“Excellence Every Day” is the motto for students and staff at the school where I have taught for the past 12 years. My third grade students and I reflect on this motto, and together we strive to put it into action each day.

Last spring I witnessed the ideals of ambitious instruction and “Excellence Every Day” working in tandem.  Ambitious instruction pushes educators toward the successful implementation of excellence within schools. I believe it is vitally important that I expand this ambitious motto as far as possible. The Curry School gave me the tools to work toward “Excellence Every Day” with 100% of my students. 

I have been a mentor teacher with the Curry School since 2009. As a lifelong learner I was interested in finding efficient ways to share my best practices with future teachers.  I needed new ways to convey the most crucial practices that novice teachers could duplicate and use to build a strong and skillful foundation in teaching. I also needed to acquire the language and vocabulary that would allow me to successfully transfer knowledge to novice teachers.

When I first began my work as a mentor teacher, I assumed it would be a straightforward task of just teaching a new teacher how I teach. I thought I would show them the ropes, observe how they were doing and provide feedback. At the end of our practicum, I would vouch for their skills and recommend them to go forth into their new teaching position. Voila! Welcome to the profession! Good Luck!

The Curry Mentor Teacher Training Program, has shifted how I view my role as a mentor teacher and its unique relationship to the legacy of highly effective educators past, present and future.

The training program introduced me to the supervision, mentoring, and coaching continuum. I enjoyed learning about these three zones that a mentor teacher may use with practicum students. The continuum, allowed me to perfectly differentiate the classroom experience for each preservice teacher, thus maximizing our time together and their growth overall. My teaching framework has been significantly and positively impacted by this course.  For instance, I employ components of the coaching continuum, the CLASS observation system, and the MyTeacherPartner (MTP) cycle daily in my practice.

During this course I participated in MTP cycles, which played a pivotal role in making this practicum experience meaningful and successful for all stakeholders.  Lesson assessment, video analysis and prompts, and formal conferences after each lesson enhanced the entire practicum. I have a been a mentor teacher many times, yet the MTP cycle structure allowed me to deliver a more targeted, more positive and more effective experience to my practicum students than ever before.  Conversations about areas of strength, areas for growth and general reflections on instruction are evident in the conference summaries and action plan that accompany each lesson in the MTP cycle. I am very proud of the work that was done last spring.

My personal experience with the CLASS lens is perhaps the most valuable takeaway from the training program. The CLASS lens completely and appropriately validates my work.   The CLASS lens put names to the intricate components of good teaching. It was enlightening to see aspects of my daily routines categorized and compartmentalized. I guess that I am one of those individuals who used to think that teaching as a profession relies on some innate ability. Course work and readings reminded me to see my profession for the highly skilled work that it truly is.

The CLASS lens validated my work and the time that I spend on developing my students and my professional practice in ways that have nothing to do with standardized testing data. Its research fully supports the reality that my kind demeanor, my high expectations, my humor, my smiles and my nurturing approach are inextricably linked to the achievement of my students. These are the often overlooked “soft skills” that need to be emphasized with novice teachers. The confidence and knowledge that came from my work implementing the CLASS observation system positively impacted my practicum students and elementary age students, alike. I applaud the CLASS lens for giving me the jargon and the basis to share my now instinctive practices with practicum students who will intentionally adopt and implement them with skill.

I truly value the high quality learning experiences that I’ve enjoyed as a graduate and trusted clinical teaching partner of the Curry School of Education. Curry’s mentor teacher training program enhanced my ability “ambitiously instruct” and to make my school’s motto, “Excellence Every Day,” a reality for all stakeholders. I am deeply honored by my privilege of providing a highly effective, meaningful and mutually rewarding experience to novice teachers and the students who will learn and grow under their care.

In this blog series, we share contributions by outstanding classroom teachers who completed the Curry School’s Mentor Teacher Training Program, funded by a grant through the Virginia Department of Education. The Curry School partners with local school divisions to deliver a graduate course at no cost to their highly recommended teachers. The course focuses on ambitious, evidence-based coaching and mentoring practices that facilitate high-quality teaching practice. While enrolled in the course, these mentors refine their practices while developing the skills of future teachers’ in their classrooms.