After spending several years working as a team as developmental coaches for Vancouver Public Schools, Kelly Hathaway and Tara Campbell discovered they had the desire to return to the classroom
Tara Campbell and Kelly Hathaway, two sixth-grade English Language Arts (ELA) teachers at Woodland Middle School who previously worked as professional developmental coaches for Vancouver Public Schools, rediscovered their passions for classroom teaching and working together as a team thanks to Woodland Public Schools’ emphasis on collaboration and teamwork across grades and schools throughout the district.
After spending several years working together as a team as developmental coaches for Vancouver Public Schools helping other teachers hone their craft, Hathaway and Campbell both discovered they had the desire to return to the classroom. Hathaway made the switch first, returning to the classroom in 2018 by taking a job at Woodland Middle School after living in the area for years. “I really grew to love the schools and the community feeling of Woodland,” she said. “Since I knew I wanted to return to the classroom, when the opportunity arose to teach here, I took it.”
Campbell continued coaching for Vancouver but kept in touch with her colleague who regaled her with stories about her experiences back in the classroom. “As teaching mentors, we took classes about what helps make great teachers even better and I found myself wanting to do the things I was teaching in professional development,” said Campbell. “Kelly raved about her experiences in Woodland so, when a position opened up, I threw my hat in the ring.”
Campbell and Hathway returned to working together as a team once again when Campbell started at Woodland Middle School in the 2021-2022 school year. “Since this is our first year together, everything is new once again,” said Hathaway. “We’re going through everything making plans, and what’s really exciting is what’s to come!”
Before she started at Woodland Middle School last fall, Campbell only taught elementary grades. In middle school, she discovered she enjoys being able to refine a new lesson since she gets to teach it several times a day to different classes where, in elementary school, teachers stay with the same students and must move from one subject to the next. “I took the leap to middle school and I’m awfully glad I did,” said Campbell. “I love having the opportunity to plan a great lesson and then refine it throughout the day, plus I get to build relationships with kids to help them access their learning over time.”
When Hathaway started her career, she thought she wanted to be an elementary teacher, but Vancouver Public Schools assigned her to a middle school instead. “Being placed in middle school was the best possible thing for me,” said Hathaway. “While it takes a lot of energy to teach this age group, I laugh every day because the kids are so much fun; since they’re older, they’re capable of amazing higher-level thinking, so it’s the best of both worlds teaching the age between elementary and high school.”
Campbell and Hathaway use technology to help enhance their lessons while still focusing students on the importance of reading at a deeper level. “We teach kids that reading is about more than simply finding evidence in the text to support a project or idea,” explained Campbell. “While we do read to learn more about strategies and skills, we think with our hearts, too – how do the emotions and thoughts you feel and have while reading impact the way we write? We want to help kids learn that connectedness, too.”
To help encourage students to read for fun, the sixth grade ELA team holds First Chapter Fridays where students hear the first chapter from a new book in a new genre each week. “We introduce our classes to new genres of reading so the students learn how different genres affect the style of writing,” said Hathaway. “Then, we raffle off who gets to borrow the book first, challenging our students with the 10 Book Challenge where they read ten novels by the end of each semester.”
Since studies show that student learning improves substantially when lessons are coordinated from one grade level to the next, collaboration and teamwork across grades remain a top priority for Woodland’s teaching teams district-wide. For this collaborative teaching to take place, trust is key both at the grade-level as well as school-wide. “Teaming up with Kelly has been wonderful – since we worked closely together previously, we know what our strengths are and how to team together well,” said Campbell.
“Trusting your teammate is huge – you want to be able to trust that your teammate will do what she says and do it to the quality you expect which is exactly what happens with Kelly and me.”
By working as teaching teams across grade levels, Woodland Middle School’s teachers coordinate their lessons, so skills students learn in one grade are developed and enhanced in the next. Both Campbell and Hathaway attribute a lot of this capability to how Woodland Public Schools encourages collaboration as a district. “Woodland lets us build relationships as an entire system,” explained Hathaway. “We come together to build a school-wide curriculum that provides kids with the skills they need to learn, and work year-over-year to use common language and terminology as an entire ELA team.”
Both Campbell and Hathaway see Woodland’s smaller size as a boon to student learning. “Being a small community, the kids have been together for some time, and have developed relationships over the years,” said Campbell. Hathaway agreed, “As a smaller district, the district team is more accessible and provides us with an incredible amount of support so we get to build relationships with both the kids and the community – it’s been awesome.”
Learn more about how Woodland Public Schools educates students and serves the community by visiting the dedicated news webpage at www.woodlandschools.org/news/wsd.
Information provided by Woodland School District.