As a former teacher and teacher of teachers, Commissioner of Education, Candice McQueen’s heart is never far from the classroom. In this post, the commissioner recaps her recent stop in Dickson and Hickman Counties on the Classroom Chronicles tour.
By Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education
Over the past few years, we’ve raised expectations for Tennessee students, and on my visits to classrooms throughout the state, I’m encouraged by the students who are rising to the challenge of higher standards, as well as the teachers who are expertly guiding them on their path to college and career readiness.
While we’re refining our work to make sure all students are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need, we also recognize that readiness is about more than mastering academic standards. Students also need to develop the social and emotional skills that will prepare them for success in college and the workplace. That’s why I was so encouraged by the great work I saw happening when I visited Dickson and Hickman counties earlier this month. In both counties, students were not only engaged in the content, they were also actively developing their leadership and communication skills.
My day began at Creek Wood High School in Dickson County, where I was greeted by a group of poised and enthusiastic student government members. Creek Wood’s principal, Drew Williams, a former student of my own, shared that the student government assumed all of the responsibility for planning my visit to the school. This accomplishment is particularly impressive because the student government, led by faculty advisor Tina Romine, is in its first year of existence at Creek Wood.
The students prepared a delicious breakfast, shared a student-produced video that captured the spirit of Creek Wood, and coordinated my visits to six classrooms, where I observed several lessons that incorporated student leadership. Students in Jonny Palmore’s English III class were leading each other in a jigsaw activity reviewing language standards, and students were also supporting one another during a uniform check in the junior ROTC program, led by John Connor and Scott Loose.
I ended my time at Creek Wood participating in a productive, student-led discussion about educational issues, such as block scheduling, testing, and technology. The students who led this discussion were friendly, confident, and most importantly, they were passionate about a school community that they described as a family.
In nearby Hickman County, I also experienced a student-centered culture at East Hickman High School. Students in Todd Collins’s new mechatronics course were working together on group projects. The students I spoke with mentioned how the course was engaging not only because it was hands-on and improved their technical skills, but also because it was refining their problem-solving skills.
Down the hall, CTE teachers Jennifer Turpin and Keith Boehms facilitated a unique ACT preparation course for juniors. Students worked to prepare for the ACT in small groups, which were led by nine seniors who had scored well on the ACT in the past. As I visited with and observed different student groups, they were all actively engaged in analyzing practice problems with their senior mentors, and it was evident that they greatly enjoyed this peer-led model.
Farther down the road, students at Centerville Intermediate School were building their digital literacy skills. Fifth-grade teacher Kristen Powers led students in a high-energy math review using the Kahoot platform. Students were highly motivated by the interactive game, as they worked practice problems and made connections to prior learning, and Ms. Powers received real-time feedback about her students’ performance. Across the building, Jana Willis’s third-grade ELA students logged onto the Newsela website to closely read a non-fiction text. Students were practicing their reading skills, including identifying text features, as well as gaining familiarity with tools on the computer.
In both Dickson and Hickman Counties, teachers were entrusting students with significant responsibilities – whether it was planning an event with student government or leading each other in an instructional activity. By guiding these students through these meaningful opportunities, these teachers are equipping their students with the leadership and communication skills to ensure their future success as they embark on their chosen path in life.