Ross Local Schools, Hamilton, OH
I’ll be forever indebted to my cooperating teacher for student teaching, Mrs. Virginia “Ginny” Gills. She taught me many important and valuable things that have served me well in my career as an educator. I hope every teacher has the opportunity to work with someone like her–a positive attitude towards the profession, caring towards her students and peers, strong pedagogical skill, and a generally cheery disposition. In case you weren’t blessed to work with someone like her, or are looking for something that could bolster your language program, I hope to share one of the many lessons that Ginny taught me that continues to resound in my classroom and impact my practices.
Mrs. Gills taught in a diverse department, with several other teachers of Spanish, as well as peers that taught French and German. She was the department chair, respected and esteemed among her peers, and willing to take risks such as applying for a grant (which we got) during the semester I was there. But among the greatest and most effective thing she modeled and ingrained in my practice, however, was the importance of what another esteemed colleague has since deemed “French Braiding.”
With such a diverse department, Ginny knew that her students might go on to continue their language study with a peer. With that in mind, she was observant and alert to her peers’ practices, and made it her goal to integrate and reflect at least some of what each of her peers were doing in her own classroom. Her rationale was that it would prepare her students for what they would face in any other classroom once they moved on from her courses. So, she played games in class to get students ready for the “gaming” teacher, she did a little bit of TPRS to prepare them for the “TPRS” teacher, and projects to mirror the “project-based” teacher..
The result of this was that Mrs. Gills’ classes were always engaging–students had a diverse array of activities to participate in and a diverse set of assessments to demonstrate their skills. Additionally, her students were able to adapt seamlessly in her peers’ classrooms, well prepared with not only a variety of skills, but also a level of comfort with different teaching methodologies and activities.
This weaving, or taking of a piece of what one colleague does and adding it to what another colleague does, and carrying on with that pattern, is akin to French braiding. The end product is a beautiful and cohesive pattern, fortified by the strength of many pieces coming together to form a whole unit.
In my own practice, I’ve tried to weave in pieces from colleagues not only in my own building, but with pieces from colleagues that blog and share their practices and activities via conferences and professional development. The result, much like what I saw in Mrs. Gills’ classrooms, is fun and engaging, not only for students, but also for me, as we try out new activities and strategies to see how they work.
If you’re not already French-braiding, or if you are but you’re looking to a few new ribbons or pieces to add to your already beautiful and cohesive unit, consider joining OFLA at the conference in Cleveland in April 2018. Go ahead, grab hold of a new activity or strategy, and start integrating it into your practice!