School clips: Leading instruction for teachers and students

October 25, 2013

By LISA CAPOBIANCO
STAFF WRITER
One day Tawana Graham-Douglas, an instructional leader for literacy, stepped into an elementary school classroom in the Plainville Community Schools to assist a substitute teacher. She asked the class, “What would you be learning today if your teacher was here?”
Filled with excitement and desire in their eyes, the class answered, “We are learning about words, and how sounds work together.”
Graham-Douglas, who taught second grade for over a decade, saw the students’ desire to learn, and decided to teach them more about what they were learning.
“I taught second grade for quite some time, and I think I can teach you guys about that,” Douglas replied to the class.
Moments like those are ones that Douglas cherishes in her role as an educator in Plainville. Reflecting on that day when she helped students understand words and the sounds they make, Douglas said she has always enjoyed interacting with children and seeing their desire to learn in the classroom.
“I saw their faces, and you know they want to be better spellers, you know they want to be better readers, and you know they want to be better writers,” Douglas said with a smile.
This year is the first in 14 in which Douglas has not taught second grade. As an instructional leader for literacy at all three elementary schools in town, Douglas said she now interacts with teachers and students, co-teaching reading and writing lessons, as well as observing students’ work. Her goals center around seeing tools and techniques that work in each classroom of Wheeler, Linden Street, and Toffolon Elementary Schools, and how to emulate them across the district.
“I love what I do now because it gives me the opportunity to work with children, to work in the classroom with teachers, but to also design the curriculum and to really think deeply about the instruction that we are providing for children,” Douglas said.
Besides her role in the classroom, Douglas said she also feels proud of working as a team with her colleagues on various committees she has served on. She worked on the math cadre for 12 years, and piloted a new common core-based program that increases the rigor for students. She has also served as a member of the Language Arts committee, in which she helped implement a new instructional framework for reading and writing. It has enhanced students’ engagement in both areas, said Douglas.
“I am extremely proud of the work that the teams I have been on…and the level of collaboration that we have had,” said the 2012-2013 Teacher of the Year. “It seems like we are working together for the greater good, and the greater good would be educating children.”
Although Douglas’s passion for educating children has shined through her work in and outside the classroom, she originally had another career in mind years ago.
“It is so interesting the way I came into teaching,” Douglas said.  “For some reason, I grew up wanting to go to law school, and go into something like family law.”
After visiting a variety of different law schools with her husband, Douglas decided to enroll an accelerated program at University of New Haven to save up money for law school. Under the program, Douglas could become a certified teacher while receiving her master’s degree at the same time. The program also required Douglas to intern at a school.
“I remember walking through Wheeler Elementary School, and thinking this is where I want to be—this is where I belong,” Douglas said. “Once I started talking to kids, sitting side by side with them and listening to them, it was as if this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
From that moment on, Douglas said she has never thought once about law school, and early on, seeing her colleagues’ passion as well as seeing students grow inspired her to stay in the education field.
“The only time I think about [law] is when someone asks me,” Douglas said. “What was at the root of me wanting to be a lawyer centered around helping families and helping children.”
When not instructing teachers and students, Douglas, a Bristol resident, enjoys traveling to historic cities such as Boston with her nieces and nephews. She also participates in civic organizations including Habitat for Humanity and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
Comments? Email lcapobianco@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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