We hear a lot about what’s wrong with our public schools.
As a parent, I want to talk about what’s right.
What’s right are educators like Colleen Flower, a member of the Schenectady Federation of Teachers and a literacy coach in the Schenectady schools. Colleen was featured in a recent issue of my hometown newspaper, the Daily Gazette, for her creative approach to engaging students in reading and learning. (“Literacy coach aims for personal attention with kids,” Jan. 13)
I first encountered Colleen very early in her nearly-20 year career when she offered to tutor my oldest son who had been diagnosed with a minor learning disability. The disability made reading a real challenge for him. He became frustrated and discouraged. His grades and his attitude suffered.
But, with Colleen’s personalized – and professional – attention, my middle-schooler began to turn things around. Little by little, he learned some tricks to overcome what was holding him back. He became an avid reader; has been working fulltime since graduation; and, in the fall, will be getting married.
Seeing the Gazette’s article about Colleen and her good work evoked some memories, and a lot of pride and gratitude. Here’s the story:
Literacy coach aims for personal connection with kids
By Michael Goot
Thursday, January 13, 2011
SCHENECTADY — Schenectady school literacy coach Colleen Flower read a passage from the opening of a book chapter about parasites.
“A few worms probably colonized your intestine,” she said.
“Don’t!” shouted 13-year-old Tahjha Wright with a look of disgust on his face.
That reaction is exactly what the writer had intended to spur interest in the story. Flower explained that the students should not just tell what happened but show it through their words.
“Writers use narrative leads to hook their readers and recognize that these stories show and not just tell,” she explained. “As a writer you want people to keep reading, that’s how you make the money.”
Colleen Flower, a literacy coach at Schenectady schools, is interviewed and shown interacting with class. She works at Central Park International Magnet School and Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet School.
Flower was presenting a lesson on narrative writing in teacher Nicole Hannon’s eighth-grade world studies class to help the students with their paper about the environment.
In her third year as literacy coach, the 42-year-old Flower is responsible for seventh- and eighth-grade reading instruction at both Central Park International Magnet School and King Magnet School, splitting time between the two buildings. There are no typical days, she says. She could be helping teachers with their lesson plans, creating professional development workshops for instructors, conducting reading and writing workshops or co-teaching a class.
Flower previously spent 15 years as a middle school English teacher in the district. English was one of her favorite classes when she attended Schenectady schools so a career as a teacher was a natural fit.
A lot has changed in literacy education, Flower said, especially during the last five years. Students have a lot more choices of reading material that appeal to their interest or ability level.
“Anybody can love reading as long as it’s a topic they’re interested in, whether it be magazines, comic books, graphic novels, fiction,” she said.
Flower uses a variety of teaching methods to draw out students’ strengths. For example, some learn better with words, others with music. She is currently interviewing students to determine how each learns best.
“There’s brain research to support that if you can create a neural pathway between what their strength is and their weakness is, we can better strengthen that weakness,” she said.
She spoke excitedly about a project that the King classes had done before the holiday break. One of the school’s reading teachers built a hovercraft at home with her husband and brought it in to display. Students did various units on making a miniature hovercraft, creating an advertising campaign to persuade people to buy one, understanding how to run a business and learning the history of different types of inventions. The unit incorporated English, math, science and social studies.
“The kids loved it. We had absolutely no discipline problems that day at all because they were so engaged,” she said.
During her time away from school, Flower may be reading professional development books on her own or researching educational websites. Even before she was appointed to her current position, Flower would attend conferences on her own time.
“I’m constantly trying to know more because there’s so much to know,” she said.
She also enjoys spending time with her husband Ronald.
Other teachers, like Hannon, are benefiting from Flower’s expertise.
“She has a lot of creative ideas,” Hannon said.
Central Park International Magnet School Principal Tonya Federico cited a lesson Flower developed. She had math teachers illustrate the steps to solve an equation by stacking and unstacking cups.
Her work has improved the quality of classroom instruction in reading, Federico said. “She makes a significant contribution to the ongoing professional development of our teachers,” she said.
Flower’s advice for other teachers is to make a personal connection with their students. “If they see that you care, they want to do better.”
She encouraged new teachers to never stop learning and to seek help from their colleagues.
“By ourselves, we may be intelligent, but collectively we can be brilliant.”