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Interview with Linda Ellis, PhD, of The Center of Teaching and Learning - The Woodlands

Interview with Linda Ellis, PhD, of The Center of Teaching and Learning - The Woodlands

Published: Mar 15, 2017, 1:00pm

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As part of our ongoing "Getting to Know Your Local Businesses" series, this week we sat down with Linda Ellis, PhD, of The Center of Teaching and Learning.

Tell us a bit about your business: What does your business offer, and how long have you been around?
The Center for Teaching & Learning (CTL) is a nonprofit 501c3 private school for grades PreK4-8. We opened our doors in the fall of 2014.

At CTL we focus on educating the whole child with attention to all of the developmental domains: cognitive, social, emotional, and physical. CTL is a place where all students can reach their full potential — a vision that may be clouded in a more crowded, tradition-bound, and conventional setting. We work with students where they are, differentiating instruction so they won’t just succeed but will advance to new heights of achievement. CTL students discover their giftedness and develop habits of mind necessary for a productive, meaningful, and successful life.

Students benefit from CTL's private school model in the following unique ways:

Small School & Class Size
CTL is dedicated to maintaining a small school and small class sizes. The research base advocating small schools and small class sizes is compelling. In a review of hundreds of studies, results have demonstrated significant benefits (Shah et al., 2009, p. 10; Hochschild & Scovronick, 2003; Wesley et al., 2000). In small schools children receive more individual attention and support, are more engaged in their studies, and are more likely to participate in extracurricular activities. Children are more than just a face in a crowd.

​Multi-age Classrooms

Multi-age education involves a belief that all children can learn but learn at different rates. Because learning tasks in a multi-age class are based on developmental levels, children make continuous progress and thereby become more successful. Multi-age classrooms have motivating activities with attention to learning styles, multiple intelligences, and interests. The teacher provides individualized support so student motivation and learning is accelerated. The multi-age approach is child-centered, not curriculum-centered. With flexible options for grouping afforded by the multi-age model, children participate in instruction that focuses on individual needs rather than prescribed curriculum.

Multi-age classrooms have been found to improve student achievement as teachers move children along a continuum of progress over several years (Stone, 1996). In a review of 64 studies, Pavan (1992) found that students in multi-age classes performed better than their peers on measures of academic achievement, were more likely than their peers to have positive self-concepts and high self-esteem, and exhibited positive attitudes toward school that increased the longer they were in a multi-age setting.

​Positive, Caring Environment Conducive to Learning
At CTL we believe every child can learn and grow into a successful and productive citizen. When this belief is combined with the expertise necessary to establish and run a school, the result is an excellent environment in which children can thrive. This environment will lay the foundation for a bright and productive future.

​Highly-Qualified, Dedicated Teachers & Leaders
We are committed to recruiting and retaining expert teachers and providing the time, resources, support, and autonomy to continually develop their pedagogical skills in a collaborative, professional learning community; create, evaluate and refine curricula; and ensure that all students have every opportunity to achieve. The high expectations of teachers will guarantee a school-wide commitment to student success.

​Inquiry/Project-Based Teaching & Learning

According to research (Schlemmer & Schlemmer, 2007), inquiry and projects are a key to student engagement and motivation. The CTL curriculum stresses real and original work: writing, research, computation and problem-solving, experiments, building, observation, data collection and analysis, the reading of children’s literature across the disciplines, and artistic, musical, and dramatic performance. Instruction in writing, reading, and math will be organized as workshops (Atwell, 1998) that combine whole-group instruction via mini-lessons and conferences with individual students about their independent efforts.

​Differentiated Instruction
Students benefit from CTL’s differentiated instruction based on the child’s current level of mastery, not on his/her biological age. With the guidance of expert teachers, children learn as they learn best, discover their potential, and explore how to achieve it. CTL is a place that cultivates passion and lifelong learning while allowing each child to reach his or her full potential. Through individualizing instruction, teachers get to know their students better. Students are able to excel far beyond what they would achieve in a more traditional setting where every child receives the same instruction.

​Performance Assessments
Also known as "authentic" or "classroom-based" assessments, on-going performance assessments will inform instruction at CTL, thus enabling teachers to individualize and differentiate instruction for students. Performance-based assessments such as student self-assessments, portfolios, and projects are student-centered, are used to inform instruction, and allow the teacher, parent, and child to see genuine progress over time. They also build critical thinking skills and help the child see the connectedness between content areas and the real world. Offering more than a paper-and-pencil generated “snapshot” of learning, performance assessments focus on what a child can do and understand, have intrinsic value, transfer readily to life beyond school, engage students, and motivate them to sustain the hard work that learning requires.

Character Education & Leadership Development
​Character education, meaning common-sense values such as honesty and integrity, will permeate the scholarly atmosphere at CTL. A clearly articulated discipline policy will guide our students’ actions and ensure that behavioral problems do not interfere with learning and teaching. Our CTL community will embody principles of character and leadership and will actively exemplify those values in word and deed.

​Parental & Community Involvement
CTL is committed to fostering a unique community of learners that includes families, teachers, staff, and other community members who will be active participants in the educational, social, and emotional development of our children. Ongoing and active communication is vital to the parent teacher relationship and will be maintained in a variety of ways such as e-mail, written communication, phone calls, and parent teacher conferences. Through parent engagement we will tap the abundant resources they provide within the community thus building a dedicated partnership between the school and the community. This, in turn, will meaningfully enhance and enrich our children's educational experiences.

​Professional Development School Model
CTL provides a place for our expert teachers to develop and implement the most innovative, promising practices for teaching across the curriculum. We share these practices with educators across the state and nation through ongoing demonstrations, workshops, presentations, and publications.

We are also committed to building strong partnerships with surrounding colleges and universities through serving as a demonstration site to host teacher candidates and sponsor a mentorship program for practicing teachers who are interested in learning more about inquiry-based teaching and learning and the implementation in their own classrooms and schools. To date we have hosted students from the University of Delaware, University of Houston and Sam Houston State University.

CTL's innovative model is designed to serve the whole child. Our students learn to read and think critically, communicate effectively, seek to understand, share and care, solve problems, take responsibility and persevere. They become passionate learners who are truly prepared for success in learning and life.

Atwell, N. (2014). In the middle: New understandings about writing, reading, and learning (3rd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Berliner, D. C. (2001). Learning about and learning from expert teachers. International Journal of Educational Research, 35, 463-482.

Goodlad, J. I. (1990). Teachers for our nation's schools. Jossey Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Goodlad, J. I. (2004). A place called school (20th anniversary ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Hochschild, J., & Scovronick, N. (2003). The American dream and the public school. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pavan, B. N. (1992). The benefits of non-graded schools. Educational Leadership, 50(2), 22-25.

Schlemmer, P., & Schlemmer, D. (2007). Teaching beyond the test: Differentiated project-based learning in a standards-based age. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Books.

Shah, S., Mediratta, K., & McAlister, S. (April 2009). Building a districtwide small schools movement. Providence, RI: Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.

Stone, S. J. (2006). Creating the multiage classroom. Tucson, AZ: Good Year Books.

Wasley, P., Fine M., Gladden, M., Holland, N., King S., Mosak, E., et al. (2000). Small schools: Great strides. A study of new small schools in Chicago. New York: Bank Street College.

How did you decide to get involved in this line of work? How did the business get started?

I began teaching in 1983 as a remedial reading teacher in Lovelady, Texas. With an MBA and business and English certifications, I knew nothing about how to help my students, but I knew that I must learn. I began coursework at Sam Houston State University. The learning there revolutionized my idea of learning, my teaching, my classroom, and my life. Those were exciting times in education when what we learned we could actually implement in our classrooms. With the testing pressures beginning in the 90s, it became more and more difficult for teachers to do this. Instead of a focus on teaching and learning, the focus shifted to improving test scores, and teachers and children got lost in the shuffle.

In the fall of 2010, with a desire to bring excitement back to education, I invited local educators to discuss the possibility of applying with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for a charter school. On October 8, 2010 the Center for Teaching and Learning was approved by the Texas Secretary of State as a nonprofit corporation and on February 4, 2011 was approved as a 501(c)3 nonprofit by The Internal Revenue Service.

I once again spearheaded a think tank consisting of strong, passionate experts I had known over her 28 years as an educator, experts from every content area. On January 11, 2011 these experts met at the Montgomery County South Regional Library in The Woodlands and brainstormed on chart paper, using the questions from the TEA Charter Application as a compass, to design our dream school. CTL was born that day on the walls of the library.

At a public hearing on January 27, 2011, thirty-six interested community members, plus twelve advisory board members, gathered at the library for the announcement of the proposed charter school. CTL's advisory board quickly grew to over 30 passionate educators and community members with over 500 years of combined educational experience who were involved in planning and supporting the school. The CTL board met numerous obstacles with unwavering determination to catapult the construction of this new school, not letting the flame die. Three years later, this winding journey led to the successful opening in the fall of 2014 of the Center for Teaching and Learning as a private school.

In the fall of 2014, we leased three classrooms from Congregation Beth Shalom at 5125 Shadowbend Place in The Woodlands where we began our educational journey with 52 students. The CTL Team consisted of myself as President and 3-5 language arts co-teacher; Jennifer Chamberlain, Principal and 6-8 language arts co-teacher; Lisa Lipar, K-2 teacher; Stephanie Phipps 3-8 math/science teacher; Angela Bailey, 3-8 language arts co-teacher; Treva McKissic, 3-8 social studies and K-8 art teacher; Marcie Murphy, K-8 physical education teacher; and Melissa Abbott, K-8 music teacher.

With increased interest in CTL's philosophy and vision, it became apparent that a new location was needed to accommodate our growth. In the summer of 2015, we relocated to Caring Hearts of Faith at 25925 Budde Road, Spring where we opened our doors in the fall to 84 students with 14 on our CTL Team. As CTL's philosophy and vision continued to gain interest locally, nationally, and internationally, we experienced exponential growth. To accommodate this growth and future growth, we proudly collaborated with parents, community members, and developers to move to our new facility on four acres at 26131 Kuykendahl Rd. in The Village of Creekside Park in The Woodlands for the fall of 2016.

Tell us a couple things you are proud of about your business. What are you known for? What separates you from the competition?

CTL's strength lies in the expertise of the founding team, expert teachers in every classroom, content specialists, and supportive parents who believe in and support CTL's mission and vision for their children. This combination allows our original dream to become a reality by igniting and growing a love of learning in every child.

What is your favorite part of running this business?
It’s fun to come to school every day. CTL is a dream school. There is no other like it. The teachers are happy, the children are happy. There is excitement in the air! It’s nice to see children who don’t want to go home at the end of the day. That is the way schools and learning should be. It is a dream come true!
Who is your ideal customer/client? Who do you serve best?
We serve parents who are looking for an innovate, PK-8 private school--a school where only best practices are implemented by expert teachers who love teaching, learning, and students. We seek parents who support CTL’s philosophy and who want to partner with us in the education of their children.

Can you tell us something about yourself as the business owner?
I earned a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Reading Education and Library Science and B.B.A. in Education and M.Ed in Reading degrees from Sam Houston State University. I taught middle school language arts for nine years prior to teaching literacy courses and coordinating field-based programs as a professor at Stephen F. Austin State University, University of Houston, and Sam Houston State University and also have taught as an adjunct/lecturer/instructor for University of St. Thomas, Westminster College, and Lone Star College-Montgomery. I have also served as Program Director for Secondary Language Arts (6-12) and for over 20 years worked with teachers in classrooms across Texas as a literacy consultant and as a Trainer for the New Jersey Writing Project in Texas/Abydos Learning International, and as a Technical Assistance Provider, Professional Service Provider and Leadership Coach for the Texas School Improvement Resource Center and the Texas Center for District and School Support. I have presented at local, state, national and international conferences; have served as president of numerous local and state literacy organizations, including Texas Association for the Improvement of Reading, Sam Houston Area Reading Council, Stone Fort Reading Council and North Harris County Council of Teachers of English. I am the author of over 20 books and articles for teachers including Getting Started: The Reading-Writing Workshop, Grades 4-8. I worked with an amazing team of local educators to found the Center for Teaching & Learning in 2010.

Are there any special promotions, annual sales, or special events that you'd like to mention?
Please attend our Open House on Thursday, March 23 from 6:30 to 7:30. You may also call 832-474-8214 or email plewis@centerforteachingandlearning for a private tour.

How do you see your business growing and improving over the next couple of years?
We are a professional development school with a team of experienced, dedicated educators committed to continued professional growth. We do not plan to grow the size of our school above 90 at this time; therefore we have limited space. We plan to open CTL High 9th grade in the fall of 2019 with our 6th graders this year, adding a grade each year thereafter. CTL High will be an innovative school with the same vision to ignite and grow a love of learning in every student. We will partner with Lone Star College to offer an innovative high school program where students can earn high school and college credit their junior and senior years.

For more information about CTL, visit http://www.CenterforTeachingandLearning.com/

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