By Mindy Ragan Wood, Staff Writer – Whitney Bruton has a heart for struggling students and a passion for helping them succeed.
She is the special education instructor at Independence Elementary where she inspires fourth and fifth grade students to reach their fullest potential despite their challenges.
“I did my undergraduate studies in elementary education and through student teaching, there is a wide variety of students in the classroom. My heart and passion were for the students that struggled. I chose to do graduate course work in special education and it’s just been a calling,” Bruton said.
Reaching students who have a history of unsuccessful learning experiences in the classroom can be a challenge.
“We celebrate even the smallest progress. If their reading score comes up two points, then that’s a big deal. That’s two points they didn’t have. I think it’s important for building confidence because of that struggle in the classroom, they have a confidence crisis. Seeing the growth and celebrating that is important. I have students track their own progress so they have a visual on their growth,” she said.
Learning by play is a common technique Bruton uses.
“We play a lot of games, as much high interest things as possible. I stay away from worksheets because I prefer hands on and something that’s enjoyable. I found games were good for students who struggled with concepts. A lot of kids don’t fit into a box and public education is an institution that has not changed much in 100 years. It’s important for us to think outside the box.”
Games can help students overcome the anxiety of learning new information and reduce the stress that afflicts students before testing.
“I was doing reading resource class for my struggling readers. It can be stressful at testing around here, especially for these kids. We did test prep Olympics in my class. For two weeks we played Olympic style games review and it helped them not realize they were studying, but coming up with answers and reviewing concepts in a way that is pretty fun,” she said.
Winning students over also depends on relationships with both the students and the parents. As parents enter the arena of advocating for resources, Bruton said she is on the same team.
“I’ve always taken the approach that I am an advocate for both the students and parents. They’re trusting their baby with me every day and I take that very seriously. I think it’s important that parents know we’re on the same team and I will go to bat for the student,” she said. “There’s a lot of trust involved and I appreciate my responsibility in that.”
Relationships with students and parents also helps everyone reinforce what the student needs to accomplish at home and on campus.
“Continuity between what we do at home and at school is really important for establishing good routines, and very clear expectations.”
Her methods have produced some success stories in the six years she has been teaching.
“I have a student who came to me last year. He had been in a self-contained behavioral program from grades one through three. He was on a reduced academic day, so he didn’t stay the entire day. He became my student and my project. He is in the general education population for 75 percent of the day and there the entire school day. He is no longer in a behavioral setting and it’s not to say he doesn’t have bad days, but he’s my number one success story,” Bruton said.
Although big breakthroughs are monumental, the little victories in a thousand moments don’t slip by unnoticed.
“There are too many day-to-day moments when you have a breakthrough with a student, when you have a kid who has a wall and they let their guard down and let you in,” she reflected.
Other teachers at IES have taken notice of Bruton’s work and submitted the following comments.
“Whitney handles her students with patience, grace and compassion every single day,” Jill Burden, special education teacher said. “I see her diffuse escalated situations on a regular basis. She isn’t afraid or intimidated to step into hard situations with her students and strives so much to help each one of her children succeed in their own way. Not to mention she has helped me and encouraged in my own first year of being a teacher.”
Cassie McCarthy is a fourth grade teacher who is pleased with Bruton’s can-do attitude.
“Mrs. Bruton is an amazing teacher who always accepts challenges with a smile on her face. She is a team player who supports her students and co-workers in every way possible. She always has something positive to say and she always sees the best in her students.”
Alan VanDeventer teaches fifth grade and said Bruton doesn’t leave students behind after they have left her classroom.
“Whitney makes sure to check in with past students very often. The children love her. She is a blessing to have in our school and I am honored to work with her,” she said.
As the numbers of children who are diagnosed with learning differences and difficulties rises, Bruton said she hopes to prepare her students for a future where they are accepted.
“Everybody deserves a chance to learn and to grow. Everybody regardless of ability or disability can learn and grow as a person. That doesn’t mean they all learn to read, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn to work, learn a skill; it doesn’t mean they can’t have a fulfilling life. I think people often can’t look past the disability to see there’s just a person there. I hope they do,” she said.
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