In Your Own Words

Melissa Marshall

 

Have you always wanted to be in education? What challenges have you had to overcome as a teacher and now principal?

 

“Transparently, I didn’t always want to work in education — education sort of crept up on me over the years. In college I was a pre-law major, deeply invested in doing research, writing papers, and defending my strongly held beliefs. I fell into education through small opportunities over the years, starting with tutoring athletes in classes we shared. This got me interested in how educational disparities exist across the country as we discussed the vastly different experience we each had in high school. This led me to graduate school where I majored in curriculum and instruction while teaching pre-K. That first teaching job further piqued my interest in working to address the opportunity gaps that are prevalent in public education, and from there I joined the Teach for America corps and moved to Jacksonville in 2014 to teach in Duval County Public Schools. Since arriving in Jacksonville, I’ve seen first-hand just how vital a role educators play in the lives of our students and their families. One dedicated teacher can help close gaps in academic and social-emotion skills, serve as a mentor and cheerleader, and help link families to wrap-around supports to remove any barriers to accessing a high-quality education. I’ve had the honor of watching kids grow into their own and feel empowered to create life on their own terms through educational achievement and character excellence. This doesn’t mean they never made mistakes or failed — it just means they learned from those mistakes and used that new knowledge to do better the next time.

 

After eight years as a teacher, grade level chair, and teacher coach I was promoted to assistant principal. There were two main reasons I wanted to move out of my classroom, even though I loved the experience of being a teacher. First, I loved coaching teachers. It surprised me to get the same joy when I saw a teacher’s ‘light bulb’ go off that I did when my students had the same experience. Even veteran teachers were growing in their practice and finding new ways to implement differentiated instruction that was both effective and engaging. Second, this growth in the two teachers I coached led to greater student outcomes and more positive classroom cultures. It was my first taste of replicating a concept at scale, and it excited me to consider how this could happen across an entire school. My areas of focus are school culture, character education, and math and science instruction in grades three through eight. For three years I’ve developed and implemented a K-8 character education scope and sequence and worked with staff to provide incentives for scholars who are showing positive behaviors, as well as working with students who need additional support with targeted interventions to develop their social and emotional skills. Rooting scholars in strong social skills and positive behavior choices creates a positive school culture in which our high academic goals can be met. This was true before the pandemic and is even more necessary now as we work to address academic and social-emotional gaps created and exacerbated by the very real need to social distance and stop the spread of disease. There are always challenges — our kids face a lot of adversity every day. There’s a lot of trauma experienced by our scholars, in addition to the support some require with basic needs. Our school works in partnership with families to connect them with community services that will help address their specific needs. As I transition into a new role of principal in residence, I am excited to continue to grow my leadership skills and support the incredible staff that arrive each day in support of our students and their families.”

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