This is my fourth New Year at Brighton and as I look back over the past three and a half years, I see we have come a long way. But I continue to be frustrated that best-teaching practices are not a way of life in all grades. I also have become frustrated with myself, as I seem to be holding some of these best practices back from the teachers.
After my first month at Brighton I wrote in my journal, “My frustration and sense of failure is killing me. I do no know how the teachers have survived in this climate. It is overpowering.” I still feel this way some days. I have to come to realize that part of the effect of being always immersed in a climate marked by struggle is that you begin to aim very low. Our elementary reading coach recently said it is like the character of Rémy in the movie Ratatouille who dreams of becoming a great chef -- not realizing the chef he so admires has a restaurant above his home in the sewers of Paris. She expressed that our expectations are bogged down by the fact that most of our teachers’ only teaching experiences have been at Brighton.
This recently came home to me as I found myself disagreeing in a conversation with someone I admire and respect about the importance of determining what is essential for students to learn to be successful in the 21st Century. I said I could not have this conversation at Brighton as it might get the teachers off-track from teaching the Alabama Course of Study standards. The mastery of these state standards is how our accountability is determined. I realized, upon reflection, that I was choosing to not expose our teachers to a best practice because I lacked confidence in their curriculum choices. As a result, I am limiting their own professional growth.
In grade level meetings, we often talk about how we limit our students with low expectations. In fact, in a recent state review of our school, it was stated that we teach more to the lower students with little emphasis on high expectations for all. I have to admit, this is how I have worked with our teachers in many instances. I wonder if this is the result of the fear I have of not making AYP.
I talk often about how our classes cannot be driven by fear, but need to find their energy in the motivation to do your best. Yet, this seems to be how we are controlling our school, and many of my actions are often right in line with this theme of fear and limitations. I know I have to make a conscious effort to be above this tactic. Even as I’m typing, my stomach is in knots as I wonder if it is even safe to be writing about this as I am so very driven by us making AYP.
This has weighed heavy on my heart for the last few months. I will have to say; Brighton is much better place for students than four years ago. The school is not a dysfunctional organization without procedures in place. There is a strong team of young teachers in grades K-2 that is very committed to their work, and their impact on student leaning is very positive. Brighton has a new National Board Certified Teacher and an advanced candidate. Other teachers are now looking at this process as a next step. When I walk through the school, I see good instruction taking place in most classrooms. This makes me smile.
Now my charge to myself is to take a lesson from Rémy and press on to higher levels. We must have important conversations with our teachers about their work while sending them out to see, first-hand, the best practices we can identify. We have to get out into the fresh air and see the world of teaching from new perspectives.