In the Educator Spotlight today – elementary school principal Matt Renwick!
Please tell us about yourself!
I am finishing my eighteenth year as an educator. This is hard to believe as time has flown by! I started as a 5th and 6th grade teacher in a country school in Central Wisconsin. We were a multi-age school and we developed a two year curriculum that connected literacy with big ideas and topics in science, social studies, and technology. After seven years of teaching, I transitioned to a dean of students/athletic director role at a junior high. This became an associate principal position, which eventually led to running my own school in an elementary building. Currently I serve as the principal for Mineral Point Elementary School in Mineral Point, Wisconsin.
Besides being an educator, I am also a husband to Jodi and a father to Finn (11) and Violet (9). We bought a large older home in Mineral Point two years ago. It’s a project! We do enjoy the character and layout of an older home, as well as taking care of the landscaping on our property. In my spare time, I enjoy writing, reading, walking, watching science fiction shows, trying out new technologies, and participating in citizen science projects.
What are some of your favorite middle grade books or authors?
Growing up, I actually don’t remember reading a lot of middle level books as an adolescent. For better or worse, I was reading adult fiction, especially thrillers and horror literature. Stephen King and Peter Straub novels were my favorites. These titles probably weren’t appropriate content-wise for my age, but my teachers let me read them anyway! I remember swapping these tattered paperbacks with a friend of mine back then. It was almost like we were getting away with something.
Today’s middle level readers have such a wide range of literature in which to choose from. Personally, I have enjoyed the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart, anything by Jennifer L. Holm and Katherine Applegate, the Joey Pigza series by Jack Gantos, One for the Murphy’s by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage. I feel bad even listing authors and titles here, as I am sure I am leaving out too many that should be included in this list.
What was your favorite book as a child? Why did you love it so much?
My favorite book as a child was Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. My 3rd grade teacher read it aloud to us. This is my favorite book for a couple of reasons: it was incredibly funny (especially with having a younger brother eerily similar to Fudge), and for the first time I saw reading as something more than a set of skills and strategies. Prior to this experience, I remember being shuffled between reading groups but not really understanding why reading was so important. That’s a big reason why I loved this book so much: reading was not seen by me as a pleasurable experience. It all came together for me. My parents said that I read and reread Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing several times after my teacher read it aloud to our class. After that, I was hooked on reading. My teachers after 3rd grade didn’t need to do much in the way of instruction.
Who is your favorite fictional teacher?
I like how Andrew Clements creates compelling characters as teachers in his books. They aren’t cookie cutter educators but rather are dynamic people capable of change. For example, in Frindle, Mrs. Granger was resistant to Nick inventing his own word. Yet she didn’t squash his dreams. Instead, she allowed him to follow the path he wanted to go down. This relationship between student and teacher culminated in the note Mrs. Granger had written in the beginning of this adventure. Similarly, in The Landry News, Mr. Larson is also changed by the provocative decision of a student (she writes with honesty about the school and classroom environment). So, to address the question…I don’t have a favorite fictional teacher in as much as I appreciate how Andrew Clements has created complex and relatable characterizations of educators. The students change the teachers instead of only the other way around as it typically occurs in school literature.
What book impacted you most as a teacher?
I remember reading aloud Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech to my 5th and 6th graders one year. I did not see the ending coming as we came to last pages. (I had not read the book ahead of time, as I usually did.). I have to admit, I got a bit choked up in front of my students at this point. Looking back, I am glad my students got to see me get a little emotional in response to literature. I am not by my nature a demonstrative person. Reading aloud Walk Two Moons communicated with students that literature can have an emotional impact on us, that reading is not only an academic experience. It was one of the most important lessons I have ever taught, and I didn’t even have it planned.
If you could go back in time to your first year as an educator and give yourself some advice, what would you say?
First, I would start with gratitude. I would say “thank you” for taking the time to read aloud to the students every day. It’s a decision I have not regretted once. I’d also express my appreciation for focusing on developing a classroom community those first couple of weeks in the school year, and not getting too bent out of shape regarding academics. The time and energy spent in building trust and routines was a great investment especially as the year progressed.
My advice to myself as a first year educator would be to focus more on developing relationships with my students. I should have inquired more about their interests, their hobbies, their strengths, their concerns, and especially their personal goals for the year and beyond. With this information, we could have co-created a learning environment that would have better served all of us. I try to do this now as a principal by including my teachers in almost all areas of leadership, including determining the direction that our organization needs to follow as well as the process for getting there.
Want more inspiration? Check out the other #MGEducators interviews and guests posts!