How To Be Innovative Inside The Box #1

*Series of posts in my year of change of how to be innovative inside the box*

This was a year of change with new curriculum in intermediate grade levels, new leadership in many areas and a new library schedule. With any change, you can either innovate to embrace it or deny, deny, deny or resist the change.

With all these changes, one new expectation that became part of my daily schedule was to run a daily RTI (response to intervention) group with a mixture of 5th and 6th graders. The group would run for an hour each morning, 8:40-9:40.

When I first heard this news back in May 2017, I panicked. I understood that we teach all students, but interventions, RTI, Tier 2/3 instruction? I was not qualified as an AIS reading or literacy teacher. After some meetings and more listening, the panic lessened. Grade-level teachers would be responsible for Tier 1 instruction, and my group would be designed as an ELA extension hour each day. OK, less panic, but still no vision or direction was given. So what does anyone do in my position? Take ownership and make it work with what I’m given.

Coming into September 2017 after planning in the summer, here were some more reality checkpoints thrown my way during the new adventure:

  • Up to 35 students would be in my group with no teacher aide or assistance. (My library aide managed open library for book exchange, research questions and field technology questions. One of our busiest times is between 830-10, right smack dab in the middle of the RTI group). This also proved to not have enough space in the library that seats 28
  • In 2017-18, grades 5/6 do not have 1:1 devices, but will in 2018-19
  • No targets or curriculum provided by grade-level or content teachers; I was on my own for targets and to determine the groups’ needs between two grade levels and varying strengths and abilities

OK. At this point, my head was spinning, but thinking, “Hey, we will make this work.”

Students walked in the first day and were confused. They did not know why they were here with me and why there was a mixture of grade levels. The first thing we had to do was explain our purpose here, our expectations and have a direction for the year. After that, we had to become a family based on mutual respect and trust. That first month, we spent so much time team building, talking with each other and reflecting.

Without that first month of building the community dynamic, it would not have been a successful year. I am so proud of these students that took the challenge to try something different and run with it, not sure what the end result would be. Yes, there are times that students get annoyed with each other or something occurs, but in the end, respect and understanding shine through. Some days we have collaborative activities small group or whole group, other days its independent-based.

Each Monday, we start of whole group with conversations or a different team-building activity. We also start of as whole group the other days, simply to say “good morning,” do you need us for anything today? What’s going on with you? I have to remember I am the first face students might see each day, and this is an immense responsibility. I like to start the day of with some “mindfulness” activities. We acknowledge and celebrate achievements of all or give shout-outs of appreciation.

Heading into May and week 35 out of 40, it has been exciting to see the students grow into a family and community this year with the group. We did not begin that way, but it took time and trust to build these relationships; we are constantly communicating with one another. Students have had private conversations with me about how they now have friends, someone who gets them. Students in different grade levels and classes are talking to others who have never talked before.

No matter the change or initiative you implement, you have to know and celebrate your people, communicate and build relationships. It takes time and patience, but the effort put in is well worth it.

Next post: How to address lack of resources, space and curriculum direction.

 

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