time… time is something that we all have and choose to use in different ways. One way isn’t better than the other, that’s what makes us who we are. For me, when I am in professional thinking mode, I tend to perseverate over how I will use my time so that I can make a difference for learners and the educational community. I ask myself, “What could I do differently today and make it better than yesterday? I believe that this type of thinking actually works well in our current climate. The way we are learning and the types of resources we have access to are constantly changing within spaces of time. It’s happening really fast. Day by day… hour by hour… minute by minute. Sometimes, it’s difficult to keep up with it all. It’s like running a race. You take off with plenty of open space in front of you and then suddenly there are hurdles that get in your way. It’s a barrier that doesn’t appear to be moving, and you must figure out a way to successfully move beyond it. Do you stop and run backward or do you keep moving forward? More than ever, we are living in times where we must roll up our sleeves and embrace the change. Actually, to me, there is no other choice. It is dangerous to say “This is the way we have always done it”. Our world and the learners that exist within it are constantly evolving and educators have an obligation to stay ahead of the curve. It is also important to understand that we do not have to do it alone. After all, aren’t we in a field of sharing and collaboration? We must constantly rally together to analyze, reflect, assess, and work deliberately towards improving instruction, the practices we employ, and solutions to instructional issues that get in the way. It is crucial to invite others to share their expertise and guide us towards providing optimal learning experiences for students. Katie Martin recently shared the image below on Instagram that expresses just what I am saying. We can choose to use our time to actively seek out opportunities that will help us thrive in the unpredictable times we are living in.

Katie Martin

We Can Dance in the Puddles

Time…it is time to think differently about the things we are used to seeing daily and create systems that support the process for creating and refining ideas. In a recent Future Ready podcast, Thomas Murray interviewed Superintendent, Dr. Tiffany Anderson. I was captivated by her ideas, convictions, and courageous leadership qualities. She expressed how her school district recognized that they must be versatile and adaptable as they shifted to remote learning. She mentioned that if you leverage technology well, you can continue learning in all different ways. She went on to say that since we have not been confined to our classroom walls, there are no borders that will get in the way of our growth…the possibilities are limitless. The challenging times we have been faced with have led us to take a deeper look into how students and educators learn. These times have allowed us to be more innovative than ever before and have prompted us to take more risks.  I have always believed in the power of being a connected and networked educator, and this notion only amplified the value of it. Dr. Anderson also indicated that students and educators are truly resilient to the new structures that have been put in place. This idea really resonated with me because we can now think intentionally about using our time differently than we have before. And, because there are so many unknowns, that there is no “right” way to approach this work. The idea of starting with what you know, learning the facts, and then moving forward, makes it all more manageable. Of course, the preparation for this type of learning certainly has to have a great deal of flexibility. My favorite part of this podcast is when Dr. Anderson says that when it rains, and right now it’s a thunderstorm, “You have two options. You can complain about the rain or you can dance in the puddles.”  I have certainly seen educators in my own school district and in districts across the country dancing in the puddles. This work is admirable. It can be hard. It can be emotional. It can be draining. But, it sure is rewarding! These virtual spaces have really opened up times to collaborate and connect with colleagues in new and exciting ways! I highly recommend viewing this incredible podcast as there are so many MORE gems of information and words of wisdom shared.

Time Moves Forward

Time…time is moving and the world continues to evolve in ways we could have never imagined. When my 5:30 a.m. internal clock wakes up, I will continue to think about how learning is messy. I will continue to perseverate on how I can make teaching and learning better. I will continue to think about the challenges that are getting in the way. I will continue to think about how learning is not a step by step, linear process. I will continue to think that it’s complex and often requires multiple solutions that have several correct answers. One thing I can say with certainty is that my mind will never stop moving with time. I am committed to rolling up my sleeves, embracing the change, navigating the days with intention and purpose, and inviting others to join me!

time

Unlocking Significant Moments in Time

Manifesting Significant Moments

Have you ever experienced significant moments in time that have transformed your perspectives and altered the path you were walking on?  These significant moments often engender a multitude of feelings and encourage us to make choices that impact the direction we choose to take. These are the moments that are difficult to see in real-time because you are so consumed with the experience itself. These are the moments that unlock our potential and catapult us to stand in our power and continuously evolve.  Very often these moments are revealed with the various people we encounter throughout our lives. And whether these interactions are perceived to be productive or unfavorable, they empower us to reflect on who we are, who we want to be, and expose our true purpose in life.  

Getting Personal and Authentic

As I read Thomas C. Murray’s book, Personal and Authentic: Designing Learning Experiences That Impact a Lifetime, I was immediately captivated by the first chapter where he passionately states, “A life-changing moment happens in a blink. It’s that moment where faith overcomes fear.  It’s the first step towards a new reality, a step that permanently alters your dreams and changes the way you think about your life-forever.” Tom shared a powerful personal story in Chapter 1 of his book and most recently on the George Couros Innovator’s Mindset podcast: Personal & Authentic During Coronavirus- A convo with Tom Murray about how his relationship with his mentor shaped the legacy he would want to leave with his students and colleagues. It was his mentor who created compelling significant moments that were focused on the quality of relationships, leading with empathy, and loving and caring about kids. It was his mentor who supported him and helped him understand that although being an educator is hard work, it is crucial to have patience throughout the journey and own the experience. It was this mentor/mentee relationship that influenced the educator he was going to be and helped define and create his path to success.  It is because of this relationship that Tom has been able to unlock the potential in others and inspire educators around the world with dynamic, influential stories from within.

The Spark that Ignites a Fire 

The stories in the book Personal and Authentic encouraged me to think a lot about the relationship I had with my own mentor when I was just a brand new teacher at P.S. 65, in Ozone Park, Queens.  My mentor was one of the people who helped me step toward a new reality and pushed me to manifest my own dreams. And, although it is sometimes hard to recall every detail about our significant moments together; I am certain that she created a spark that still ignites a fire in my relentless spirit. It is because of my positive experience with my own mentor, that makes the pairing of Mentors and Mentees in my own school district so important and special. These significant relationships are built on trust, hope, and promise; the promise to provide opportunities that will empower the next generation of teachers leaders to thrive.  It has been wonderful to observe the evolution and strength of these partnerships. For this reason, I am happy to highlight my experience with MY mentor and a few of the Mentors and Mentees in the Long Beach Public School’s Mentor Program. They were happy to share some of their significant moments together!

Barbara                                 laurenpicture2

Barbara Herman (Mentor)         Lauren Kaufman (Mentee)

As I began working with Lauren I soon realized that she was a natural for the teaching profession. She was not only bright, but compassionate, organized, willing to learn, and accepting of advice, as well as, (I hope) constructive criticism. I loved the way she spoke with her students, making each one feel special. You could see them glow after a conversation, even if she was correcting a behavior. Lauren also developed a great rapport with her colleagues. She was my first mentee after many, many years in the classroom. As the relationship grew we both benefitted. I imparted to Lauren what I had learned throughout my career and Lauren brought to me a fresh perspective and enthusiasm. I suppose you could say this is collaboration at its best. This is what the mentor/mentee program is all about. -Barbara

When I was a first-year teacher, Barbara gave me the confidence I craved as I journeyed through my first year teaching successes, challenges, and failures. Some of the qualities that Barbara possessed were her genuine kindness, patience, and content knowledge.  She was extremely approachable and gave me the confidence and advice I needed to navigate relationships, protocols, and teaching and learning practices. One day, I vividly remember standing in front of the overhead projector (remember those?) “ready” to teach a writing lesson. After all, I had it written in my planbook, the learning objective was clearly written on a sentence strip, and was posted on the chalkboard, “Students will be able to write a good beginning of their story by hooking the reader.” I looked around the room, stated the learning objective (that’s what we called it at the time), and then…I completely froze.  My inner voice said, “I know how to write, but how do I TEACH writing?” I pretended to look completely cool; I turned off the overhead projector and called Barbara.  I whispered into the phone, “Barbara, how do you teach writing?” She laughed in the most supportive way possible, “I’ll be right there, don’t worry!” she responded. –Lauren

Long Beach Public Schools Mentor/Mentee Relationships

Stacey                                    Christina

Stacey Mason (Mentor)                  Christina Gardrvits (Mentee)

Being a teacher is one of the most rewarding careers to have, but helping other teachers hone their craft and improve their practice is almost equally as rewarding. Signing up to be a mentor for the third time was a little daunting because my two previous experiences were picture-perfect; both of my former mentees are very close friends of mine to this day! As soon as I was paired with Christina, I knew that this time would be no different. She is an eager and motivated sponge, soaking up all there is to learn and know about teaching middle school while navigating the challenges of being a permanent substitute teacher. This includes following other teachers’ lesson plans and procedures, while still making the classroom environment her own each time she walks into a new classroom. This is not an easy task and in many ways, is way more difficult than being a typical first-year teacher! Her drive and desire to grow professionally is evident. This is all while she takes on new challenges, commitments, and certifications! She also volunteers her time and shares her expertise around the building… and still, she (somehow!) finds time to be an amazing mom to two young daughters. On top of all of that, she has become my friend and one that I know will become lifelong, just like my other two mentees. Three for three!! I am so proud of all that Christina has accomplished so far and can’t wait to see what her professional future holds! -Stacey

Most of us can think back and remember a teacher who made a difference in their lives.  You don’t remember exactly what they taught you but how they made you feel.  That is exactly how I would describe my experience this year having Stacey as my mentor. On my first day, I came into the classroom that I was teaching in and found a gift bag from her waiting on the desk filled with fancy post its, a beautiful notebook, and other teacher essentials with a card that couldn’t be more encouraging. The part that was even more important to mention was that I am a permanent substitute in the building so she had to track down which teacher I would be covering for. That is just one example of what I have learned from her this year. She made me feel like I mattered, that she cared and that’s exactly how she makes her students feel.  

The support and encouragement that Stacey has given me are what I will carry over to my students one day. I want them to feel that they matter, that I am rooting for them, and I have their back. I have learned that relationships are the backbone of the school community; if you can establish them from the beginning, then learning comes naturally.  With our mentor coordinator, Lauren, creating such a strong bond with all of the mentors/mentees, we always know that we never have to do it alone! I really feel like I found my fellow educator soulmate.  I couldn’t have asked or needed a better person.  She doesn’t preach her expertise but instead gives me the confidence to try myself and is there when I need her.  We need to model the behavior we want to see in our students and I have been lucky enough to be one of her ‘students.’  It doesn’t hurt either that she is also an extremely talented reading teacher! -Christina

Brianna                            Ashley

Brianna Carnevale (Mentor)               Ashley Garry  (Mentee)

As the committee prepared for another round of interviews, Ashley Garry entered the room beaming with passion, enthusiasm, and a high level of professionalism. As she spoke about her teaching experiences and her expertise in the field of ENL, I remember thinking WOW!! Long Beach High School would be the perfect home for Ashley. Since day one, being Ashley’s mentor has been such a rewarding experience because of the bond that we share. Not only do we get to plan lessons together and engage in professional learning opportunities like presenting, but I truly consider Ashley to be a lifelong friend. She has helped me to grow so much by bringing in new ideas with technology and innovative teaching practices that would never have crossed my mind without our dedication to working as a team. I value her strong work ethic and how compassionate she is when working with our ENL students.  We build each other up and support one another each day; even during the most stressful times. We laugh together, we vent together, we call each other; but more importantly, we have taken on a journey that I am forever grateful for. -Brianna

The first day I walked into Long Beach High School for my interview, I felt a sense of belonging. There was something about the culture and climate of the school, the friendly faces, and the warm welcome from anyone I passed. The first person I spoke to was Brianna Carnevale, as she and I were both early (no surprise there). Brianna’s enthusiasm and love for LBHS shone through her bright personality; her confidence and professionalism was something I truly admired. Fast forward to the days before school, where we spent time on the phone, exchanging emails, and lesson planning, sometimes by the beach. I felt confident and secure knowing that my journey at Long Beach would be an incredible one, having Brianna supporting me from day one. Brianna has not only been a phenomenal mentor, but she has truly become one of my lifelong friends. She pushes me to do my best work, day in and day out and is always there for me, whether it’s been the best day or a hard one. I can’t imagine my journey without her and am forever grateful for her knowledge and friendship. -Ashley

Arlyne                                Nicolette

Arlyne Skolnik (Mentor)              Nicolette Samardich (Mentee)

I wondered and hoped as I awaited meeting my mentee. Would she be receptive to support? Flexible? Enthusiastic? A team player?  Now that I’ve had the pleasure of working with Nicolette over the past year, she is all of those things and more. Nicolette is the full package! Spending time with my mentee continues to be a very rewarding experience and especially in our “new normal” world; we are each other’s support with all the new challenges that COVID-19 has presented to us as educators. I love that she’s enthusiastic to try anything new to engage her young first-grade distance learners. I adore that she explores every avenue and leaves no stone unturned. I also love when our roles switch and Nicolette mentors me when I have a technological glitch! Like a spring flower, Nicolette continues to blossom into a truly fine, caring teacher. She is among our newest shining stars at West School!  We are so fortunate to have her and I am proud to call her my colleague! -Arlyne

As I approach the end of my first year, I think back to how much my Mentor meant to me. At first, I thought: A reading teacher and a classroom teacher? How will she be able to answer all the questions I have?  Boy was I wrong. Arlyne is a wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and positive energy. She knows the answers to everything I have asked, and if she didn’t, she always pointed me in the direction of someone who would. Arlyne is so cordial and helped me to feel comfortable the day I walked into school. She gave me the confidence and support each and every day to help drive my relationships with colleagues, students, and families. She consistently supports my growth as an educator by sharing new practices, resources, and applications with me. Arlyne pushes me on a daily basis to be the best teacher I can be and constantly applauds my achievements. Best of all, each morning she walks by my classroom, pops her head in with a bright smile, and says good morning; always starting my day off on a happy note. -Nicolette

No Interaction is too small

#AuthenticEDU Callouts