Always a learner: From teaching to coaching | The Chalkboard Project

Always a learner: From teaching to coaching

Thursday, November 30, 2017 Jenny Gillet Chalkboard illustration of a man walking up steps

Growing up I never really found my niche at school. I don’t remember a lot of dynamic teaching and never felt truly inspired or encouraged. After majoring in psychology at Virginia Tech, I moved to Portland, studied acting, played drums in rock bands, and waited tables.

I didn’t realize until later how passionate I am about learning. That’s why I went to graduate school at Lewis & Clark to become a teacher—to have the impact on kids that I missed.

I wound up teaching 6th grade at Floyd Light Middle School in the David Douglas District, and that’s where I got involved with Chalkboard through the CLASS Project.  I got an email about serving on a design committee. And from the very first meeting I remember it felt completely different from anything I’d done. We came together on the same level—superintendent, principals, teachers—to have a conversation about how we were going to change the system.

As a teacher, I realized this was as an opportunity to bring my voice to something bigger. It was such an exciting moment in my career. It was an opportunity to talk about my practice in a positive way, in terms of seeing the possibilities of how things could be different and better.

I try to bring the teacher’s perspective to my work now at Chalkboard. Having worked in the classroom recently gives me a strong skillset. I’m able to establish rapport with teachers and understand the direct impact of professional learning. When talking about the Danielson framework for teacher evaluations, for example, I not only know the standards inside and out, I can also explain how they helped me shape my own practice as an effective teacher.

I enjoy working with teachers, especially introducing them to new ideas and innovations they might not know about because they’ve had their heads down working so hard. I want to show them there is hope in improving a system that may seem limiting or even broken.

That’s where improvement science comes into the process—turning that hope into real change, focusing your effort, measuring what you’re doing so you can dial in on the specifics to develop what’s working and get rid of whatever isn’t producing results. And I like that it works with large- and small-scale projects through PDSA cycles. [Improvement science term for the process of developing a plan to test a change (Plan), carrying out the test (Do), observing and learning from results (Study), and determining what changes should be made (Act).]

The job is a lot harder that I thought it would be. I’ve gotten to work with different districts: Hood River, Dallas, Mt. Angel St. Paul, Jewell, Colton. And each one is unique. You have to be able understand the culture and the relationships within each district.

You could say I learned a lot in a year and a half at Chalkboard. And that’s perfect with me, because I’m a learner. We live in a world where being a learner isn’t always valued as much as it should be. But I’ve always tried to emphasize, whether it was in my work as a teacher or now as a coach, that it’s ok to ask questions to be constantly learning. This brings me to another important part of the job—working with other coaches. As a teacher you often feel isolated, because teachers often hold on to the concept of “my kids” and “my class”.  At Chalkboard, Julie [Smith, director of educator effectiveness and innovation] and the other coaches are always drawing on each other’s experience and expertise. We may come from varied backgrounds and have different strengths, but we’re all learners.

Jenny Gillet is a Chalkboard coach and works with Mt. Angel, Jewell, Dallas, Hood River, and St. Paul school districts in support of their state-funded School District Collaboration Fund grant. To learn more about Jenny, visit our Staff page.

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