Get Your Air Horn Ready: Debate Is Now in Session

Teaching (2)

by Dr. Kim Foster

“It. Was. Awesome.”

Let me paint a picture for you. It’s April. There are three weeks of school left for my senior students. To use one student’s exact words, he is beyond ready to “low-key get on up out of this building.” And I understand. I was a senior in high school once. I was a senior in college once. And I was 8 months pregnant defending my dissertation once. I get it. They want to be done, and I want that for them. They have earned it! However, we have three weeks left together, and I want these weeks to be meaningful. So, as I have for the past three years with seniors, we do a debate unit at the end of the year. “Arguing” with one another keeps them highly engaged. They want to win. They want to be right. Continue reading

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Open Letter to the Lanier Community

Dear Lanier Family,

The last four years serving as a teacher at Lanier High School have been a true blessing in my life. Because of my colleagues, my students, and Lanier’s administration, I have thrived as an educator, and I had so many opportunities to grow as a teacher leader. Over the course of this past year, I made the difficult decision to apply for an instructional coach role out of the Academies and Career & Technical Education (CTE) department at the Instructional Support Center (ISC). My decision was never based on any unhappiness or disconnect I felt at Lanier. On the contrary, every year I have become more endeared to the Lanier community and our cluster of schools. My decision was entirely motivated by the desire to see and know more–to grow through a new experience. In practical terms, this new opportunity would allow me to work alongside and help train teachers across multiple schools, which is an exciting prospect for me. So just a short time ago I was told I was being offered the position, and I accepted.

All that said, this letter is not about me. It’s about my students, colleagues, and the Lanier community. This is my chance to thank and praise you. Although I know I won’t be in Lanier High School’s hallways everyday, my experiences here have prepared me to make (hopefully) a bigger impact and continue my personal growth. For that, I cannot thank you all enough!

To My Students:

My first year teaching at Lanier was magic. It revitalized me as a teacher and really all because of you all–the students I first served starting the fall of 2014. You all challenged me and reinforced in me that my teaching philosophy could thrive here. Those of you preparing to graduate are a special group to me. For one, you’re my last full group of students I have taught, but more importantly I had a blast teaching you! Your freshman year was my most experimental year (which for better or worse you may have been aware of); I challenged myself to provide you all with more authentic writing opportunities and really refine the way I provided feedback. I wanted to make my room as participatory as possible and invite you all to explore who you were and what you were becoming. I’m sure I didn’t achieve what I was after everyday, but what stands out to me is so many of you were willing to buy into the work we were doing together in class. I am so proud of each of you, and calling your name aloud at graduation will be an honor!

There were many of you I had a chance to teach either in the Teaching as a Profession (TAP) class or as a Work Based Learning (WBL) intern. You are all quite special to me as well. You all were my first foray into CTE, and I loved working with all of you. As my recent WBL posts from students demonstrate, there is so much pride to take in the amazing work you all did this year. To the students in my TAP class last year, thank you for exploring world of teaching with me. You will go down as one of my favorite classes who genuinely wanted to explore teaching as an art and profession (most days)! I hope at least a few of you enter the field. We need great teachers.

To the rest of the student body of Lanier, I want to say thank you for embracing me as your academy coach for three years. I tried to improve your knowledge of college and career options and open up opportunities to you that simply do not exist most places. I hope you saw and felt that. You all are Gwinnett’s best kept secret–you are creative, critical, diverse, leaders, and community-driven. This secret won’t keep for much longer, though; it is just a matter of time before everyone knows just what Lanier students and alumni are capable of achieving. Your worth goes so far beyond state and county tests–many of you will lead the way in business and industry, and I feel secure knowing that a Lanier graduate really is ready for a world where in reality not everyone goes to college or completes college; rather, you all understand there are a profound number of professions that do not require a four-year degree. That knowledge is so powerful. I hope you know and understand that!

To My Colleagues:

First and foremost, I want all my Lanier colleagues to know I am not running away from anything! I love Lanier! That love is first and foremost because of our students, but you all are right there with them. The core of Lanier’s staff is amazing, resilient, and so passionate about this community. You simply cannot find that everywhere. I loved coming to work everyday because I knew I was working alongside the best teachers.

When I first arrived as an English teacher, the department welcomed me with open arms, and I immediately felt the camaraderie and collaborative spirit of the group. While some of the great teachers in this department have come and gone, I have continued to be in awe of the work you do as a group. While there is always room to improve, this is a group from the moment I stepped on campus I knew would do whatever was best for kids and would collaborate with anyone anywhere on campus. You are consummate professionals always seeking to get better–I will always admire you for that.

When I become the school’s academy coach, I was suddenly exposed to the wide range of amazing teachers we had in each department. While I know I didn’t always see eye-to-eye with everyone, I always felt you respected me, and please believe me when I say I have the highest respect for you. I am so thankful this position permitted me to work closely with teachers outside of my own content expertise. I especially loved working with my peeps in science. You all are amazing! Some of the best teachers I have ever witnessed are in the science department, and you all were first to give my crazy project based learning (PBL) ideas a chance. I also have to give a shout out to my CTE department, which I had the honor of leading this past year. You are wonderful collaborators, and I admire your work ethic and the relationships you build with students. Many of our students come to Lanier just to be in your class! I’m not many teachers can say that. I hope you all feel I did right by you this past year.

I have purposefully avoided giving specific shout outs, but there are a few people who I abolutely have to say thank you to in this letter. First, Mike Reilly–the man, the myth, the legend–I am so thankful I called you four years ago to ask what was going on at Lanier. That phone call literally changed my life. I now owe you double for that–once many, many years ago when you introduced me to PBL and again when you shepherded me into Lanier’s hallways. To my academy leads and closest confidants, Bill Smith, Randy Crutchfield, Margaret Rohrbaugh, and Steven Pryor, thank you for being part of the vision to create an academy school and advocating for the model and your students. You kept me sane most days, and you sticking around year after year with me meant the world to me. To Collin Jones and Glenn Rhoades, two colleagues I feel I had a chance to collaborate with and mentor a bit, thank you for believing in me and your help at every turn. You both are very special to me and my story as an educator, and I hope you both know that.

Finally, to the administrative and clerical teams I have had the honor of serving alongside for the last three years, thank you! While my experience is limited, I cannot fathom a better team of administrators or clerks. You are each about kids first and foremost, and you do your jobs with excellence in mind. You are collaborative, respectful, and do your jobs at a high, high level. I am so thankful I had a chance to work with you. You each have taught me so much about what it takes to run a school, and you reminded every day to never lose sight that what we do is and will always be for our students.

To the Lanier Community:

Much like I wrote earlier to the students, I feel that the Lanier community is one of the best kept secrets in Gwinnett. You are deep and rich with love for our schools, our neighbors, and our city. Having a community so connected and caring is so very rare. Moreover, to see how genuine that connectedness and care is–that is truly very rare. You are comprised of amazing parents, church-goers, city employees, small business owners, and community leaders. I am thankful and humbled that I have had a chance to work so closely with so many of you.

While Lanier will not be my home base or sole concern any more, please know I am still very much part of this community. I live in Sugar Hill, and I believe in our city and schools. Trust me, I am not going anywhere!

I’ll close with a final thank you to all who have supported me, gently corrected me, and pulled me up when I was down. I could not thrive and grow without the time and care you have given me. You are all truly special to me as a professional and as a community member.

Hook ‘Em Horns!

Student Voices: Intern Edition “WBL is What You Make of It”

Student Voices

by Andy C.

“I’ve been yearning for the experiences and professional growth I’m getting everyday at [GCPS TV].”

When you think of the term intern, what immediately pops into your head? To me, I think of someone running around the office tending to the needs of senior staffers, getting their coffee, copying meeting agendas and performing the lowest of tasks in the office. For me and my experiences, that could not be farther from the truth. I work for Gwinnett County Public Schools’ EMMY award-winning educational access TV station, GCPS TV, producing long-form programming and timely Focus Moment news stories as well as assisting in live and live-to-tape in-studio and on-location productions. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been yearning for the experiences and professional growth I’m getting everyday at the station. As I begin to reflect on my past year at GCPS TV, I realize how grateful I am to be apart of such an amazing team of industry professionals. Continue reading

To Track or Not to Track? Outcomes of Serving All Students in the Same Classroom

Teaching (2)

Today is the first post in a short series about some of my favorite current and past colleagues reflecting on this past year’s teaching experiences. This first entry comes from Dr. Taylor Cross who shares insights gained from his recent research.

By Dr. Taylor Cross

“When I was in high school growing up in the northeast Georgia mountains, I was in ‘honors’ or “accelerated” classes. I didn’t put myself there; it just happened…. Who I mostly did not have classes with were the students whose parents were the hourly blue collar workers, most of which had not gone to college, and some who had no real concept of what a college education would look like.”

When I was in high school growing up in the northeast Georgia mountains, I was in “honors” or “accelerated” classes. I didn’t put myself there; it just happened. I don’t think at the time I really processed what that meant or why I was in those classes, but I knew generally that I was “smart” and that the other kids in my classes were also “smart”. In these classes the other kids were, for the most part, other kids whose parents went to college, like mine did. Their parents were the lawyers, business-owners, realtors, medical professionals, educators, etc., that kept our little town churning along. Most of these kids’ families weren’t originally from this small town, but had found their way to it by virtue of job placements.

Who I mostly did not have classes with were the students whose parents were the hourly blue collar workers, most of which had not gone to college, and some who had no real concept of what a college education would look like. The majority of these students’ families had lived in this area for generations, and the culture of many of them was native Appalachian. I was “sheltered” from these students because as a student who had shown academic promise, I was lumped with others like me. As a matter of fact, when I look back in my high school yearbook, I don’t recognize about half of the students I see because I never had classes with them, even though my school was very small.

This was my high school education experience. I was put in classes with other kids “like” me because it was perceived that putting us together would benefit us, and having the kids who were “unlike” us together would be right for them. This is also what the majority of schools across America do today with their core subjects to a large degree. They track their gifted and talented students together, and they group their average and struggling students together. Is this good? Is it a problem? Do these situations truly benefit the students who are separated from one another? These are complicated questions for which the answers can vary from context to context. Continue reading

Student Voices: Intern Edition “The Benefits of WBL”

Student Voices

by Constance S.

“I’d say the real-world experience and accountability were large benefits of this program.”

It began with class enrollment for my senior year. The thought of “What in the world should I choose?” seemed to echo in my mind as I skimmed the list of courses. I pondered over them; would they be beneficial towards my life post-high school? None of them seemed to be what I was looking for. It wasn’t until I heard about an internship that I felt hopeful about my electives. If I didn’t make it in: fine. I’d just have to learn piano for my last year of high school. Continue reading