On those mornings when thoughts about helping a particular student or trying out a new activity jolt me out of sleep way too early, it is comforting to know that Jody Schneider is already up and grappling with something similar. I know this because she once offered to meet me at 5am! I consider Jody to be my first of several wonderful mentors in Wisconsin. We met through WAFLT not long after I arrived in the state and I will be forever grateful for the generosity she has shown me ever since.
We are both French teachers, but we probably wouldn’t have connected as deeply if we didn’t also share another language – the standards. Jody had been involved from the outset with Wisconsin’s Model Academic Standards for Foreign Languages, whereas I was just starting to wrap my head around them. The standards served as a common language making it possible for me to grasp, for example, how Jody’s innovative approaches to teaching second graders at Woodlands School could be adapted to college sophomores at UW-Milwaukee. It was a game changer for me. She reinforced for me how essential the standards are and opened my eyes to the power of early-start, long- sequence language learning. Because of Jody, I pay attention to the individual trajectories of my students and reflect on how I too can help them become lifelong language learners.
By sharing her units and how she created them, Jody helped me embrace backward design and accept that the planning process is non-linear and can even be messy at times. She gave me the opportunity (and the courage) to present with her at a WAFLT Summer Institute where we simulated the process by layering concentric circles to represent the many steps of planning. But the best gift I received from her was an invitation to join the planning committee for the FLESFEST conference. It has meant that I get to spend a few Saturdays every year with Jody and an amazing group of teachers and experience the thrill of riffing off of one another’s ideas. Hands down, it has been the best ongoing professional development I could hope for.
Being around Jody never fails to inspire me. She is always trying something new with her students or developing engaging resources for French teachers (ranging from original songs on her album Notre Zoo, to Fun with French, to a character development game based on the Three Musketeers). I’ll never forget the wonder and envy I felt sitting on a kid-sized chair in her Aladdin’s cave of a classroom, lovingly decorated to stimulate learning, with every cabinet full of costumes, props, instruments, and all kinds of other manipulatives. I don’t have my own classroom, but each time I lug realia around campus, I am proudly channeling my mentor Jody.
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If you are interested in finding or being a mentor, please visit WAFLT’s mentoring page. All mentoring participants will receive a “Great Thought A Day” notepad!