Jerry collaborated with teachers in his school and district to create innovative math supports for students learning under the new Florida Standards—and in the process, found his voice as a teacher leader.
Remember the definition of insanity? You know, doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for different results? Sometimes this feels like a motto for the ever-increasing changes that educators face on a yearly—and sometimes even daily—basis.
I’m no rookie to the new standards game. I quickly realized that the expectations for our students were increasing while the timeline for learning and instruction had vastly decreased. As our district strived to create plans of action to ensure success for all of our learners, I could see the writing on the wall for my struggling learners. A lesson a day and a spiraled chapter that wouldn’t even get officially instructed before state assessment was the game plan for the upcoming year. This system was “the best” we had to offer our students to adequately “prepare” them for what was looming in the dark.
Although I applauded the amazing efforts of our district to prepare both teachers and students, I knew that this system would not do my students any justice. To be honest, I was tired of seeing them get the short end of the assessment stick—with insufficient time to adequately digest material and truly understand what they were required to learn. This flawed system had also created a stigma around my students, labeling them as “non-proficient” individuals who weren’t meeting the criteria to be considered “on grade level.”
Most importantly, I was growing tired of math—a subject that had captivated my heart at the same age of my students. For them, math was something they saw as a struggle, a challenge, and almost out of reach.
But through the collaboration of incredible teachers in my school and district, we began to dissect the new information released by our state about upcoming assessments. In response, we created standards-based centers designed to cover the rigor and depth of the conceptual requirements of math. These centers infused repetition and tiered support into engaging math activities like “Decimal Mart” and “Math Town” to help even the most struggling learners find passion and interest in math.
The journey was difficult, and there continue to be learning curves daily. But thanks to the encouragement and expertise of my colleagues (including the amazing Linda Veley, who pushed me to be the best I could be!), we developed a system to defy the dismal outcome and unrealistic timelines necessary to achieve the state testing schedule.
Using research proven to help struggling learners, we’ve been able to remind students that math doesn’t have to be challenging—instead, it can be a tool to unlock the problems we face around the world. And through the opportunity for colleagues to coach and teach one another, these standards-based math centers have reinstated the faith of myself and many other teachers in teaching and learning, even with the increased rigor of the Florida Standards.
Since starting this work, I’ve had the privilege of sharing and presenting information about these centers at district-level math trainings, the Florida Association of Teacher Educators state conference, and the Florida Council of Teachers of Mathematics state conference. I’ve also had the opportunity to work one-on-one with teachers through observations and classroom visits.
I’ve learned many lessons in my journey of teacher leadership. First and foremost: the power of collaboration. Nobody knows the needs of our students more than teachers. When we knock down barriers to cross-district collaboration, we can create systems of support that ensure all children are successful. Long gone are the days of “my kids;” we are now teaching in a system of “our kids.”
Second, I’ve learned that anybody can be a game changer. I say this because I’m still in shock that I’m writing this story today. I’m an ordinary individual who loves children and the joy of true learning. You might say, “I’m just a teacher” (and boy does that sound familiar, because I say it every day). However, I realize now that there’s power in those words. WE ARE TEACHERS, and teachers impact eternity—so who better to lead than you, the person who lives in the trenches, knows the needs of your students, and has the heart to change the world?
Most importantly, though, I’ve learned that teachers have to be the change we want to see in education. Our students depend upon us, and nobody can help them discover their voice better than us. However, how can we help students find a voice of their own if we are afraid to raise ours?
So here’s to being the change we want to see and showing our students that we all have the potential to make our dreams come true!
Jerry Lee Wright (@jerrylwright28), a fifth-grade teacher at Woodlawn Elementary School in Highlands County, Florida, believes strongly in the future of our children and the voice of teacher leadership. Starting as a public teacher at the age of 19, he has always had a heart for helping students find a voice of their own so that they can leave a legacy. Since teaching, Jerry has had the opportunity to earn both his Masters of Education and Educational Specialist degrees and is currently pursuing his Doctorate Degree in curriculum and instruction. He is the 2015 Highlands County Teacher of the Year.