Monday, July 23, 2007

Summer Program's Last Stop

Once again working a Montessori Summer Program has re-inspired me as an educator. Often times in my career, as many teachers know, teachers become isolated and often feel competitive. We compete within content area and between class productions. The irony is the philosophy of any true school reform movement stresses the importance of collaborative work. The 2007 Summer Program has been an exercise in teamwork better than any professional development session could have been.

The team is fortunate enough to have the chance to work with colleagues that are willing to go beyond the expectation levels any administrator could conceive of. The spirit and dedication of these educators was something those crazy “teacher movies” are based on. The team working together was really something to watch.

Over the past month of planning and definitely over the last two weeks of implementation, our team has evolved into a well oiled education machine. I learned so many things from each team member. I’m going to attempt to share. (I guess its sorta like Everything I Needed to know about Teaching I learned in the Summer Program.)

“Calm down Brown, what is your mantra?”

Each morning at 8:15 Brody led us all in a moment of centering and reflection that challenged us to leave behind all the stresses that were holding us back. She asked us to create an internal mantra. She allowed, through a guided reflection, students to embrace their individuality and more importantly acknowledged that students come to school each day with “baggage”. Laying all this out at the beginning of each day made the focus on the work much more intense and diminished the high school drama.

“How cool is it guys; we are building a train?”

Debra truly was the driving force behind the success of the Summer Program. Her unwavering enthusiasm rubbed off on all of us. So many times during the two week program we found ourselves saying, “I don’t know ask Deb”. She jumped neck-deep into a vat of bacteria (quite literally). She inspired students to create their own questions. Using this model approach to inquiry she engaged so many students that had cast aside the wonders of science as something not for them. Her willingness to be a “risk-taker” modeled for students an example of an adult stepping out of their comfort zone.

“I’m glad to see this all pulled together.”

Mr. Lamb displayed something all team members need, “trust”. At the onset of the program he mentioned how he doubted the process of the loose planning, and the lack of clarity of the final project. He pointed out the short comings of such a rapid planning method. He continued with the entire program providing a necessary reality check we all needed. His input on team meetings stressed the importance of IEP type goals for each participant in the program for proper credit recovery. Lamb encouraged us to define the roles of advisor and facilitator in each our program. His immersion into the local history of Flushing was a lesson in preparation for all of us. His ultimate facilitation of the production of a sixteen page newspaper was something the students were proud of. Students became engaged when sifting through primary sources at the NYC Public Library in Jamaica’s Long Island Room. Through the creation of these newspapers (now on display in the 3rd floor station) students were able to show their understanding of the impact on the 7 train.

“Come on people, what are you doing?”

Each afternoon the math students became restless. Upon their return from lunch the idea of another four hours of math for students whom were not successful during the year seemed daunting. Drawing upon her previous days as an ROTC Captain, Sadera was able to muster her “troops” every afternoon. They each received mastery sheets and performed complex reconnaissance tasks to collect information. She encouraged students to apply mathematical concepts to the work on Al’s Crew. Her persistent attention to detail and her constant reassurance of our ability to complete the task at hand was sincerely admirable.

“Remember we are working to scale.”

Without Ms. Noushig, our two dimensional plans would have been the final project. She brought the students quite literally into the third dimension. Her ability to adapt for learning styles and her personal enthusiasm and work ethic modeled perfectly the necessary skills to be successful in a group. Drawing upon her interior design experience she ultimately became the best resource in our classroom.

“It takes a village”

This African proverb never rang more true than during this summer program. Without the community, this project would not have been possible. Al’s endless patience working with the students, most of whom are inexperienced in the world of carpentry, was something rare even among professional educators. The support from Guglielmini’s parents (her dad building the train and her mom chaperoning the science team) was something not many teachers would be willing to share. When a message was sent out that resources were necessary Queen’s College responded with supplying a grad student from their science program (Rebecca even volunteered to come back the next week to finish touching up the paint on the train), and the Fresh Meadows Apartment Complex, where many of our QHST students reside, provided tools, supplies and “our carpenter” (Al).

“I’ll do it.”

Finally Ferrara’s commitment to our Montessori Small Learning Community is in one word “insane”. She has a truly unique ability to embrace a person when they are down, push them when they have become complacent, and highlight their achievements when they are excelling. Upon her crossing a threshold, one knows the work you are doing is only going to get better. She takes on tasks no one else wants to do, getting metro cards, taking attendance, calling parents, telling the principal that “kids are using power tools”, telling maintenance “not to worry about the floor its water based paint”. Nancy digs through the minutiae of paperwork and allows us as educators to touch students and make change happen.

For me teaching in two week blocks, immersed in one subject, facing the ambiguity in the search for certainty, and constructing knowledge as a team of facilitators and students is really the only way to learn. I can’t wait to bring this idea back to my team. Being grouped with amazing educators during the year is something we need to take advantage of. (or maybe I have just inhaled too many paint fumes during the last week)

1 comment:

CBrody said...

When I heard we were going to build a train with our students, I seriously wondered, "Is this really possible?" That was until I looked across the table and saw Brown there. That's when I knew, with Brown on the job anything can be done...and I mean anything. His great sense of humor, "out of the box" thinking, work-a-holic attitude, and of course his mom are also what made this project unforgettable for us all.