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November 21, 2008

Two (or more!) heads are better than one

As a novice teacher, I am constantly looking for ways to improve my technique and expand my repertoire of ideas for the classroom.  I am enrolled in a Masters of Education degree program at George Mason University, read research articles about effective teaching, observe other teachers at my school, and – arguably most importantly – collaborate frequently with my colleagues. 


I am fortunate to work in a school that has five early childhood teachers – four Head Start teachers and me, the preschool teacher. All five of us work closely together on a regular basis.  We share ideas about unit plans, assessments, field trips, best practices, and challenges that we are facing in the classroom.   Each of us comes from a different background and brings a slightly different perspective to each conversation – one teacher is certified as an English as a Second Language teacher, one is a former special education teacher, one worked in a Montessori school, and one worked at a non-profit designed to increase access to books in elementary schools.  We all have different areas of expertise, and because we collaborate frequently, we are all able to draw upon each other to improve our own teaching and by extension, our students’ achievement. 


In addition to collaborating with teachers at my school, I also collaborate with other Teach For America corps members on a regular basis.  We share documents and ideas over a listserv, problem solve together, and come together once per month for professional development (PD).   This past weekend at PD I had the opportunity to lead a session about tracking data in early childhood, share resources with first year teachers, and engage in a thought-provoking discussion about the relationship between developmentally appropriate practices and rigor in early childhood.  Even as I was leading a session, I was taking in ideas from other corps members; one participant showed me a system that she was using to track reading levels for her students, and I immediately thought about how I could modify it to keep track of Suniah and Makiera’s reading progress. 


Observing Teach For America alumni's classrooms and hearing them talk about their current endeavors is also another tremendous benefit of this PD.  Just this weekend I was in a pre-k classroom with a “Book-Star Hall of Fame” – a fabulous display of books that the class has read and studied, and something that I definitely want to implement in my classroom.  Last month I learned about an organization – Women Empowered in Education  – that an alumna is starting to promote women in the field of early education.  


I credit these tremendous opportunities for collaboration – both within my school and within Teach For America – with much of my professional growth as a teacher.  I have had the opportunity to learn from other people’s successes and challenges, engage in discussions that challenge my own thinking, and contextualize my daily work within the broader issue of education and the achievement gap.  In the end, I am a better teacher, and my students are better equipped for success.  


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