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With a Little Help from My Friends!


Laurie Stenehjem, a graduate of North Dakota State University and a teacher with more than 25 years experience, is a mentor in the Grand Forks Middle School Resident Teacher Program. Laurie and first-year teacher Kimberly Johnson share their journal entries with Education World readers in alternating weeks.

A favorite story in my family tells of a young friend on his first day of school. Tightly clutching his mother's hand, he entered the kindergarten room. As the children gathered at tables in the center of the room, the parents stood back. After a few moments, his face clearly showing a rising sense of panic, John motioned for his mom to join him. As she knelt beside him, he whispered, "Get my friends around me! Get my friends around me!" Over the years, my family has found many opportunities to quote young John.

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I recently returned from a short retreat with the Secondary Program Area faculty from the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of North Dakota. We spent the first morning sitting on the sun porch of an old restored inn, talking about what we wanted for the graduates of our program. The conversation continued throughout the afternoon and into the late evening, when we ended up gathered around a large conference table inside the inn, discussing how to make our vision happen.

As a Johnny-come-lately to the world of higher education and as someone who still spends most of her time in a middle school, I was on a learning adventure. The people I was with are educators who truly want the very best learning experiences for students everywhere, and they work toward that goal by preparing excellent teachers to send out into the world. I know they worry that they may view secondary school from an "ivory tower" perspective, and I was aware that my presence was a way to help keep them connected to the "real world." I loved having the opportunity to hear their visions and goals, to learn more from them, and to share my own perspective. "Having my new friends around me" certainly helps me as I continue to learn about teaching and learning.

Kim wrote in her last journal entry about the power of collaboration in helping her grow as a teacher. I'm tickled that she also is "getting friends around her," to bounce ideas off and to open up new avenues of learning for her and her students. I'm excited about her upcoming projects, and I know that as her lessons become more and more meaningful and engaging to her students, her classroom management problems will decrease and the achievement of her students will increase.

I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to collaborate with many people in my current job -- and I have grown tremendously as a result. Working with my resident teachers, in a faculty book study group at Valley Middle, with the student teachers I supervise, with the teacher candidates in my university class, and in one-on-one conversations with other folks in the hallway have all helped me. I know that I'm a better teacher because I "have my friends around me" to stretch me and support me while I strive to become the best teacher I can be.

Click here for biographical information and previous entries.

Article by Laurie Stenehjem
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