Team Instruction Takes Root at Sterling Elementary – Shaw Local

STERLING — Melissa Heaton and Amber Bianchi, teachers at Jefferson Elementary School, joined forces this year to teach kindergarten as a “team-taught” class. They say it has allowed them to create a more meaningful classroom experience for their students.

Heather Wittenauer, principal at Jefferson, said team teachers can focus on problem solving. They can meet the needs of each student.

“It has been exciting to watch as these two educators work daily to create the best possible lessons for their students,” Wittenhauer said. “Both teaching styles enhance the overall quality of lessons and cater to all levels that are fundamentally appropriate in their classroom. This is an example of effective team teaching.

Teachers also take turns presenting lessons, which enhances the curriculum and ultimately pushes students to meet the expectations they will need for the first year.

Bianchi, 47, and Heaton, 46, said the kindergarten team-teaching approach was a first for both of them and although hesitant at first, they came to appreciate the method.

It provides mutual support, above all. But they also benefit from their past experiences. Each acts as a sounding board, listening to one another and bouncing effective lesson plans off of each other. They have come to recognize how practical and effective the process is in meeting the diverse needs of the classroom.

Bianchi leads math instruction while Heaton leads reading instruction. The other teacher assists.

They also meet small groups in both areas. In this way, Bianchi is able to give more time to students with special needs.

“We work very well together and team up no matter what situation arises,” says Bianchi. “When I teach math, she walks around to help the students. And I do the same while reading it. We feed off each other and the students love the attention they get from two teachers. Our expectations of students are the same in terms of behavior, which is also very helpful. »

Melissa Heaton, a kindergarten teacher at Jefferson School, helps a student with schoolwork Thursday, April 7, 2022 at school.

Heaton agrees.

“It was an eye-opening experience to discover our strengths and weaknesses, not only in ourselves, but also in each other,” says Heaton. “We have found that we are most effective when one teaches and the other assists in teaching the whole group.”

Bianchi’s teaching philosophy is that every child is unique and has different learning styles. It’s his job to reach out to every child and build on what he knows and what he needs to learn.

“Every day is a new day,” says Bianchi, “and no matter how one day behaves, tomorrow is a new day. I want to have a positive impact on children’s lives and engage them in reflection and learning. significant.

Bianchi, who lives in Rock Falls, has a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and is working on her special education certificate to become a learning behavior specialist. In her 16th year of teaching, Bianchi taught kindergarten and second grade at St. Andrews for 13 years before coming to Jefferson. This is her first year of special education in kindergarten.

She has been married to Cory Bianchi for almost 26 years and they have four children, twins, 22, Cade and Easton, and daughters, Mattea, 20, and Sophia, 17.

Heaton, who lives in Sterling, has a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Western Illinois University and a master’s degree in literacy. She also has an endorsement from Northern Illinois University in the discipline of English as a Second Language. This is his 21st year teaching kindergarten at Sterling Public Schools, having spent the first seven years at Franklin before coming to Jefferson.

Heaton and her husband Bill have two boys: Kael, 18, and Zach, 16. They have eight grandchildren and two older stepchildren, Billy and Brittany. “Mimi’s life is the best!” said Heaton.

Both women credit their own childhood teachers as their inspiration.

Bianchi noted the influence of her sixth grade teacher at St. Andrews, Norma McDonald.

Students in Melissa Heaton's kindergarten class

“I knew I wanted to work with kids and hopefully make a difference in their lives,” Bianchi said. “I love teaching and every day is different.”

Heaton says she has always enjoyed being around young children and often babysat her nieces and nephews through high school.

When it came time to choose a career, she thought of Mrs. Miller, her third grade teacher at Lanark Elementary School.

“She inspired me to become a teacher because of the relationships she built with the students,” Heaton said. “She was the kind of teacher who made you feel good, made you want to learn, and gave you extra time by building relationships with students. I always hoped to have that kind of impact on my students.

Both teachers have found that the hardest part of their jobs is teaching students who face challenges and challenges at home.

But, also, the education system‘s higher expectations for 5- and 6-year-olds, coupled with COVID-19 masking restrictions, have made it even more difficult. When kindergarteners learn phonics, they need to see faces and mouth movements for each letter.

“COVID learning loss and the effects of the past few years have got to be the biggest challenge for educators,” Heaton said. “I believe the effects of the shift in teaching from in-person to remote learning and a combination of the two will leave a lasting impact for years to come.”

Yet both teachers remain steadfast in their dedication to the students.

“I love students and they are the reason I do what I do,” says Bianchi.

“It’s not just the little things that happen daily in a kindergarten classroom, but also the big accomplishments,” adds Heaton. “The daily hugs, the smiles, telling me their stories and witnessing small triumphs and hearing ‘I did it.’ It’s also the big accomplishments you see at the end of the year.

Such great achievements are that a child who was not able to read his name or name the letters of the alphabet was able to read simple text by the end of the year.

“Despite the challenges of the past year due to COVID, it’s truly a privilege and a job that I love,” says Heaton.

Each year, Wittenauer gives all Jefferson teachers a t-shirt with a motto for the year: This year’s t-shirt had one word, “Teach.”

Now that some normalcy is returning, including the lifting of mask requirements, Bianchi and Heaton are focusing on what they love and do best.

Both thanked the staff, teaching peers and administration, especially Wittenauer, for recognizing the potential of team teaching dynamics.

“Teaching as a team has allowed me to create more meaningful lessons and experiences to ensure that all students in our class are able to thrive,” says Heaton.

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