August 1, 2016
Every month in our UCCI newsletter, we feature one of the extraordinary educators we have worked with at the UCCI Institutes and in the UCCI Teacher Exchange. We started this feature so that we could have a way of publicly showcasing how creative, innovative, and smart California teachers are. We archive every issue of the Teacher Spotlight here, on the UCCI website, at our Teacher Spotlight page.
This month the spotlight is on Marcie Grill, Ed.D., Director/Principal, Rio Valley Charter School
In your own words: What do you do, and why?
I lead a dedicated and creative group of people committed to doing all we can for student success. The rest are details. Why? We know what the alternatives might be for a young person who does not become engaged in learning.
How long did you teach before becoming a principal, and how did you decide to become a teacher?
I taught for 8 years before I went into educational administration. I initially didn’t want to teach. I grew up where I didn’t know many women besides teachers who had gone to college, so I floundered a bit. I think personal experience led me to my strong belief that being able to see oneself in a career is important to a young person persevering. I was the first woman in my immediate family to go to college. My whole career I have been creating partnerships in the community to help students. My first teaching job was 6th grade science, and I themed every unit to a real-world application. I loved creating units and experiences, and eventually brought in the other teachers for multidisciplinary activities. Years later, I designed an entire middle school program around space and aviation. I have never had anyone be able to change my mind that integration works. It creates higher engagement and creates stronger schema.
You run an arts-focused charter school and the courses you created at the UCCI Institute were focused on theatre and the arts. Do you have a background in the arts or the theatre? And how do you apply your experience/background in your current role?
Our school is not entirely arts-focused, but we are moving that way with the help of UCCI courses. When I took the position, I surveyed student interests and saw a need to engage students and offer something new in the area. I had been looking at the UCCI idea for some time and had an opportunity to run with it with this job. We wrote and received an SSP grant from the CDE which helped immensely move an idea into action. I had only done some high school theatre, and it was only allowed if it did not conflict with sports. My eldest daughter took an after school class in elementary school, and there was no looking back for her. I started small, creating lessons just for her. Later in this position, I hired some key staff that had theatre backgrounds, so putting our heads together on designing our integrated arts program has been fun. I’ve learned so much from being involved with the teachers on this journey; it’s been priceless.
In June 2015, you hosted an on-demand UCCI Institute where your teachers created the Social Action Theatre and The Arts in Civic Action UCCI courses. What has been your post-Institute work getting ready to implement these courses?
The Institute was great. We were able to bring teachers and professionals together to focus without interruption. (I actually missed the last day for a chemotherapy appointment.) My role afterwards was making sure the teachers had time together in their schedules to build out the details. They did the heavy lifting. We also decided as a staff that the first class in our pathway, Language Takes the Stage, was not going to be an alternative but our main Freshman English course. From that the vision is to build a strong cohort in the pathway for four years through.
What kinds of goals are you trying to achieve at your school and how are these types of courses helping you achieve those goals?
Engagement. If they are not hooked, they won’t come to class. We are in a rural community where speaking activities are especially practical for our ELL students, but I have also seen how theatre has been a cultural wall to some students. We include field trips to see theatre in various cities to broaden the experiences of our students. I also have learned how strong theatre can be for an individual who has felt voiceless in their family, school, community. We integrate in social justice to our courses. We help them find their voice. It’s not about being a star; it is about creating change.
What are your top three resources (online or otherwise) for learning or teaching this type of curriculum?
I hire teachers who have rich experiences outside of the classroom and who are brave enough to take a chance. They are my first resource. Surround yourself or visit people doing what you want to do. After people, I would say: Edutopia, CTEOnline, and The Kennedy Center are resources with which one should be familiar. Unfortunately, we seem to have a generation of teachers who were taught that teaching was following a scripted teacher’s guide. I had fabulous professors that made us design learning from scratch. Locate the learning objective and find the best methods to get there. Then look across all those objectives and see where connections and applications can be made. Integrated teaching is part science and part art, and a whole lot of fun.
We’d love to hear about any non-academic interests/experiences/hobbies you have, or perhaps related to academics but not necessarily to your current role.
Well, most people are surprised to learn I quit a tenured teaching position once to study Russian in Army Military Intelligence. That is what got me to California actually. Hobbies? I do love to work, but I have a husband and two daughters, ages 5 and 16. I enjoy the things they want to do, of course. Kayaking and pottery are favorites I have let go for a while at least. I took this position two years ago, and a few months in, I found out I had cancer. I worked through my treatments and things are going well now, but it does change things. I guess it gives me another opportunity to role-model resiliency.