The Ballerina Mathematician

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 24 2012

Transformational Change

I had my first “Leadership Team” tonight–the second component of training in year two, at least in my region.  I am so energized!  It was such authentic, meaningful discussion amongst a group of brilliant, talented, modest, thoughtful peers.  I loved it.

One of the buzz words in TFA this year has been “transformational” change.  Our corps became pretty angry with the introduction of it at Orientation this year.  They paired the word with the number 2, because that’s how many of our classrooms are truly “transformational.”  Of course people became offended, and we hungered for a clear definition.  Who are those two CMs?  What are they doing that I’m not?  How can I make that happen?  What does transformational even MEAN?  I wasn’t particularly heated about it.  I have a very self-deprecating view of my teaching skills, so of course I’m not one of the two, and I understood transformational on a surface level.

For some reason though, the conversations I had tonight finally made it stick.  I’m not sure I can quite articulate my thoughts around it, but I’ll try.  We were shown a comparison between transformational classrooms and effective classrooms–the context, the teacher mindsets, the student actions, the overall goals.  When I read the context, it all clicked.  Transformational change is required when the context is working against that success.  Effective teachers work in schools where students are expected to succeed, do succeed, and it happens because the system functions and everyone’s working towards that goal.  And generally, not as much work is required when the kids have had years of effective schooling and have a stable, supportive life outside of the classroom.  Transformational means overcoming the dysfunctional structures, the failing systems, the poor leadership, the disbelief that success is possible, the years of learning very little…taking that situation and going above and beyond (using all that TFA training) so that the students don’t just learn a year’s worth of material but make dramatic growth that will endure and change their path.

Maybe this was obvious to everyone else, and perhaps I haven’t explained myself well, but for some reason it all made sense.  And it honestly made me feel so much better.  I do work harder than the teachers I had in high school.  I do so much more for my students, and I have to if I’m going to make a real difference.  It’s not that my former teachers are more talented than me, or that I’m better than them (not by a long shot), but it comes down to a drastic difference in context.  I’m doing a lot, and it’s for a reason.

We also brought up the isolation that can come from being that transformational teacher.  It’s not enough.  I’ll say that right now.  If I were an amazing, successful teacher and make a difference for every student…they still leave me.  They go on to a wide range of teachers and schools that could either have the supports to continue that transformation or not, causing a backward slide.  These kids need support from every teacher every year, and to do that we need better schools and better leaders in them.  I love that I get to explore that idea with this leadership team.  How can we keep awesome teachers in the classroom?  Leadership roles beyond principal (I don’t want to say “below” because I don’t see it that way) can allow those teachers to create change within their classrooms while also changing the school.  That’s definitely what I want to do.  Maybe it will be from an academic perspective like my position on the School Leadership Team or maybe it will be starting/supporting/running dance programs in public schools.  There’s so much potential.


In news related to my quest for a dance teacher job, I have an interview next Monday!!  I received an interview request less than two days after submitting my resume and cover letter, and I’m very excited.  It’s a dance teacher position at an elementary charter school nearby my current job–same kids, same area, just younger and in a much more fun atmosphere.  I had the chance to observe one of my friends teach a kinder theater class (she was an ’09 CM placed at my current school) and my heart melted.  I can’t wait to have fun every day, and give kids the chance to move and express themselves and even learn academics through movement.  I’m anxious to learn more about this school where I have an interview.  It appears to be a functioning school with many TFA alum.  What would it be like to work at a school with solid systems and structures, good leadership, and a staff full of driven achievers like me?

Also, I passed the PLACE test for PE!!  I’m on my way to making this dance endeavor official.  The excitement that comes from my thoughts of the future along with inspirational,  invigorating nights like tonight almost make up for the miserable feelings I have during most of my day.  This is unbelievably hard work, but I know in the end I’m going to use this incredible experience to do great things and impact education in my own way.  I wish I could hold onto this optimism!  It’ll likely be long gone by 3rd period tomorrow.

One Response

  1. Caroline

    I’m so proud of you Ashley! It seems like in your reflection, you’ve seen how the two years of hard work, sweat and tears has helped to transform YOU as a very determined person and teacher. I truly think that our TFA experiences gives us more than just classroom face time, but it pushes us to challenge ourselves to take on our passion insides of the context that we have been working in and make the best of what we are given! And I cannot wait to see you as a dance teacher next year! :)

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a dancer's adventure in teaching math

Middle School

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