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  • Debra in class

    Third grade teacher Debra Minahan has established a strong partnership with Bilingual Resource Teacher Rosalia Gittens, pictured here.

  • Gittens working with students

    Just as Gittens and Minahan collaborate, so too do their students. They’ve helped their students find joy in working together, pushing each other and helping one another.

  • Group discussion

    Challenging other students sometimes means being wrong, but that’s OK. "It’s OK if we’re wrong, but we have to back our answers up," Minahan explains.

  • Students working on a homework assignment together

    It’s powerful to see students discussing a text together, debating, questioning each other, and digging deep," says Minihan.

  • A large group of smiling students

    "They’re really like one family, a really great, positive classroom community," says Mendota Principal Carlettra Standford of Ms. Minahan's and Ms. Gittens' classroom.

  • Students studying silently

    "It’s a rigorous class," notes Stanford. "They have high expectations for all of their students."



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"At Mendota we call all our students scholars," Principal Carlettra Stanford notes, pointing to one classroom in particular as the perfect example of one in which students truly understand what that means. "They’re really like one family, a really great, positive classroom community."

Third grade teacher Debra Minahan has established a strong partnership with Bilingual Resource Teacher Rosalia Gittens. Through their partnership, and the culture they’ve fostered, their students have seen major growth over the 2015-16 school year:

  • 86% of their students met their growth target in Reading.
  • 87.5% of English Language Learners (ELLs) met their growth target in Reading.
  • The class had the highest growth percentage out of all Mendota’s third, fourth and fifth grade classrooms in Reading and Math.
  • The class had the second-highest percentage of students who measured proficient in Reading.

The pair, who are in their second year of teaching together, recently sat down with Principal Stanford to talk about what they did over the school year to help their students achieve such success.

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In large part, Minahan credits their strong collaboration and respect for one another. "We trust each other" to want the best for all the students in the classroom. "Rosie doesn’t just work with my ELLs, she works with every student in my classroom."

For Gittens, she felt that respect right away. From the start, Minahan asked for her feedback: How am I doing? What do I need to change? "Nobody had ever asked me that!" Gittens says.

If Minahan is teaching a lesson and something is not clicking, she’s very good about saying, "Do you want to jump in?" That helps "not only our ELLs but our entire class," Gittens says.

Principal Stanford says that’s obvious when you step into their classroom. The students pick up on that respect."They do view both teachers as their classroom teacher," Stanford says, adding that "Both seek feedback and reflect on what they can do differently. Not what the student can do differently. But what they can do differently to help the student to achieve."

Because Gittens felt empowered and welcome in the classroom, she felt comfortable starting informal conversations with Minahan about what she noticed about particular students and how she believed they could help them reach their growth targets.

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Another important piece to their class’ collective success is that they are student-centered, always focusing their conversations on how to pinpoint individual student needs. Do you notice so and so is struggling with that lesson? What can we do about it so he can be back learning with the rest of the classroom?

The answer can often be found in the strong curriculum they’ve built together, which includes material that really connects to their students' lives and that is culturally relevant.

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Just as Gittens and Minahan collaborate, so too do their students. They’ve helped their students find joy in working together, pushing each other and helping one another. Minahan says that this is something Mendota has focused on as a school this year. It’s powerful to see students discussing a text together, debating, questioning each other, and digging deep.

Challenging other students sometimes means being wrong, but that’s OK. "It’s OK if we’re wrong, but we have to back our answers up," Minahan explains. It’s part of the growth mindset they’ve instilled, letting students know that "we may not all be on the same level but if we work hard, our brains will keep growing at the same rate."

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"It’s a rigorous class," notes Stanford. "They have high expectations for all of their students." Gittens says it’s important to believe in all your students, knowing that they can go above and beyond. She points to an example of a student who began the year below proficiency and ended the year at an advanced level "because we believe in him."

Along with those high expectations comes celebrating their progress toward meeting them. "One of the great things that they do," Stanford says, "is they let students know how they’re performing." When the winter MAP data came back, students were presented with certificates and celebrated their growth and learning as a class. "They were really proud of the work they had done." It’s important that teachers don’t hold onto the data, but that they let students know what it is they have to work on and talk about the progress they’ve made and how proud they are, Stanford says.

Hear the rest of the conversation below.

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