Rachel Terlop

2019 Henry Ford Innovation Nation Teacher of the Year

Social Emotional Learning and Facilitation Coach

Early Childhood B.S.Ed & M.A.T. and RYT-200

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  • Rachel Terlop

Gradual Release

It all started with 26 students, about 287 school days ago. My classroom was overflowing with wiggly, excited first graders, and we all sat down for our first ever circle time.

I heard words like, “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me.” We introduced ourselves, we started the day, and it was glorious. Kids raised their hands to ask questions, told jokes, gave hugs, and we genuinely kind. Weeks passed, and our classroom continued to be an inquisitive place to learn and grow.


Yes, I can say that all now. Looking back we had our fair share of bumps and bruises, even in our glory days. We learned about what it means to experience death and divorce. We saved space for our friends with Autism who were over stimulated. We experienced the horror of a classmate getting hit by a car. We handled it all the best we could, and were still kind in the process.

So when it came time to make the decision as to whether or not to loop with my students, the answer was easy. YES! We’d grown so much together, survived everything that life could throw at us, and were still trying new things with smiles on our faces.


When it came time to start second grade with my kiddos, my class roster was 8 short of my original 26. Where did they go? They were some of our biggest personalities, best leaders in kindness, question-askers, problem solvers, listening ears, and gentle souls. What would the classroom be like without them? I was panicked to see my roster without their names, but prepared the classroom for the returners, and few new faces that I was lucky enough to have.

Over the course of this year, I can truly say our classroom is not the same place it was in first grade. We’re getting hit with a whole new set of challenges, and we have different leaders in the room helping others. We still are wiggly, filled with questions, and full of light – but it just feels different.


That feeling of ‘different’ is one that I am trying to embrace. We will never be able to replicate the magic that happened with our original 26, but I know that chasing that magic is worthless. We’re preparing for third grade, not reliving first. I realized how different our room truly was when I allowed students to “Read Around the Room,” to find information on Africa. They were able to, with their clipboards, rush from poster to poster, taking notes, hunting for answers, and collaborating with peers. I just stood there, shocked for a moment. I mean, I knew they could do it, I wouldn’t have assigned it if I didn’t think that they would be successful. They were helping each other though, and no one really needed me.


That was a turning point. As I watched them, I realized, “HOLY SMOKES! Ya’ll can READ!” Not just read to decode, but truly read, comprehend, and learn. It was an overwhelming moment for me. It was then I realized I needed to crank it up a notch.


Our classroom looks different now. We have small learning pods instead of large groups. We have collaborative ‘team time,’ where we get to each do our part in researching. We create independent study projects during centers. I teach two lessons of math; one on grade level, and one that allows for more intense scaffolding and support. While one group is being taught by me, the other group is on the laptops working on their iReady lessons. The massive Word Wall is coming down off the wall and being replicated onto each of the tables for individual access. Carpet conversations have moved from just “Turn and Talk” to collaborative conversations where we pass a microphone.


I am working to do a gradual release. It is much harder than I imagined to go from their first day of school in First Grade teacher, to their almost done with Second Grade teacher. They have changed, and so have I. I guess I’ve just got growing pains.


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