Pam Reilly, IEA Member and 2013-14 Teacher of the Year
Pam Reilly, IEA Member and 2013-14 Teacher of the Year

Paths do not pave themselves.

It takes a team of construction workers envisioning the final destination, placing the bricks in the right places at the right times, and maintaining the pathway to be sure it is free of weeds and other obstacles that could cause bumps along the way.

Educators are doing this demanding, bricklaying work each and every day.

My first Sight of Success stop was in Somonauk School District #432. They have begun construction in their district by building up new initiatives this year. They have hired an instructional coach from within and restructured their schedule to allow for PLC (Professional Learning Communities) for 30 minutes a day. They hired an effective and engaging math instructor, Fran Kennon, for third and fourth grade to allow for two certified teachers to be in each classroom to team-teach their reading block every day. This was an idea born from the principal, Christy Pruski.

I had the pleasure of spending the day in their district to witness these teacher leaders in action and observe their classrooms and PLC time.  Mandi Taxis is the instructional coach in Somonauk and she is the definition of a teacher leader. Mandi best describes her journey on this new path she is embarking on below:

“Despite the labor it entails, I love teaching; it is my true passion. When I was first approached with the concept of becoming an instructional coach, I was not ready to leave the classroom, and I was overwhelmed by concerns. The logistics: What about my students?

Would this new position ever fill the void of not working directly with kids? What would my schedule look like? What about my classroom? And the bigger ones: Would my colleagues welcome me? Would anyone want to work with me? Am I really qualified for this position? And the biggest ones of all: What about our district’s challenges, like the economy, large class sizes, and past teacher pay freezes? How does adding an instructional coach position even compare to the stressful realities occurring in our district? However, in my 18 years of being in this profession, all in Somonauk, and through my changing teaching assignments of grades 1, 6 and 8, I have learned to trust the decisions made by my administration. They have never led me wrong.

“I took the leap to become our one and only (and first ever) instructional coach. I would serve our entire K-12 district and I was hoping to, at the least, try to observe the teachers in their classrooms, give feedback, and in turn, encounter a few teachers who might be open to my coaching.

“In my first month as instructional coach, I quickly realized that not only were teachers willing to allow me into their classrooms, they were hungry for feedback and collaboration. I was gratefully flooded with: ‘Will you take a look at my assessments?’ ‘Would you come observe me second period?’ ‘Could you help me prepare for my evaluation next week?’ And, especially, ‘Can you help us write our assessments and design our lessons to better align to Common Core?’

“Rather abruptly, I learned that the need in our district was not what I thought. I have not spent a lot of time modeling lessons and observing teachers in action, like the typical coaching textbook suggests.

Instead, I am occupied with perhaps even more impactful work: evaluating, changing and aligning our curriculum with my colleagues.

“Even though it is grueling work, and I am learning as I go, I feel purposeful. I feel connected to our staff and to our curriculum. I feel like we are making powerful changes together. The unknowns of this position were scary to me, but I am so glad that I took the leap. We have always been progressive in Somonauk, and adding my position is one example this year.”

Back row: Dawn Green, superintendent and Christy Pruski, principal. Front row: Fran Kennon, math instructor third and fourth, and Mandi Taxis, instructional coach.
Back row: Dawn Green, superintendent and Christy Pruski, principal.
Front row: Fran Kennon, math instructor third and fourth, and Mandi Taxis, instructional coach.

Dr. Dawn Green, the superintendent, says:

“This district has always prided itself on forward thinking; not just accepting change, but advocating for change; and modeling for others. The changes we have made this year personify this. We are a district that is always looking forward, not backward. We look at where we need to be, not where we used to be.”

Somonauk is paving the pathway to success for their students. I commend them for their efforts and their dedication to the profession. They are a construction site in progress of reaching their destination of building a better school for their students.

Thank you for opening your doors to not only me but to all of our IEA members to learn from your journey.

Yours for Better Schools,
Pam Reilly
teachersleadingillinois@gmail.com