06/27/2011
Teacher Tribute
McCall students teach their teacher about Need in Deed

Michelle Rivera describes the impact on her teaching practice

Looking back on her first year with Need in Deed, teacher Michelle Rivera is quick to point out she wasn't initially comfortable handing over the reins to 12-year olds.

Fortunately, when they were younger many of her students at McCall Elementary School had done service-learning projects with NID-trained teachers -- Lisa Hantman (3rd grade) and Joanna Bottaro (5th grade).

"I said to my students at the start of the year, 'This is my first year doing this. I'm going to rely on you.' I had to let go my fears about not having a script for everything we did."

Their project on urban blight was ultimately one of four projects to win an award for "outstanding project" at Shout Out -- NID's culminating student awards ceremony.

In addition to touting her students' accomplishments -- the research they conducted, the self-directed learning she saw first hand, the way their work on the project helped build community among an especially diverse group of learners, Michelle describes how working with students this way transformed her own teaching practice.

"During class discussions," she says, "I used to feel I had to intervene, to re-direct my students when arguments or conflicts would arise. Now we get through a 45-minute class meeting with absolutely no problems, and very little if any direction from me."

She attributes the change to strategies she learned from Need in Deed and from her peers in the teacher network.

Being involved with Need in Deed this year, says Michelle, "has made me more comfortable about giving up control knowing that my students are capable of working together and accomplishing what they set out to do."

"Teachers and parents want young people to be well rounded, to be confident decision makers,." she says. " We want them to grow up to be informed, contributing citizens."

"In this time of high stakes testing," she continues, "this is a refreshing reminder to us all of what education is really about."