BY SULYN WEAVER, M.Ed.
SuLyn Weaver is a math educator of 19 years with Kentwood Public Schools in Greater Grand Rapids, where she also serves as a teacher leader. She is active on Twitter at @eunmi220.
This summer, my family didn’t take any big vacations or go to the beach. We did spend some time in the sun, went to an outdoor movie (Crazy Rich Asians), and I was cast for a role in a short film. For much of the past three months, I was preparing myself to be my best for students on day one. Here’s a taste.
First, I created a new attendance system for our summer school administrator and then taught two groups of students for six weeks. My first assignment was to help prepare incoming high school students for the demands they will experience this year in freshman Algebra. It was as much about building relationships and confidence as it was about developing mathematical skills and knowledge. My second group of students will return to us this fall. We worked together to close gaps in their learning so they have the skills and confidence as students to embrace grade-level work.
I also planned to implement a new curriculum resource. Each time the middle school math department adopts a new curriculum, in many ways, it feels like hitting a reset button. I’m preparing for the hours I’ll spend aligning lessons to standards and assessments to lessons. I’m preparing for unit mapping and setting an implementation guide that will be my base for the following year. I’m drawing on all the knowledge I’ve gained through professional development, conferences, and collaboration to set up my math peers for success.
Yet another part of my summer was devoted to my development as a teacher leader with Leading Educators. Through learning experiences with the LE team, I have felt personal growth of colossal proportions in my knowledge and awareness of:
the essential math shifts of focus, rigor, and coherence,
how to analyze a lesson for the most crucial components of the mathematical tasks,
and how to plan and teach through a lens of equity.
Beyond sessions, we heard from a group of exceptional student performers who shared poetry and stories of self that reminded us why we were there. Leaders from Godfrey-Lee Public Schools and Kent ISD also shared data about the opportunity gaps that exist within our own schools and the responsibility we have to ensure the likelihood of success is not dependent on a student’s skin color. Accepting that I haven’t always done what is best for my students, but instead what was best for me, is a hard pill to swallow.
This work has afforded me a safe place to examine my own practice with a more critical focus. I spent two full days with our district’s Leading Educators coach and her colleagues. The time is intense, vulnerable, and profound; it is also exhausting. As each day closes, we’re asked to summarize it using a survey. This year, as I struggled to access words, activities, and learning, I reflected on the numerous times my students might feel that same mental exhaustion throughout the day. I have new empathy for them as they’re also working through all the conundrums of adolescence.
My last, and most personal, activity this summer has been joining an organization which endeavors to support, advocate for, and amplify the voices of educators of color. I teach in the most diverse school district in our state, but there are times I don’t interact with an adult who is a person of color all day. As I think about my own daily interactions, I reflect on the implications for my students and with whom they interact. I am excited for what this network of educators will collectively bring to the community.
Read another Grand Rapids leader’s take on preparing for the new school year here (via EdNet).