“It is my goal, as a leader, to facilitate a school environment where every student is successful every day they step through the front door of Steuart Weller Elementary School,” says Monica Kissel. With her extensive experience as a trainer, presenter and consultant, Kissel has pioneered and conducted several groundbreaking initiatives in her school. Whether through participation in projects like National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative, the Precision Teaching program, or by turning Xbox Kinect games into lesson plans, Kissel and her team focus on creating future leaders. “We’re preparing them for jobs that haven’t even been created yet,” says Kissel. “They are active participants in their own learning.”
Tell us a bit about the programs you have implemented at your school.
There are two specific programs I have worked diligently with: Precision Teaching and teaching through Xbox Kinect.
Precision Teaching is a program that builds fluency in basic academic and behavioral
skills by measuring the effectiveness of the instruction taught daily. When I started as a teacher in Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS), I was the Precision Teacher at my school. With the guidance of the Program Supervisor, Allyson Pate, and the support of my Principal, Janet Platenberg, I was able to help grow the program in LCPS and at the national level. LCPS sent me to the International Precision Teaching conference, where I gathered more strategies, implemented them in my classroom to “tweak” it, and then trained other LCPS Precision Teachers on how to use the strategy. By my third year teaching, we were presenting the format LCPS uses for Precision Teachers and how we incorporate it into the special and general education settings. Nowhere in the United States does any public school system implement Precision Teaching to the high level that LCPS does. Other school systems were able to try to replicate what we achieved with Precision Teaching.
Through the Xbox Kinect initiative, we are bringing gesture-based learning into the classroom. Students are active participants in their own learning and are excited to learn with the Xbox. One aspect I worked closely on with this initiative is using the Xbox with students who have special needs. Students with emotional disabilities, autism, or social difficulties will write their own social stories that are individual to their area of struggle. Students then read their story with expression to create a social video of their avatar in this social situation. This creates an excitement with students about social topics that can be a very difficult area for them. It also gets students excited about writing and reading their social story.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
Precision Teaching: Students are able to build fluency in basic academic areas to build a stronger foundation upon which to work.
For example, at Steuart Weller Elementary School, Precision Teaching is used with all students to build fluency with basic math facts. This builds a strong foundation in basic math skills, which enables students to focus more on the concepts being taught in the upper grades. With that strong foundation where math facts are automatic, students are more available to learn higher-level concepts with ease.
Xbox Kinect: We have seen huge success with this initiative, in that students with behavior difficulties are now able to identify their emotional response to a trigger and demonstrate a replacement behavior while writing their social story to use with Avatar Kinect. Students are able to find alternative ways to communicate, rather than through their negative behaviors. Gesture-based learning is a powerful tool to use in the classroom that gets students excited about learning and brings an environment right to their fingertips that normally, they would not be able to do.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
Be patient. Change does not happen overnight. Persevere through the hard moments and know that in the end, it is all worth it.
Once someone is able to see the impact of change or the difference it makes, those challenges decrease or disappear.
What is your region doing well currently to support education?
In Loudoun County Public Schools, student learning is put at the forefront of all else. New initiatives are embraced so we can ensure that students have the tools to succeed in the learning environment and in their community.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
It’s the little things you do each day that make a difference. When I look at my professional accomplishments, I’m most proud of moments when I knew, without a doubt, that I had made a difference in the life of a child. And it never happened overnight. For example, my first year of teaching, I worked with a third grader who was reading at a pre-primer level. I worked every day that school year, through Precision Teaching, to teach that child how to read. It was not easy, and sometimes we both got frustrated but he had the drive to want to do better. At the end of the school year, he was reading at a beginning third grade reading level. The moment he raised his hand to read in his general education classroom, I knew I had made a difference. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was what I was doing each and every day that led to that student’s huge accomplishment. So I come to work each and every day, prepared to give it my best, and over time, I am thrilled to see my impact in the life of a child.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
I see technology as the most helpful trend in schools today. It opens up new worlds to students that we could have never dreamed of. Through technology, we are able to connect students to professionals in the field and to students around the world. We are able to facilitate new ways for students to demonstrate understanding. We are able to create active classrooms, where students are willing participants in their own education and learning. Most importantly, through the use of technology, we are able to make learning fun for ALL students.
About Monica Kissel
Assistant Principal, Assistant Principal of Steuart Weller Elementary School
Job title: Assistant Principal
Birthplace: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Current residence: Loudoun County, Virginia
Education: Bachelor of Science in Special Education from Pennsylvania State University 2003; Master of Science in Education Administration from Shenandoah University 2010
Website I check every day: Facebook
Person who inspires me most: Mary Kissel, my Mother
Favorite childhood memory: Vacations in the Adirondacks, New York
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Caribbean
When was the last time you laughed? Why? Every day my students make me smile
Favorite book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee