Meet our Team: Heidi Towne

In this blog series, we are interviewing members of the CT3 team about their background in education as well as the expertise that they each bring to their work with educators across the country.

Why did you want to become a teacher/educator?

During my undergraduate program, I completed my practicum in psychology at the University of Michigan pre-school as a teaching assistant. It was during that time that I realized the importance having a quality early childhood education experience could have on impacting my student’s readiness for kindergarten. I had a wonderful lead teacher who mentored me and modeled the importance of building relationships with all students, always seeking to improve as an educator and ensuring that you used data to drive all aspects of your day while still creating a magical pre-school experience for students. After this experience, I was inspired to apply to Teach For America. I was accepted and taught Early Childhood in Chicago.

Tell us about your background in education.

I attended the University of Michigan and majored in Psychology and Women’s Studies. It was actually through my practicum courses that I was inspired to become an educator.

I joined Teach For America and was a Corps Member in the Chicago region. While teaching, I completed my Masters in Elementary School Education and Special Education. Since I was not traditionally certified, I spent all of my free time reading education books and attending professional development. In addition, I worked every summer at Teach For America’s Summer Institute as an Operations Manager, a Corps Member Advisor and as a School Director.

During my second year as a Corps Member, I had a wonderful coach named Patricia, who pushed me to constantly improve my practice, use data to ensure my students were learning and to use data to strategically inform all aspects of my day. I think this is when I truly fell in love with coaching and the impact it could have on not only my teaching practice, but also on my students’ learning, and after that I knew I wanted to continue to work with teachers to support them and their practice. After completing my commitment, I joined Teach For America’s staff supporting ECE and elementary school teachers across the New Orleans region. During this time, I was trained to become a Real Time Teacher Coach, which completely changed my trajectory in education. I was able to see the instant benefits of real time feedback on my teachers’ practice and on their students’ learning. I spent that time traveling around four different parishes coaching anywhere from 4-6 teachers per day in order to help them improve their practice rapidly!

What was your first teaching experience like? What did it teach you?

It was tough! I got my butt kicked, and honestly had no idea what I was doing!  I learned really quickly that I needed to ask a lot of questions, accept support and do whatever it took to get better!  I taught on Chicago’s southwest side and I had 20 early childhood students (who were the brightest group of students I have ever met). I loved my kids, but lacked a lot of fundamental skills to meet their needs. I remember very distinctly running out of things to do the first day of school! YIKES!

Needless to say, it was a very steep learning curve, but I knew I had to learn, and learn quickly, in order to meet my students’ needs. I also was not from the community that my school was in and did not share the background of any of my students. This meant that it was especially important for me to work on building relationships with them and learn more about the community where I was working in order to best meet my students’ needs.

During my first-year of teaching, I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful co-teacher who taught me so much and helped me to get better. Through her modeling and teaching, I learned the importance of high expectations, the importance of building relationships with students and consistency that truly helped shape the coach and educator that I am today.

Oh and about running out of things to do on the first day…I also learned about the importance of having meticulous and detailed lesson plans that were based on data and what my students needed, the importance of having consistent structures and routines and how to create a joyful, magical learning environment for students.

Do you have any regrets from your first few years of teaching that you wish you could do over? Why or why not?

OH MY GOSH, YES! I truthfully reflect on that year every day!  My first several months of teaching, I was so scared to give consequences because I didn’t want to be mean. I actually said those words (mindset anyone?). This actually was not what my students needed and didn’t help me build relationships with my students.

I also reflect every day on the one or two students that I didn’t build relationships with and what the impact was on their learning. If I could go back and do it again, I would start the year off holding high expectations and knowing that every single one of my students can and wants to be engaged and learning 100% of the time and that each of them deserves a loving and effective teacher who will not accept anything less than that. I was lucky because I was able to apply my learning directly the next year when I looped with almost all of my students!

What is your unique perspective when working with teachers and coaches?

I bring a lot of empathy to the work, because I did struggle so much my first-year teaching, but I also used the No-Nonsense Nurturer® model in my classroom, which lead to dramatic improvements in my student engagement and my relationships with all of my students. Now, I really work to invest teachers and coaches in the value of No-Nonsense Nurturer and Real Time Teacher Coaching® because I have seen the results in my own classroom and in the classrooms that I have coached.

What are you an ‘expert’ in besides CT3’s work?

I don’t know if I am an expert in this, but I am super passionate about supporting new teachers, which is where the majority of my experience has been. I am also extremely passionate about literacy and creating effective literacy routines in classrooms.

I also am an expert in celebrity pop culture, which may not be relevant to this blog…

What is your best advice for a first-year teacher or coach?

First-year teacher: Ask questions and seek to learn and understand! Building relationships with the staff, students and family members of my school made all the difference.

Coaches: Schedule your Real Time Teacher Coaching sessions first and hold them sacred on your calendar. Invest the rest of your staff in the importance of holding this time sacred as well.

If you could only tell educators ONE thing about No-Nonsense Nurturer, what would it be?

IT WORKS! I have experienced it and I see it every day! It is possible to have 100% of your students engaged 100% of the time!

What’s been your proudest moment working with students?

The picture included with this post was taken at the end of my first-year of teaching, when one of my students was able to write her name for the first time! This is a student that I did not start the year off having the best relationship with. She would run away from our classroom screaming every morning when her mother dropped her off for the first several months of school. This meant I had to spend a lot of time working to earn her trust, finding out what she liked, spending time with her and building a relationship with her family. I also spend a lot of time with this student working on her instructional needs in small groups and during one on one conferences. By the end of the year, she was able to identify all of her letters, their sounds and write her name. This is a picture of the first time she was able to write her name and I couldn’t have been prouder!