Mindy Dorfman is in her 25th year of teaching at Richard Wright Elementary in North Philadelphia. She hastaught nearly every grade there, and has now taught her students’ children. She’s a mom to her 13 year oldson, and wife to a very understanding person. She loves books, walks in the woods, good food, and great friends. In this blog, Mindy reflects on five things she’s most thankful for this year, including Wit & Wisdom.
I have taught first grade in inner city Philadelphia for 25 years. In those years, I have seen many programs come and go, usually with little fanfare, and even less preparation and support for teachers. Then my dreams came true. We adopted Wit & Wisdom, a new curriculum that challenges and excites me! Training was interesting and engaging, and the presenters knew their pedagogy. As the year progressed, I became even more grateful for the curriculum and its impact on my school. This list expresses my gratitude for all the supportive people and materials needed to make this curriculum work.
#1 — My Principal, a True Instructional Leader
My principal and the selection committee considered several different curricula. However, they saw through the basal inadequacies and realized how much students could grow in thinking, knowledge, and — it’s true — test scores with this new program from Great Minds. When she described Wit & Wisdom at our end-of-year meeting, I wanted to pinch myself. A curriculum built on actual children’s literature, that would place real books in the hands of children who often struggle to reach the library. It was too good to be true. A curriculum with ideas that would stretch our children’s thinking in ways we never had before. A curriculum that treats the teacher as a trusted colleague who knows her children and what they need, not as a robot who must read a certain paragraph on a certain day. When can I start?
#2 — Beautiful Books
Of course, second on my gratitude list is the library of amazing titles of real literature coming into my room in class quantities. We had beautiful books to place into our first graders’ hands! My colleagues and I planned our lessons for the first texts. We began with Module Zero, a set of activities to establish our classroom culture and systems while introducing students to Wit & Wisdom instructional routines. We paged through the planning guide and discovered that the first read aloud, Wild About Books by Judy Sierra, was one I had read to my own son when he was young! I ordered the book with a sense that this curriculum was going to finally meet our needs.
#3 — Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone
This one may sound odd, but third on my list is the frustration and feelings of inadequacy this program brought out in me. Wit & Wisdom has pushed me to walk in areas far outside my comfort zone. It has made me question many decisions, and, as a result, I have revitalized my teaching. I have to think, plan, and teach creatively. I have to model and scaffold, model and scaffold, and then, model and scaffold some more. I have thought deeply about language, and how one actually has a conversation, so I can break down skills like noticing and wondering for students. This year, I have realigned my role in the classroom, dancing a dance with students that is both incredibly frustrating and also very worthwhile. Now, I actually see the children stretching and beginning to pick up systems, language, and deep thinking from Wit & Wisdom.
#4 — Students Who Love to Learn
Although they are always number one in my heart, my students are next on my gratitude list. They are brave to put themselves out there in a community of learners, everyday. They come in and try their hardest — drawing pictures, writing words, and thinking deep thoughts. Our room is a safe space to make mistakes, and we make them, often. That is the beauty of this program — it allows us to come back to an idea if the kids do not get it the first time. Essential concepts show up in each unit, helping students grow with support.
#5 — My Fellow Teachers
Last, but not least, are my incredible colleagues — those I have known for years, and those I have met through Wit & Wisdom. The teachers in my school have such rich ideas about how to develop the curriculum. By building off of each other, we grow ourselves. We grouch and grumble, lamenting the hard work before us, but at the end of the day we walk into our classrooms and teach our hearts out, working to bring our children the chances and choices they deserve. The folks from Great Minds who support us through professional development are knowledgeable, caring, and always willing to listen. We discuss how it is okay to have a lesson bomb, and that it will inevitably happen in the beginning. We brainstorm how to make time for the whole lesson. We figure out why things are not working, and what needs to change. Most of all, I feel heard, respected, and that my opinion matters. This collaboration with colleagues is the cornerstone of successful teaching.
This season, I smile and give thanks that I am lucky enough to have these five supports, inspired by a (hopefully) world-changing curriculum.