Angelou* Elementary School: Making Time for Quality Education

by Amy Langenkamp 

One of the most difficult aspects of elementary school education, from the point of view of teachers and administrators, involves the search for time. Beyond the scope of classroom instruction, teachers are expected to find time to prepare adequate lesson plans, time to give personalized attention to children struggling in a particular subject area, time to communicate effectively with parents, and time to meet with other teachers. As anyone involved in the living, breathing organism that is an elementary school can attest, the environment is dynamic. Schools are anything but slow-paced and do not stand still as teachers attempt to "find" time. Consequently, teachers are regularly expected to perform duties well beyond the scope of classroom instruction, often putting in late hours in the pursuit of being a "good" educator.

Angelou Elementary School in Houston, Texas, is no different in terms of the demands placed upon its teachers and administrators. However, Angelou is no ordinary educational community. Time at Angelou is not an elusive entity to be "found" by teachers. How can this be? What is Angelou Elementary doing to successfully challenge this age-old dilemma in education?

Angelou has developed a unique learning environment, made possible in part by a grant from the Annenberg foundation. A combination of "just in time" staff development and Content Specialists frees up time at Angelou, allowing the focus to be placed upon the school's greatest priority: its children. Content Specialists are designated leader teachers. Experts in their subject area, Content Specialists spend half of the day teaching in a regular classroom, and the other half providing individual attention to students and support and development for classroom teachers. Embracing the school as an entire community, Content Specialists follow children throughout their education at Angelou. Without exception, they can tell each student's story. Beyond just knowing each child by name, the Content Specialists know each child's background and individual challenges, in order to provide consistent educational development to all of Angelou's students.

Some Content Specialists work with small groups of children. For example, the Literacy Lab at Angelou is a source of encouragement for children struggling to become independent readers. Whether practicing sounds or doing guided reading, Literacy Lab instructors radiate enthusiasm for reading and the exploration of the English language. Students are willing to take risks in this environment in ways they might not in a larger group.

In addition to helping the students read, the Literacy Lab is responsible for assessing every single student at Angelou four times a year. Two of the literacy Content Specialists assess the children. This adds great consistency to the method of assessment, as well as a ready reference for classroom teachers who work with their students at an appropriate level.

In some areas, the Content Specialists teach entire classrooms. With the "scientific community" of the Science Lab, Nancy does hands-on teaching using experimentation and active participation. This kind of classroom environment embraces different learning styles. In the Science Lab, even children who have problems sitting still in other classes become scientists, engrossed in the discovery of their world.

These are just selected highlights of how Content Specialists help "capture time" and contribute toward staff development. All of the educators at Angelou are active in professional development. They learn from each other, attend conferences, and are empowered by the support given by Content Specialists. Isolation is reduced as teachers collaborate on a daily basis, creating an effective community. This environment gives everyone time to teach and to learn, nurturing both teachers and students alike.

* School names are pseudonyms.

 

Read about one science Content Specialist: Owl Pellets lesson
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