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Volunteering to Learn, Part Three

Volunteering in classrooms has greatly impacted my teaching practice. Last week I shared about Mrs. Kertz’s ability to reinforce positive behaviors and differentiate instruction in her first grade class. In this post, I’ll open the door to Ms. Whitaker’s middle school English classroom.



Creative, enthusiastic, and engaging! Anyone who walked into Ms. Judie Whitaker’s classroom at Carver Middle School immediately thought of these three adjectives. You could feel the energy even without anyone in the classroom, and when the bell rang, the students added to the excitement. The walls and bulletin boards were full of interesting academic information and inspiring messages that captured your attention. After volunteering in Ms. Whitaker’s English class, I knew I wanted to encourage my students to explore their interests in a supportive environment. This skill is a challenging one to master and was accomplished by Ms. Whitaker coaching her students, instead of explicitly instructing the class.

Ms. Whitaker believed in clear expectations and rubrics to keep her students informed and motivated. When volunteering, I observed groups of students working to complete projects, holding each student accountable throughout the process. The students’ high level of engagement did not just happen though. The structure of Ms. Whitaker’s teaching provided students the freedom to explore their interests and be creative due to her supportive environment and clear evaluation rubrics. I accomplished this in my own classroom by allowing students to collaborate on projects and activities that encouraged multiple solutions. Creating heterogeneous groups has worked best to support collaboration and allowed me to successfully embed higher order questions and inquiry activities into every lesson.

Developing the support structure for productive collaboration was rooted in the strong relationships Ms. Whitaker built with her students and their families. Students’ interests were incorporated into her lessons and certainly into her conversations with students. Just as Mrs. Kertz at Skeen Elementary School respected each student for his or her unique abilities, Ms. Whitaker did too.


Do not miss the small opportunities that present themselves each day to talk with your students. Whether the communication is on the playground, in the lunch line, or even at a basketball game, it all adds up. Strong relationships directly influence students’ beliefs in their abilities to learn as well as to have growth mindsets toward their academic achievements.


I can not wait for you to #LEARNWITHME again next week when I share Mrs. Karyl Elton’s strategies. In the meantime, I hope you will try applying some of the relationship building techniques Mrs. Kertz and Ms. Whitaker shared with me.

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