Cabahugs“As it turns out, the things I thought I was great at were not really that important to students’ learning. My A+ Coach opened my eyes to practices that have greater impact. …Turns out my wife was right.”

Ellen Cabahug, an English Language Arts specialist at Caraway Middle School in Aldine ISD, had a lot to say over the dinner table to her husband and fellow teacher, Jeer, about Houston A+ Challenge and its impact on her school.  Two years later, Jeer got to experience the impact for himself when Stovall Middle School, where he teaches 8th grade math, joined the A+ Challenge Network.  Ellen and Jeer shared their story with 300 guests at the 2013 Power of the Network benefit dinner.

Ellen: I’d worked as an English Language Arts specialist at my school, Caraway, for several years before A+ came to my school. I felt pretty confident about what I was doing – helping teachers prepare materials for lessons, and leading our school’s English Language Arts department. But then our A+ coach, Jeni, started bringing in new ideas and research. She talked about the benefits of using literature rather than worksheets to teach reading and writing. Students learn to love reading, and they become lifelong readers and learners. It seems so obvious now, but we were using a lot of worksheets before. Now we are working on building classroom libraries and letting students select books that are at their level and that are interesting to them. There are other ways that we’re changing how we teach. We’re constantly looking for ways to deepen learning and challenge students’ thinking.

These new ideas and practices have changed the way I think about my role in the school. We are all learners now. We’re not satisfied with our kids just passing state tests.  We are asking ourselves, “What do our students need to be successful in life?” The teachers and school leaders are developing skills that help us reach all kids where they are and inspire them.  A+ is helping us do it.

Jeer: My beautiful wife kept saying how amazing A+ is and how it opened her eyes to real teaching.  Every time we talked about teaching, A+ came into the conversation.  There came a point when I told her, “Please stop raving about A+!” 2 years later, A+ came to our school, and finally I was able to fully understand the program.  I was the leader of the whole math team – 10 teachers – so though I wasn’t initially one of the teachers receiving coaching, I wanted to know what was going on. I knew our coach, Dave, had something interesting to share. So he came, I questioned, investigated, asked for proof. Every night, my wife asked me whether I had opened my doors to A+ yet. She said, “what is there to lose? I’m your wife, just believe me!” I always believed that I was one of the best teachers in school, and part of being the best is continuing to improve.   So I convinced my principal to include me in the coaching so I could lead the whole math team to improve.

Today, Dave and I are a work in progress, and our progress is quick.  I have learned so much in three months: as it turns out, the things I thought I was great at were not really that important to students’ learning. Dave opened my eyes to practices that have greater impact. One reason I opened my doors to A+ is that Dave has the title of Coach.  I am a championship-winning soccer coach, and I know for a fact that I can see from a distance what my players should do to succeed, often better than they can see themselves.  I believe Dave can do the same my class. You might be asking: What impact does this coaching have on my class? Now, when the math team does our lesson planning, I make sure what we’re doing is for the success of students and not mere busy work. When I’m in class, I make a conscious effort to gear my teaching toward students’ learning. I teach 105 students, and because I lead the math team, about 490 8th grade students at Caraway do work that I have suggested. My school is a new partner school for A+ and I am excited about the direction that we are going.  Turns out my wife was right.

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