As a middle school teacher, I tapped into every creative avenue for presenting information to my students. My students were diverse, not only culturally but also with different interests, strengths, and challenges. Hooking them on a concept was hard work! I was competing with their phones and social lives. Even so, I wanted to ensure the skills and concepts covered in my English class stuck in their brains for a long time.
Student engagement remains a consistent topic of interest for educators. How do educators and schools compete with all the other entertainment forms that captivate students? As a former middle school teacher, I often felt like I needed to be a circus performer to capture students' attention, standing on my desk and keeping a continuously high-energy environment. However, that isn’t the case. Engagement within the classroom often starts at a simpler level, by meeting the needs of students and building an environment they want to be a part of each day.
Equity often seems like a lofty idea, and complicated to achieve. How do we make sure that schools are set up to meet every student where they are and provide the support they need to succeed? When it comes to actually addressing equity, the application is the hardest part. This is where a Multi-Tiered System of Supports comes in. The MTSS framework makes it possible to meet the needs of students and practically, intentionally close those learning gaps.
When my state began the Common Core Curriculum shift, we examined and mapped out standards. I soon realized there was no way we had enough time for our students to master all of the reading, writing, speaking and listening standards for their grade level. With such a broad range of standards and topics, it was hard to know where my students needed help as we had to quickly move through standards and skills. There was no systematic way to identify what I should prioritize.
After over a decade in the school setting, I have a healthy collection of thank-you notes from students, colleagues, and mentors. These notes are reminders of my relationship with the individuals who took the time to write them. Often on hard days, I revisit these notes for encouragement and to remember my connection to those individuals.
Coaching is essential for the success of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports. Coaching is not about giving directives or forcing others to invest, but is rather about recognizing strengths and challenges in MTSS implementation and helping staff grow in their professional practice, apply professional learning, and overcome challenges to meet personal and collective goals.
Educators are painfully familiar with having their work and priorities shifted at the will of new legislation and policies. State board educations establish state standards, federal and state policies guide requirements, and local district leadership establishes procedures for what and how teachers are required to teach. It's up to principals and campus instructional leaders to be a bridge for the teachers in understanding the purpose and rationale behind these policies and how they align with or influence your school goals.
One of my favorite memories as an artistic and creative child was when the “art lady” came on Fridays to my 4th-grade class. She would introduce a project, and we got to pull out those crayons and paints we stored in our desks. We learned to do “stained glass” with tissue paper, draw pumpkins, and learn what to do when we made mistakes.