34. Subject Area Mastery and Modifying Mindsets

Helping younger teachers understand who they are as professional educators is a serious challenge. Are they conveyors of information? Agents of a society that enculturates children and young people in prescribed ways?

Automatons that teach elements of a curriculum designed by someone in political, institutional, or economic power?

Facilitators of thought and nurturers of innovation?

Rebecca headed toward the answers to those questions. And she wanted teacher members of the SAC to do the same thing.

Although the board and superintendent agreed to implement the new learning infrastructure, the current political climate made the task especially challenging.


Micromanaging schools and their curricula remains a goal for Americans who believe in maintaining a certain perspective about the nation’s history and values.

Giving public school educators latitude to make decisions about curricular content and implementation is a tough sell. So teachers must have:

  • intellectual and emotional depth
  • the ability to interact positively and effectively with patrons and parents
  • courage of their convictions regarding the purpose of education

Rebecca, Barbara, and Mary met several times to align their thoughts before discussing these points with SAC members.

In terms of WHO they were as professionals: (1) demonstrating personal depth (2) interacting positively and effectively with others and (3) displaying courage in advocating educational purpose.

All three characteristics were associated with leadership. Their challenge involved how to create academic leaders accustomed to being compliant followers.

The discussion proved interesting.

Barbara and Mary’s Story – Part 9

The new Language Arts SAC met for three days during a scheduled staff development break in the fall semester. We created an agenda for those days, making sure we gave enough time to:

  • become acquainted with each other
  • review the leadership idea
  • analyze the district’s mastery statement as a foundation for the curriculum we would create

Those chosen to serve on the district language arts committee:

  • Ken Towers, Superintendent (Ex Officio)
  • Rebecca Johnson, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction (Ex Officio)
  • Bryon Garrett, Representative Member, Board of Education
  • Barbara Morgan, Middle School Language Arts Teacher and Committee Chair
  • Billie Yost, First Grade Teacher
  • Jackie Smyth, Third Grade Teacher
  • Bob Snyder, Fifth Grade Teacher
  • Mike Hall, High School Language Arts Teacher
  • Joan Bell, Special Education Coordinator
  • Myra Jackson, Elementary School Principal
  • Jack Dodd, High School Principal

Liaison Members:

  • Mary Chapman,Middle School Science Teacher, Science SAC Chair Designee
  • Betty Wilson, High School Math Teacher, Math SAC Chair Designee
  • Don Baker, K-8 Music Teacher, Fine Arts SAC Chair Designee
  • Jennifer Mitchell, District Technology Coordinator / Media Specialist

With some exceptions, the 15 people chosen to serve were not well-acquainted. Their roles in the school district’s operation varied widely.

As administrative and decision-making leaders, the superintendent, assistant superintendent, and representative board member needed to open the door to new possibilities. Ken, Rebecca, and Bryon had already prepared their remarks.

As committee chair, Barbara believed it important for traditional district leaders to explain the new learning infrastructure. Particularly the need for changing how teachers think of themselves as professional educators.

Ken began by telling how schools must stimulate and enhance student ability to think and reflect.

Rebecca discussed the importance of helping students analyze systematically.

Bryon, as a board member, noted, “Teacher accountability indices are shifting toward ongoing student growth in terms of reflection and creativity.”

Ken wrapped up the presentation by emphasizing the importance of students drawing conclusions based on data used to explore nuances and the abstract “what ifs” of our world

Barbara had written the words reflecting, analyzing, evaluating, and creating on posterboards hung around the meeting room.  She initiated the discussion by asking each committee member, “Define one key word in terms of how that activity would be approached in your language arts teaching.”

Billie and Jackie, teachers of grades one and three, answered in similar ways. They chose the word analyzing and defined it in ways they believed appropriate for their students.

The curiosity of young students is almost limitless. The challenge is to help them use observation and language to explore their expanding world, draw accurate conclusions, and describe what they learn.

Billie and Jackie explained, “We’re already emphasizing that approach to teaching and learning. We believe in helping students think and act creatively.”

Bob said, “Analyzing is also important in my fifth-grade class. But reflection is an important way to help students connect world events to their lives. Personalization of learning is the way students grow both academically and emotionally. The strategy I use is to have students write, critique and even debate.”

Bob’s principal, Myra, agreed.

Mike, high school teacher, and Jack, high school principal, saw value in continuing the analyzing and reflection elements in secondary school. “Those two behaviors can stimulate creativity. We encourage that ability. But high school students should be evaluating ideas and perspectives. Given opportunities to weigh products and actions according to data and stated criteria.”

Joan said, “I believe the district’s special educators need access to the regular curriculum as well as interpretations. While IEPs (individual education plans) are essential, just as important are expectations for student growth found in the district’s mission statement.”

Liaison members of the committee participated in follow-up discussions and took careful notes. Designated chairs of other subject area committees realized their members would be involved in the same exercise in the context of their fields of study.


This first interaction of our language arts subject area committee consumed an entire workday. Notes would be reviewed at the next meeting.

What teachers currently do in their classrooms is an important beginning point from a logistical perspective. But opening the door to the more philosophical aspects of the new learning structure is even more essential.

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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