What a Gift!

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(Note: This post was co-written by Rebecca DuFour and guest author Jacqueline Heller)

Becky’s Recent Experience

While sitting in a small open waiting area of a local salon one evening in early January, two young women engrossed in conversation came in and sat beside me. As they continued to talk, I quickly realized they were teachers at a nearby elementary school, recounting their first two days back at school after the holiday break. I was not eavesdropping—these two young teachers made no attempt to keep their conversation confidential.

Soon after taking their seats, one asked the other if she had heard about the “gift” she had received that afternoon. This teacher went on to tell her friend about a little boy who had transferred into their school and her classroom after Thanksgiving. She described how far behind he was compared to the other students. He didn’t know his letter sounds or numbers and was socially immature. She had devoted a great deal of her time to him during the three weeks of school in December. The “gift,” I soon discovered, was that the school secretary had informed this teacher that the family had moved and this little boy was no longer a student at their school.

At that point in their conversation, I was called for my appointment, and the two teachers continued to talk, unaware of how my heart was aching—first and foremost for the little boy. What was his family going through that had caused them to move into and out of a school community in less than six weeks? How often had they moved previously, and what did the boy’s future hold? My heart also ached for that young teacher because the daunting challenge of helping a struggling student in her classroom had fallen completely on her shoulders. I understand how spending one-on-one time with a student takes the teacher’s time, energy, and attention away from the other young learners in that classroom, and I don’t wish that situation on any teacher in our profession today.

Imagine that little boy and his family had not moved into the elementary school in the story above, but rather into a school like Mason Crest Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia. How might his experience—and those of the teachers—be different?

Jacquies Story of a New Kindergartener at Mason Crest

Two days ago we got a new kindergarten student. I haven’t gotten to meet Donny yet, but follow the email trail below and see how much I know about him. Why? Because we are a professional learning community, where teams of teachers collaborate around data and put a plan in place to ensure every child learns at high levels. I am a literacy teacher at Mason Crest and plan with our kindergarten team once a week. After we meet this Tuesday I’ll know a lot more about Donny, since the ESOL, special education, and classroom teachers who did work with Donny this week will put it on our agenda to adjust our groups and be sure he is getting the targeted support he needs. If this little boy had landed in a school that did not function as a professional learning community, it is likely the only person who would know he even existed at this point would be his classroom teacher. That would not set either that teacher or this student up for success. We can’t do it alone. We need a culture of collaboration—a true “gift” that is the foundation for this actual email thread from Donny’s first week at Mason Crest:

Five Days Before Donny Begins School at Mason Crest

From: Joyce

Sent: Friday, January 16, 2015 2:49 PM

To: Maura

Cc: Diane; Brian; Linda

Subject: IEP

Hi Maura,

A student came in to register today from another FCPS school and he has an IEP. Would you take a look at it to see what we should do with the student, where we need to place him, etc.? I will put his faxed IEP in your mailbox.


Joyce, Student Information Assistant I

Two Days Before Donny Begins School at Mason Crest

From: Maura

Sent: Monday, January 19, 2015 8:30 PM

To: Diane

Cc: Anderson; Brijana

Subject: FW: IEP

Hi Diane,

I’ve had a chance to look over the IEP referenced. The student is an English language learner. At this time, I am unsure whether the checklist or Kindergarten WIDA will be a more appropriate assessment for the student. Regardless, I am happy to be the one administering the test once the student begins.


Maura, Multiple Disabilities Teacher

Donny’s First Day at Mason Crest

From: Brijana

Sent: Wednesday, January 21, 2015 11:59 AM

To: Maura; Diane; Heidi; Danielle

Subject: RE: IEP

Maura and Heidi,

I’m also thinking he would be a good candidate for oral language groups with Danielle on Friday mornings. With his recent trip to Korea and language learning needs, I think he would fit in. If this does not work or I’m missing something, please let me know.


Brijana, ESOL Teacher

From: Maura

Sent: Wednesday, January 21, 2015 11:59 AM

To: Diane; Heidi; Danielle; Brijana; Jacqueline

Subject: RE: IEP

Yes, definitely! Today was his first day. He can:

  • Write first and last name independently
  • Identify 19 uppercase letters
  • Identify 15 lowercase letters
  • Identify 3 letter sounds
  • Identify numbers up to 10
  • Count a set of objects up to 10

He fit in well with the handwriting/reading/math groups that we worked in today. I think my group for our Thursday math rotation will be best, too. (He guessed 12 for all teen numbers.) I’m going to keep an eye out tomorrow AM for him to join the before-school phonics club if that’s okay, too!


Maura, Multiple Disabilities Teacher

I love how the focus is on what he can do! After Donny left his previous school in December, he was out of the country for six weeks, so we’ll see how his needs change as he becomes more comfortable at Mason Crest and reacclimates to English. But by the end of his first three days, he was getting additional time and targeted support with oral language, letter sounds, and counting based on our initial assessments. Donny already has multiple adults (kindergarten classroom teachers, ESOL teacher, special education teacher, speech pathologist, and literacy teacher) who not only know he exists, but have welcomed him and put a plan in place to ensure we are meeting him where he is and moving him forward together.

The “gift” we wish for every student and teacher is that the members of their school community will dedicate themselves to creating a place where professionals take collective responsibility for meeting the learning needs—academic, social, and emotional—of each student entrusted to them from their first day forward, just like they do at Mason Crest!

Categories: PLC

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