An IP Story: Jill Edwards’ Journey Home to Harlan

The growth of the Instructional Partner “movement” in Alabama is truly remarkable. This school year we plan to feature some individual stories to highlight the impact and ripple effect of this explosion in powerful professional learning. Here’s our first!

By Jill Edwards

When I left a career in the business world in 2002 to “make a difference”, I knew being in the classroom was where I wanted to be. I had been a manager, traveling to seven states, but my passion was to teach.

I’d left a lucrative position with upward potential to fulfill my dream of becoming a classroom teacher. When I was approached eight years later about being a Curriculum Specialist (Georgia version of an Instructional Partner), I reminded them of my steadfast resolve to leave administration and to work with kids.

Although I was hesitant at first, the IP role suited me. For two years in Georgia and then three in Alabama, I found that the role of an Instructional Partner allowed me to satisfy my need to work with students and also expand the impact I could make beyond one classroom – and I could do this without getting into an administrative role.

Powerful professional learning

In Alabama, I felt like I was truly blessed in this role, because our district was a part of the Alabama Best Practices Center and its Instructional Partners Network (IPN). Instead of being on an island alone, I was instantly connected to people in my same assignment all across the state!

In a collaborative community that included everyone from seasoned veterans to coaching newcomers, I felt like I had ready-made professional development as I shared and received resources during our IPN retreats. The ABPC focus on Ron Berger’s ‘Leaders of Their Own Learning’, Quality Questioning with Jackie Walsh, and Nancy Love’s ‘Looking at Student Work’ had a phenomenal impact on my professional learning journey.

Other calls to serve

Just as I felt like I had gotten my stride as an Instructional Partner, the call to serve in administration became compelling. I accepted a position as assistant principal at our high school in Florence City. This was a whirlwind year full of more learning!

I had never worked in a high school before – all of my experience in Georgia had been in elementary, and thus far in Alabama it had been at our two Florence City middle schools. As the 2017-18 year progressed, I learned so much about what a quality high school education can mean to a student. Florence High is an incredible place – so much opportunity for every student no matter their area of interest.

The theme for the year was spearheaded by Florence High’s IP, Jennifer Butler. She had “We CAN do it!” t-shirts made (picture Rosie the Riveter). Little did she know how important this theme was to me and my confidence! I am thankful for her and the FHS Administrative Team. Dr. Rod Sheppard, the principal, taught me so much in such a short time! It was an incredible year, with amazing people….but I had a yearning for something different.

Jill and Dr. Casteel greet Harlan’s students the first day of school.

As if an answer to a prayer, an opportunity opened for me to move to Harlan Elementary as an assistant principal this year. I knew the moment I heard it was a possibility it was the place for me. Everyone loves the saying, “Bloom where you are planted.” I fully believe in this, and I have always attempted to do so.

However, sometimes you just know there is a place where you will not just bloom, but fully blossom. For me, this is in elementary. I met some of the Harlan teachers at AMSTI training, and when I saw the ‘student work’ from their learning on the walls and listened to their conversations about the standards, my heart skipped a beat.

A new adventure begins

Although I have only been in the building at Harlan Elementary a few weeks, and the students have just appeared, I have loved getting to know the heart and caring of the Harlan teachers and staff. I am excited to work with them, our new principal, Dr. Thomas Casteel, and Melanie Harris, our IP, as we begin a new school year. For me….I am thankful to be making my way home…at Harlan!

A day of team-building at Camp McDowell for the Harlan faculty

As the year progresses, I hope to share more of our adventures. Although the IP and staff are all seasoned, this will be Dr. Casteel and my first year back in elementary!

Jill Edwards is assistant principal at Harlan Elementary in the Florence City (AL) Schools. Her 15-year education career is highlighted in this post! Follow her further adventures on Twitter @jillae0823. You can read an interesting earlier ABPC Blog post by Jill here: “FMS Teachers Use Common Planning Time to Look at Student Work.”