Dale Johnston is a veteran teacher with over thirty years of experience in our profession. This past year, he taught students in Learning Community 5. I often tell Dale that he sets the standard for what life long learning is all about. Every year that I have had the pleasure of working and learning alongside of Dale here at Greystone, he has demonstrated a strong desire to improve his practice and to learn from his colleagues (no matter what their age or experience – he recognizes that everyone has something to share). Dale sets an excellent example for all learners – he is reflective, always enthusiastic about sharing his ideas with others, open to receiving feedback in order to grow and willing to build a shared understanding with colleagues through the collaborative process.
AN OPPORTUNITY FOR ANY TEACHER
A REFLECTION ON 2012-2013 AT GCMS
By Dale Johnston
The 2012-2013 school year brought about many new changes. New team members bring new ideas and I looked forward to including them into the LC5 team that was looping back. The transition back to grade 5 appeared very smooth as each team member took on a leadership role for each core subject or committed to work collaboratively with another teacher on a core subject. With regular meeting time provided in our schedule, our team was able to discuss any curricular concepts that needed discussion or clarification. My responsibility was Social Studies, a subject that I took the lead on two years ago (with regular collaboration with our Language Arts lead teacher). I felt quite confident that following a similar plan would provide for a successful year.
Towards the end of the first term an opportunity arose to include one of our teacher mentors in the planning and implementation of a project in Social Studies. Initially I was a little apprehensive since our team had already spent time discussing a project that had been successful during our previous grade 5-6 loop. After an initial meeting, where the mentor discussed the merits of our prior plan and the opportunities afforded with the plan she proposed, it was decided that we implement the project recommended by the mentor. Since the project was new to the entire team, it also provided a new team member to take the lead in planning the unit. The project turned out to be very engaging for the students and our team was very pleased with the results. This initial exposure to the mentor, which included class visits and feedback on our delivery of lessons, provided me with the realization that I could benefit from this expertise available in the school.
That opportunity arose with the introduction to Literature Circles by our Language Arts lead teacher. This teaching strategy was to be the key means of facilitating the various learning tasks that would measure the curricular outcomes during term 3 in Language Arts. I had no prior experience with the strategy and was concerned that my students would miss out on some of the benefits that Literature Circles could provide them when done effectively. When I approached our teacher mentor about my concern, she welcomed the opportunity to work with my students and I.
Since the structure to implement Literature Circles was already in place (thanks to our Language Arts lead teacher) it only took one meeting for me to grasp what was needed to get this process underway. My mentor explained what was going to happen, and what sort of student outcomes I should expect to see. She introduced the concept of Literature Circles to my class, allowing me to observe and take notes. Time was provided for short debriefing sessions to explain why certain techniques were used, and then to preview the next steps in the process. After a few classes that involved the students learning key roles, I was encouraged to teach the next lesson so that I could be observed and receive feedback. The feedback that I received reinforced my own teaching strengths and while also providing me with opportunities to enhance the learning experiences my class was involved in. Needless to say the feedback was very beneficial and was easily transferable to other subjects.
The mentor continued to work with my class and I, demonstrating various techniques to improve collaboration, quality of work, and general classroom management. My students responded very well to a variety of teaching methods our mentor demonstrated. My class was very enthusiastic, and jumped at the opportunities to demonstrate their learning. What initially appeared to be a challenge, with many unknowns and apprehension on my own abilities to effectively teach the concepts, became an excellent learning experience for my students. My own confidence to deliver lessons that met the needs of my students in Language Arts, increased significantly. Student engagement reinforced that the methodology introduced by my mentor was beneficial and effective. It also encouraged me to do additional self-reflection on my teaching practices and share my recent growth with my other team members.
With the demands of collaboration within the team, and the need to have adults working with students who need additional support, there was little opportunity to gain the experience from my team colleagues that I have received through the mentorship program. In previous years, we arranged team teaching opportunities during one of our preps to allow us to occasionally watch and learn from our team members. The mentorship I received this year provided the necessary feedback loops and direction to ensure I could confidently implement the strategies and methods in the future.
In short, my experience with our mentor this year was positive and meaningful. This form of professional development has had the greatest impact on my teaching practices. The facilitator was very encouraging, communicating her suggestions as growth opportunities rather than short comings in my teaching skills. I would recommend this opportunity to teachers at any stage of their teaching career. I waited over 30 years for this experience, and my only concern is that my previous classes missed out on some quality learning opportunities.