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A New Day


A New Day

As I continue to share my journey, I realize I have had very few positive things to say about my first year at Brighton. To be honest, I felt there was not much to smile about during the first semester. In fact right before Christmas, one of our teachers told me I had lost my smile and they needed it back. This truly broke my heart. To add to this pain, my principal told me that the teachers did not want me at Brighton. As harsh as this seemed at the time, I needed to understand that much of the attention I brought to the school was more hurtful to the faculty than helpful. I also had to acknowledge to myself that “my dream” for Brighton may not be the correct path for the school and I may not be the right person for this job.

Then during January, there was a break in this negative climate. This bright spot came about as a result of the state mandated reading test scores for our Kindergarten and First Grade Classes. Our Kindergarten students benchmarked at almost the 80 percentile and our First Grade students benchmarked at 87% with no students labeled needing intensive instruction. This was an incredible gain for our school and placed these two grade levels at the top of our district’s scores and ranked them fairly high at the state level. There were shouts of joy and tears of happiness in our school that day.

Even though I was thrilled at this news, I was not totally surprised because I had been watching changing instruction taking place in these classrooms. Many Early Childhood Educators may not agree with what has taken place in our school, but we were given a very systematic and structured reading program to pilot in grades K-2. When I asked the teachers why they thought their scores had so improved, they replied the new reading program and intervention groups. One day I observed an hour of reading instruction in one of our first grade classes. During this lesson, I watched the teacher take this scripted program and bring it to life with her personality and the culture of the children. I was mesmerized as I watched her engage every student in the classroom with her energetic lesson. I was amazed at the amount of knowledge about reading the children had acquired in such a short time. I was also envious because I knew I could never teach this lesson with her rhythm and beat. My favorite part of the lesson was when she said in a very loud, expressive voice, “It is time for blending!” The students immediately threw up their hands, waving them in the air, and shouted, “Hallelujah!” I got my smile back on that day along with a few tears of joy.

I do not believe it was just the reading program and intervention groups that brought about this improvement, but a collaborative effort to focus on a need. Often what I have seen and heard about schools labeled low performing, they have many programs thrown at them with little direction. I heard of one such school that had thirty initiatives going on at the same time. This year with the help of our new reading coach, our district reading coach, and the company who piloted the reading program, our teachers have been involved in many hours of job embedded professional development for this reading program and for the strategies and methods of the Alabama Reading Initiative. This training has enabled the teachers to create a balanced approach to reading in their classrooms. This model of professional development to study, observe, demonstrate, and practice followed with feedback has been outstanding. I have watched the teachers in our school embrace and use what they are learning. I believe we have finally given the teachers some real teaching tools, not just another kit! This has been very exciting for me to grow and learn with our teachers and celebrate their successes. I think it is the beginning of a new day for Brighton.

I encourage those of you who have experienced similar successes in your school to share what are the teaching tools that make a difference? What is the most effective professional development you have been involved with during your career? What is it that can really make a difference in our classroom instruction?


You observe that the teacher's interaction with the students is key Absolutely! We keep trying to place middle-class white women in "minority" schools and wonder at the low achievement. Students MUST have role models who comprehend their culture--as opposed to someone who has "studied" the culture and wishes to be benevolent.

I'm a bleeding-heart myself, but I realized long ago that my audience is limited. Rapport is not just a nice word. Teachers either have it or students ignore them.

This is a wonderful entry. I'm surprised that it has been here for several days with only one reply and an odd one at that. I'm not one to put much faith in the results of one test--I know too much about these tests to believe that they can reveal much that is useful. But I put a LOT of faith in your observations as an experienced, accomplished educator. You have unerringly picked out the key components to the program that will bring confidence, learning and success to your students and your teachers: 1)Teachers taking a program (scripted or otherwise), bringing their life and cultural touchstones into it and involving the students in the classroom process 2)Teachers brought into the professional development process as partners who are allowed to study, observe, demonstrate and practice, 3)A collaborative effort to focus on a need, 4)Expansion of the teacher toolbox, along with instruction on how best to use those tools. These are essential and long after the pilot program has flown away, the teachers who have embraced and been embraced by these approaches will continue to have success in their classes.
As for the response by WDavis, I called it "odd" because it misses an essential point about professionalism and about rapport--that what the trained, experienced, dedicated, caring professional is able to do is connect. Connection happens at a human not a cultural level. My Italian-American roots are quite distant from the Jamaican, Dominican, African etc. students who learn, and learn and laugh and learn in my classes, but we connect. They teach me things about themselves, I teach them about me and with respect and affection we work together. A middle-class, white and black, neutered poodle can connect with anybody who wants the joys of unconditional love--if it sends the right signals. I hope WDavis has an experience soon that teaches that lesson.

I thought your insight about professional development was the most helpful point in this narrative: "This model of professional development to study, observe, demonstrate, and practice followed with feedback". Education "reformers" must be committed to seeing through the implementation of their ideas in real classrooms with real students and teachers -- a commitment which must both welcome and incorporate the feedback from teachers about the suitability of new practices. Isn't it often our experience that a new initiative is announced with fanfare then quietly fades away as attention shifts somewhere else?

I am so glad you have your smile back and yes, you are "going the right way". Just know that through your trials and tribulations there are triumphs just around the corner and because of you and others Alabama is on the verge of a very new day in public education success. Joe Morton, State Superintendent of Education
P.S. The only thing that troubles me about your blogs is when they are posted. When do you sleep?

The sentence that struck me was your last sentence where you invite people to share the things that work. So often do we see sharing in a local newspaper or even in hallway chats and they're not about what works. They are more about what doesn't work and why it can't work.
Thank you for trying to walk the talk. Maybe you are not the right person for the school. Reading your blog I doubt that, but even if you are correct: just trying it is something I admire.
You are trying to understand the faculty and some of what happened may very well feel like (or maybe even be really) negative. Being in the spotlight may feel awkward, but just maybe the world of education should find a way to live with it.
Maybe it is easy for me to say these things. I'm an IT manager in a school district in California (and a parent of 3, all attending local public schools) and not a teacher.
I hope that you will continue the blog and share your learning’s with the rest of us.

I happended to read this article and am very excited to find teachers at heart such as you all.

I am the founder of PROMISE Cyber School for which you can read about from our first version website, www.promise4all.com. I have been wrecking my brain on how to find the Teachers at Heart as part-time teachers for our Cyber Readers Club. As you know by now, the barriers for diatance and time are melting away by computer and its applications.

PROMISE Cyber School could help a lot of kids all over the world. But, finding teachers who get excited around kids and see potential from each oneof the kis are vital for our success. PROMISE Cyber School needs such teachers. So, please consider applying for the position.

Thank you very much and May God bless you!


Just a note about Joe Bellacero's correct observation that it's not wise to put much faith in the results of one test -- "I know too much about these tests to believe that they can reveal much that is useful," he says. The "test" Betsy mentioned is technically not a test but the DIBELS assessment of reading progress which teachers in every Alabama elementary school use to follow the individual progress of students. Some schools use it weekly, others less often, but the state mandates several assessments a year to collect statewide data. It was the state's mandatory mid-year DIBELS assessment that encouraged teachers at Brighton. Her comments about growing teacher collaboration "focused on a need" reminded me of a conversation Betsy participated in as a member of the Teacher Leaders Network (www.teacherleaders.org) not long ago. One TLN member observed that "There are great role models out there of one teacher making a difference for a group of students in a particular school. But a critical mass is necessary to bring about sustained change that helps all students in a school achieve more." Another member added that when a critical mass of committed teachers emerges, there is "a sense of excitement that something positive and different is taking on a life of its own. Suddenly something is visibly and palpably different. There is 'buzz.' And that results in others wanting to find out more, be part of the energy, take chances they wouldn't ordinarily take." Clearly Betsy is feeling some of the "buzz." I know she's also well aware of something else that was said during this TLN dialogue: "This first sense that something positive is happening is tenuous and oh, so fragile. It must be nurtured as if it is the lone ember that will keep the gift of fire alive and growing."


It was this line in your post that spoke to me:

"I do not believe it was just the reading program and intervention groups that brought about this improvement, but a collaborative effort to focus on a need."

If we can get ourselves, as teachers, to identify needs in our building, collaborate with one another, reflect on what works and what doesn't, and then amplify our successes, we will close all achievement gaps easily! What is more, we will energize teachers, open eyes to what true professionalism looks like, and begin to take ownership over our own profession!

I worry that the greatest barrier to this type of collaboration is time, though. For this type of job-embedded PD to truly take hold, teachers need more time to work with one another. I wonder, when I read your posts, if your school has attacked the time barrier in any creative ways?

Thanks for being an inspiration to all of us!
Bill Ferriter,
Senior Fellow,
Teacher Leaders Network


I am a first year principal at an Elem. School. At my previous position, I directly affected the CRCT Mathematics scores in a positive "light". I am a curricululm specialist. My EdD is in curriclum and instruction. I have been trained by national experts to train and educate teachers in teaching conceptually. I have written curriculum for the local school, state university and the state of Georgia.

With all of this expertise, it can be difficult to move into a situation where the very people that you attempt to help do not welcome your assistance. It is not easy dealing with teachers' negative attitudes and responses when your aim is the assist them in further improving the children's education. I feel that it is important to allow the teachers to understand that you are there to encourage and help. At the same time, it is necessary for teachers to "look at the problems" in an effort to make the necessary changes that will bring about a better education for (themselves, in some cases) and the children that they teach. The final analysis will be the test scores.

Patience, preseverance, and not losing sight of the goal of educating and adequately training our teachers are SOME OF the keys to successfully educating our children.

Educationally yours,
Dr. Barbara Inyang
Mitchell County Elementary (Camilla, GA)

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Recent Comments

  • Barbara Inyang: Hi, I am a first year principal at an Elem. read more
  • Bill Ferriter: Betsy, It was this line in your post that spoke read more
  • J Norton: Just a note about Joe Bellacero's correct observation that it's read more
  • To the Teachers at Heart: I happended to read this article and am very excited read more
  • Rob van Herk: The sentence that struck me was your last sentence where read more



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