Teaching is a work of heart

Waking up in the morning is never challenging when you’re going somewhere you love.

When I wake up I know that I’m going to a job that I am passionate about and I’m making a difference. I tell my second graders every year to find a career that they enjoy and are passionate about and it will never feel like a “job.”

This may not resonate with them now, but I hope that they will remember it in their future and that it drives the direction of their path in life. I have lived by this philosophy and it has brought me to the doorsteps of Woodbury Elementary in Sandwich where I teach second grade.

Our Sight of Success this month is highlighting my school, Woodbury Elementary, the one that I love. I’d like to share a few of the many reasons I adore Woodbury and a program my principal developed in order to give teachers time for teacher leadership and collaboration.

Woodbury is a sweet school nestled in among the homes that surround it in Sandwich. Inside the walls of Woodbury are some amazing teachers, administration and staff. The teachers who enter this school are here to stay. I believe our staff does teach from the heart, always looking out for the best interests of all of its members big or small.

A perfect example of Woodbury’s heart is our commitment to celebrate our teachers’ successes and support each other during hardships. One of our teachers, Sharon Giddens, has taught first grade in the same room for the past 45 years! She is currently teaching the grandchildren of the students she taught in the past.

IMG_7830 Sharon was diagnosed with breast cancer in August and has been undergoing chemo treatments for the past several months. The teachers at Woodbury have rallied around her and taken their personal days to sit by her side during her treatments. Sharon is a beloved coworker, mentor and friend to so many at Woodbury we wouldn’t have it any other way. Sharon is in her last year at Woodbury, retiring in June after a very fulfilling career with many lives touched and changed by her wisdom and kindness.

Doni Morgan, who has taught for 25 years at Woodbury in third grade, continues to feel the excitement and anticipation that comes with each day. Doni shares with us her feelings about Woodbury.

“Woodbury School is a small school that seems to rise out of the sidewalks of Third Street in Sandwich, Illinois. Within the walls of this small school is a bustling community of learners. Woodbury welcomes its students, parents, staff members and visitors with fish murals painted on the office walls and a fish tank in the lobby that attracts young faces every day. Woodbury follows the “Fish” philosophy that encourages an atmosphere of play, choosing our attitudes, making the day of others, and being present in the moment. Woodbury’s welcoming, relaxed atmosphere is felt the moment you enter its walls.

“As you walk through the halls of Woodbury you hear the voices of students, lots of music, and the interaction of adults as they work with students. You see grandparent and parent volunteers sitting at small chairs in the hallway working with our youngest students as they learn their letters and sounds. You will see our older students casually walking down the halls chatting quietly with their classmates.

“I look forward to coming to school each day and try to share that enthusiasm for learning with all the teachers in the district. I have been the president of our teachers’ association for the past 10 years and use that office to showcase the good work our strong teachers are doing to administration and the board of education. My experiences at Woodbury School, with all of its innovative programs for teachers and students alike, give me a foundation on which to build and vision of what successful schools can be.”

One of those innovative programs that Doni is referencing is Expert Project. The Expert Project was born from our principal, Dr. Shirley DeCorte, 10 years ago. She saw a need for teacher collaboration time as well as the need for challenging students with project-based learning. The idea for meeting those two needs in the building came to be our Expert Project. DeCorte explains the Expert Project below.

Woodbury’s Expert Project is a wonderful educational program that encourages students to follow their interests, read for information, learn a little about research techniques and citing sources as well as produce a final third grade project. It actually began as an answer to our elementary faculty looking to find some time to work together in grade level teams on our new literacy program. Woodbury teachers were anxious to dig into proficient readers’ research but they were having difficulty finding a common time during the school day where they could discuss how and what they wanted to implement.

“Expert Project has now been going on for almost 10 years here at Woodbury, the teachers continue to meet in grade level groups to discuss language programs as well as other topics for one hour every other week.

“Each Woodbury student discusses topics of interest with their parents and sends in a sheet indicating the topic they will pursue over the next three years. Although three years sounds like a long time, over the three-year period it is about 35 hours. In first grade, because many of the children are just beginning to read and write, the program is very volunteer intensive. We recruit community volunteers, in an effort to try to keep our groups at no more than four students per coach. There is a lot of reading to the children, helping them find books on their topics, helping them decide what a fact is that they might want to make a note about, and how to cite their source.

“By second grade most of the students are becoming more independent and can read about their topic, takes notes and cite sources. In third grade many of the students work independently on their topic, deciding mid-year if their final presentation will be a book, power point presentation, or some other media presentation.

“Everyone is excited when final presentations are made near the end of third grade. The students present their projects to their class, coaches and family members. In the best of circumstances, the students have learned perseverance, research techniques, become a semi expert on their topic, developed another caring relationship with a nurturing adult (coach), and feel a sense of pride in the work they have accomplished. We are not successful with every child during expert project but we keep trying to hook students on the attitude of lifelong learning as a way of life.”

Kim Mathis, a kindergarten teacher who has also been working at Woodbury for 25 years, further describes Woodbury, as a staff that tries to make every person that walks through our doors feel special and valued. “We strive to bring out the best in each individual and we celebrate our successes and learn from our failures as a team.”

I’m grateful that I work in such a wonderful school as Woodbury with all of the staff members who inspire the students inside its walls. Teaching is a work of heart and the team inside this building realizes the importance of that. Thank you for opening your doors to our IEA members to learn about your Sight of Success!

I’d love to hear from you about your school, or with any comments or questions. You can reach me at teachersleadingillinois@gmail.com.

Pam Reilly is a second grade teacher at Woodbury Elementary School in Sandwich and was the 2013-14 Illinois Teacher of the Year. She blogs about teacher leaders for IEA.

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