As I near the end of my time in graduate school, I can’t help but reflect back on how much I’ve learned and grown over the past eight courses. One of my favorite quotes is, “We are not beginners forever, but we never stop learning.” This quote by Sandra Scofield explains my life as a professional so well. Although I have learned and grown so much as an educator over the past seven years in my classroom, I must never stop learning, growing and educating myself in all things education. My time in graduate school at the University of West Alabama Online over the past year has allowed me to do just that – continue learning, along with acquiring skills of how to become a forever learner.
Throughout my time at UWA Online, I have had a wide variety of classes that have molded me into a well-rounded instructional leader. From learning about running a school to the importance of technology in the classroom, the wide variety of classes has molded me into a better instructor. Although all the courses I mentioned above have taught me so much about becoming an instructional leader in the future, my favorite class that I have had the opportunity to take has been my instructional leadership internship/residency class.
Why did I love my residency so much? Overall, I enjoyed the hands-on experience and the research I got to conduct. Nothing beats learning from an expert in the field you want to be in. During my residency, I was able to learn from instructional leaders at the elementary, middle and high school levels. I was able to take part in meetings and help make decisions. I was also able to help plan events and set goals, and I truly feel like I grew as an instructional leader. I am more confident in my ability to lead adults towards a central goal, and I also understand and have seen the effects of how important it is to build strong relationships with parents and students.
Throughout my time as an educator, I have been working with students in my classroom, but one big difference in instructional leadership is the importance in working well with adults. The idea of working with adults was a bit scary to me because parents and teachers can be intimidating! While working with expert instructional leaders during my residency, I was able to pick up several important skills that make me feel so much more confident in my ability to work with and manage adults.
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First, I learned the importance of listening. Often times, employees and parents just want their opinions and concerns to be heard. I was able to watch my mentors be active listeners and see firsthand how listening to concerns can be almost as important as addressing them. Another skill that I learned during my internship is the importance of giving faculty members a voice in what is happening around the school. It was amazing to me to see the difference in schools that I visited where teachers felt like they had input versus schools where the administration made all the big decisions. Faculty members should be involved in important conversations because their buy-in is so incredibly important in the success of the school.
During my instructional leadership residency, I was also responsible for completing my capstone project. This capstone project served as a culminating academic experience where I was able to pose a question and explore the topic through research. I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the class because I was able to investigate a need that my current school has, research it and create a plan that my school could actually use. I loved that I was able to pick a topic I wanted to grow in a realistic way.
For my capstone project, I chose to research the importance of guided reading instruction in elementary school classrooms (grades kindergarten through fifth grade). This is an area that my school is focusing on to grow more well-rounded readers. I enjoyed being able to take the research my school had already conducted, along with new research and student test data, to create a thorough plan that could be used. I was also able to take my research and implement my findings immediately in my fifth-grade classroom.
My time at UWA Online has been nothing short of incredible. From my very first class, I have had incredible instructors, knowledgeable advisors, and I have added something to my instructional leadership tool belt from every single class I have taken. Thanks to the information and skills I’ve learned during my time in the online masters in instructional leadership program, I am now equipped to continue growing, learning and becoming a better educator for the rest of my career.
This blog post was written by guest contributor Katie Smith of Adventures of Ms. Smith. Katie is a fifth-grade teacher in Alabama, as well as a student at University of West Alabama Online. You can follow her on her blog or on Instagram @adventuresofmssmith_.