Story by Isaac Cox
Alvarado Elementary School has been an integral visitation site for the ART of TEACHING for
over twelve years, and last month administrators and teachers had an opportunity to see firsthand the magic that happens behind classroom doors in this Long Beach Unified School.
The visitation day was the first opportunity of the 2016-2017 school year for administrators to bring up to four of their non-Cotsen teachers along with them to observe workshop being implemented by exemplary teachers. The morning began at 8:00 a.m. with registration and a continental breakfast in the library, followed by a general overview of the school’s program. After the overview, the group split up into teams and observed instruction in six classrooms that spanned all grade levels. Each observation was followed by a debrief and Q & A session with the demonstrating teacher to deepen observers’ understanding of the pedagogy behind the lesson.
Writing workshop is implemented in many schools, so one might ask, what is it about Alvarado and their teachers that make it such a great place to observe this instructional approach in action?
“We all do the same things so this makes a powerful community,” said Heather Hall, a 4th grade teacher and coach at Alvarado. Hall remembered hearing about Alvarado awhile back when she was a teacher at Peter Burnett Elementary School. Through one of her mentors, Hall heard about reading workshop and desperately wanted to get involved. “If it wouldn’t have been for Cotsen, I wouldn’t have gotten into this work, and I wouldn’t be at this school. I tried for many years to get into this school, because there’s power here. There’s nothing better than to bring a little bit of heart and passion to other peoples lives, and I would have people in my classroom every day if I could because I want this work to continue.”
“I think it’s the expectation,” said Lucy Salazar, principal at Alvarado. “I think teachers arrive at Alvarado and know or learn quickly that you’ll be a workshop teacher, and how great for you.”
Salazar explained that Alvarado has built a strong support system for professional development that is embraced by every teacher. It all starts with setting teachers up for success. “The idea is that if we have criteria for what will make you successful as a workshop teacher, then it’s my job and it’s the job of your colleagues that are teaching alongside you, to help you grow in your practice, and I think that’s Alvarado.” Salazar said.
The impression the workshop visitation left on the large group of administrators and teachers was palpable. Throughout the classroom observations and debriefs, the visiting educators reacted enthusiastically. Cristina Centeno, assistant principal at Robert C. Fisler School remarked, “Being here, helps me to be a better curriculum supporter for my teachers, as well as [gives me] a better understanding as to what our teachers are implementing, how to better give suggestions, and gain an aligned vision of how we want to teach our students.”
Cotsen mentor, Stephanie Guppy said, “As a team, we really enjoyed the workshop….My fellows and I have been switching our focus to conferring, and so seeing how the teachers here did it differently and how they take ownership for what their students need, that’s what I want to bring back.”
Hall advises teachers who are experiencing the initial challenges of implementing workshop to, “Be flexible and easy on yourself. When things go wrong, as they will inevitably flop, just keep pushing and persevere because it’s truly what’s best for kids.”