COLORADO SPRINGS. Sheila Whalen has been in education for nearly three decades, including 13 years teaching in Denver Public Schools, and 15 years as an administrator. In her fifth year as principal of St. Peter School in Monument, she is back in the classroom teaching seventh-grade math to a class of sixth- and seventh-grade students.
It’s not just the students who are doing the learning in this math class, Whalen said.
“I’m the school principal but I’m also a teacher, and I learn so much about my kids in the classroom setting. I love teaching and I love getting to know these kids as students. I see how they learn, how they problem solve, how they view themselves. I see their strengths and weaknesses.”
With just 10 students, this isn’t a typical middle-school math class. The luxury of a small school and small classes is that no child flies under the radar, Whalen said. She knows immediately when a child has mastered a concept or needs a little extra time. The students are alert and pay attention not only because the teacher is also the principal, but because they know they will be called upon to contribute to the math lesson.
Spending time with her students in a classroom setting also allows Whalen to observe the developmental needs of the kids. “The middle school years are a critical phase of life. Our middle school staff is committed to serving not just the academic needs but also the spiritual and emotional needs of our kids. At St. Peter, we do that by providing structure, predictability and clear, consistent expectations.”
Teaching keeps Whalen connected to her staff as well as her students. “Teaching helps me stay in touch with my staff and keeps my skills sharp. If we’re implementing a new teaching strategy, I want to use it and evaluate it along with my staff.”
Adding to the environment is a community of parents who are supportive, involved and engaged. “We are blessed with amazingly supportive parents. The support of our parents and St. Peter Church are why we’re an affordable private school,” according to Whalen. “Our students have a lot of support and resources behind them. All of us — teachers, staff, parents and church — are focused on our mission to educate the child academically and spiritually and we all benefit from being a part of this learning community.”
(Lisa Hawthorne is communications coordinator for St. Peter Parish in Monument.)