Greetings Winsom Winsom, Rodney Dotson here. Yesterday I visited my prior school and sat and reminisced three hours with my former principal. We talked about the many great experiences we had together — principally the workshop you did with the students and teachers at the PANTHER Academy in Paterson, New Jersey. Though the event took place in spring 2004, we recalled the experiences as vividly as they had just happened yesterday.
As you know, Ms. Miele and I had the students and teachers to fill out evaluations and each gave detailed feedback. The student feedback was phenomenally positive. It’s like you opened up a door inside many of them that we in the school did not even know was there. With you, the students found such freedom. One of my students, Carlos, latched onto you emotionally. He was in awe of you and did not want to let you go. I felt for him — he was my star science (chemistry) student, and his passion for art and humanistic connection was positively startling to me.
I learned so much by being a witness to your work. I’m amazed that you saw things in my students that I would not learn until near the end of the school year. You knew that that my period three were the class of leaders, and I had incorrectly believed it to be period 2. In the end, everything you told me about my students turned out to be correct. Your insight was unbelievable. The students never stopped talking about the personal insights and teachings you shared with them that were not only about art and school — but about life. Megan actually started coming to school (on time)! She had never been on time a single day, but after you, she started coming on time and actually put forth greater effort into her work. Evan, who was brilliant and longed to be a professional artist actually began to daydream about the possibilities. With his uncle being on the school board, I suspect they had discouraged that dream to the point of extinction. But in all of those kids, you awoke something great in them. I thank you for that — because you demonstrated to me what instructional leadership is all about. It’s about naming, calling forth, and liberating the creative genius in the learner. And your work in our school was a clear demonstration of these skills both for the students and the teachers to witness.
Lastly, Ms. Prentiss the English teacher who participated with us could not stop talking about her experience. We the teachers were so frustrated that we could not keep you with us for a longer period of time. I did not know at the time how your work connected with the theory and practice of effective pedagogy, as my teacher preparation focused more on subject matter content in mathematics and science. But I now know that your workshop demonstrates the essence of effective pedagogy and epistemology — that is, how educators are called to create an environment and a setting that allows the learner to tap into their prior knowledge and life experiences, and to extend them vastly such that they themselves are continuously rewarded and encouraged by their ability to create new knowledge and understandings within themselves. You are a master teacher, and I thank you for your example.
If I may share my experiences in another form that may be helpful to you as you build your practice, please do not hesitate to call upon me.
Director, Center for Quality in Urban Education