This is the latest in a series of blogs by partners of the Fluency work.
By Autumn Troullos
As part of the Fluency Project and having gone through the National Board process, I have discovered that good practices look the same in each platform. What is different is the person I am at each moment in time. The National Board process planted the seeds for reflection; the importance of knowing my students; setting goals, evaluating my progress, then setting new goals. Through Fluency I was able to look through the lens of educators who taught students and subjects far different than mine and use strategies I had not imagined in my own corner of the world. During the spring the connections I made launched me to another level as I worked with my Fluency colleague Jess Kaminsky to co-write a blog which inspired workshops co-hosted along with MaryLu Hutchins entitled #thenewhomeroom. To date we have recorded or scheduled five (!) different versions! I am so thankful for each opportunity that I have been given as each one is a fresh chance for me to grow upon the work I have already done.
Being the oldest of three children, I have always considered myself a natural teacher. I thrived on helping others in and out of my home on all things academic. Instinctively I knew the content but I also knew the stories of my “students.” I knew what worked to motivate each one to do better-- for my brother it was shaming his laziness (Definitely not a good practice, but I was a child!) and for my sister it was praise because even attaining “average” was a struggle for her. In all seriousness, though, I understood that I needed to have knowledge of each individual person in order to try and help each one.
Fast forward several to my teaching career and my bright idea to go through the process to become a National Board Certified Teacher. It was there that I received confirmation that, yes indeed, knowledge of students is the gold standard for accomplished teaching. Being a math teacher with no wiggle room for anything that was not math, I knew my kids as best as I could (or so I thought) through some interest inventories administered at the start of the school year, paying attention to who was involved in what activities outside of class, and listening to my guidance counselor give valuable information about students having traumatic experiences. The best information came from my best friend and coworker, who happened to be the Reading/Language Arts teacher. She always had the best, most intimate details about students through journal entries, class discussions, and essays. I was so jealous that she could work that into her content so easily and seamlessly. Although I was thankful she shared such information so I could know and understand my students, it did not feel authentic. They were not sharing that delicate material with ME. I received it secondhand and I felt like an eavesdropper. But because of the tremendous pressure I felt as a math teacher to have students achieve their very best, I could not justify taking precious class time to ask these questions myself.
Nope, I could not spare any time at all getting to know my students and allowing them to get to know me because I could definitely teach so much more by utilizing every second of my class time for math. That is, until I was invited to join the Fluency Project. I began talking to other teachers from different subjects, different grades, and different states. I talked to people who were not classroom teachers, but were vested in education. The energy and inspiration I acquired just from one day every other month was invaluable to me and my students. I spent a year pouring over National Board standards, videotaping my classes, writing papers upon papers after analyzing every single breath I took, but that was not as powerful to me as the Fluency Project.
Through the Fluency Project I learned from teachers who took the time to genuinely know their entire students, not just who they are academically. That’s right--I took CLASS TIME (!) to talk with my students about what was going on in life, how they were doing, and the like. I allowed myself and my students to breathe and acknowledge that we are humans with feelings, ideas, and worries that did not revolve around math. Through our communications, my students started to see me as a real person, too. With all my imperfections, worries, shortcomings, and trauma that I shared with them, I allowed myself to be vulnerable. This was the most powerful strategy I have ever used in my room. Genuinely developing communication between me and my students, and although it took a little time from math class, the positive return on OUR learning was extraordinary.
Take for instance Declan*. He was new to the district and did not come with a glowing reputation. It took some time, but Declan let his guard down and told me all about his absent mother, his love of hunting, his desire to be a runner and to own his own garage where he fixes cars when he grows up. Declan spent time in a juvenile detention center at the beginning of the year for crimes he committed the previous spring. In preparation for his time away, he asked me to give him extra math work so he didn’t fall behind while serving his time. He came back from the detention center and he fell right back into step in math class. He actually was one of my best math students in the class. The following year he used his one elective class to sign up for my Mindfulness class. He put as much effort into mindfulness as he did math, and I could not have been any prouder of him.
Michael* is another great example. Michael was nowhere on my radar for being at risk for anything negative at all. He had a loving and supportive family, great grades, and was very active in a baseball team outside school. He and I got along fine, but I didn’t realize the extent to which he grew to trust me. It wasn’t until I went to pay my utility bill that the man noticed my very uncommon last name and asked if I was a teacher. A conversation followed and he told me that his neighbor, Michael, started loving school again because he really connected with his math teacher--me!
Shayla* was a very quiet girl in school. She rarely contributed to any discussions and would never ask questions. Her work was far below average. No matter what approach I took, Shayla was not making much progress. So, I privately asked her to come up and have lunch with me one day. She revealed to me that she started falling behind in math around fifth grade because of a lot of turmoil at home. She was always playing catch up and felt like she was always treading water in math because she was lacking a strong foundation. Shayla and I started having a working lunch together once a week so I could do some background work with her for the upcoming week. If she felt overwhelmed, she would slip me a note asking to come in and work some more, or ask for work to take home. To an outsider her grades may have looked mediocre at best, but she worked so hard for the grades she earned and we both were extremely proud of her progress.
I share these three stories although there are many times more successful stories just like these. Without the research shared, the people involved, and the support provided from the Fluency Project, my students and I would not have grown academically and humanly as much as we did.
I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to learn and share with other educators. The impact the Fluency Project had on me positively touched so many lives. I am eagerly looking forward to the next opportunity in my life which will help me to grow.
*Student names and identifying characteristics have been changed.
Autumn Troullos graduated from Ohio University’s Eastern campus in 2002 with a major in Middle Childhood Education (concentration in Math and Social Studies) and a minor in Mathematics. Her Master’s degree in Instructional Communication was earned at WVU. She earned National Board Certification in 2013. Autumn began her career as a teacher at St. Mary Central. From there she taught at Warwood School and Bridge Street Middle School in Ohio County. Currently she is teaching 8th grade Math and Mindfulness at Union Local Middle School.
Autumn has been engaged in researching mindfulness and its benefits and incorporating mindfulness into the classroom. She has joined a National Board cohort as a mentor. Autumn currently is a member of Cohort 4 of The Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University). Her special interests include yoga, reading, plants, learning, and her family.