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Support, Feedback Led to Professional Growth

Elizabeth Brinkman

Systemic education reform is a complex undertaking and requires dedication and bravery on the part of all educators involved. It takes patience, hard work, and most importantly—time.

Kim Rice, a former special education teacher at Balsz Elementary School, had been teaching for several years when the Balsz Elementary School District began implementing the Rewarding Excellence In Instruction and Leadership (REIL-TNG) program. And despite her experience in the classroom, Rice felt she still needed to improve her skills.

Rice, currently the Education Program Specialist with the Arizona Department of Education, looks favorably upon the three years she spent working to improve her own classroom instruction.

“I was looking for this type of training for myself,” Rice said. “People learn in different ways and if we’re ever going to close the achievement gap, we need to ensure that we’re cutting through to the students’ critical thinking and depth of knowledge.”

REIL-TNG is a five-year initiative being implemented by the Maricopa County Education Service Agency (MCESA) with the aim of improving the quality of education for Arizona’s students. As part of the program, teachers are observed and evaluated five times each school year using the Learning Observation Instrument (LOI), a comprehensive rubric designed to help teachers

When the program first began, Rice was working towards her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and had just achieved National Board Certification.

“Three weeks later I had my first observation and I really struggled with it,” Rice said.

Unhappy with the results of that observation, the seasoned teacher decided to work on perfecting that very lesson in order to fully understand how to apply each of the 22 elements in the LOI.

“It took me the first year just to get my feet wet. By the second year, I was about two thirds of the way there with everything. By the third year, everything began to fall into place and I started to see the potential for all the elements in my lessons,” Rice said.

Using a notebook that would steadily grow in size as she added notes and collected reference materials over the next three years, Rice set out to understand her strengths and recognize opportunities for her own development as a teacher.

“I realized I didn’t know my curriculum as deeply as I needed to,” Rice said. “Through each lesson I gave, and each time I was evaluated, it became more and more clear to me what my shortcomings were. I found that some of my routines needed to be adjusted.”

Working closely with her supervisor and her MCESA Peer Evaluator, Lisa Santa Cruz, she began to see improvements not only in her evaluation scores but also in the way her students were learning the material she presented.

“She was extremely receptive to feedback and was truly reflective to questions and accepted offers of additional support,” Santa Cruz said.

It was precisely that receptiveness and reflection that led to Rice’s growth throughout her time working under the REIL-TNG program.

“I think people really need to understand that it’s a process. This is like starting over and thinking of things in a new way,” Rice said.