Demonstrating Innovation in the Classroom

Kathleen Giannandrea is an instructional coach at Rosy High School in the Sanger Unified School District, where she has now held a position for over 26 years. She performed a 5 year stint for the Fresno County Office of Education, working with AVID, a program which imparted upon her many useful teaching skills. Giannandrea was fortunate to have multiple pathways which continuously brought her back to Fresno State. 

She transferred from College of The Sequoias with her associates degree before eventually earning her bachelor’s and obtaining her teaching credentials from Fresno State in 1994. After completing her work with the Fresno County Office of Education and returning to her teaching position at Rosy High School, Giannandrea discovered that her department was offering support for instructors who wanted to pursue master’s degrees. Fresno State had partnered with Giannandrea’s distinct, in the hopes of helping elementary, junior high, and High School teachers complete their higher education goals. The program allowed professors to travel to the office on campus and provide instruction there instead of forcing the busy teachers to commute all the way to Fresno State. In 2018, Giannandrea graduated with her master’s degree in education, with a reading language arts focus, after studying with the cohort for two and a half years. She was one of only seven High School teachers who were able to successfully complete the program. 

While pursuing her bachelor’s degree at Fresno State, Giannandrea was a full time employee at the Visalia Times Delta working 38 to 40 hours a week in a newspaper system while also commuting to Fresno on the daily. Struggling to balance all areas of her life, Giannandrea learned that if you want something bad enough, you will find a way to make it work. Her only remaining parent had passed shortly before she transferred from College of The Sequoias to Fresno State and she unfortunately was not able to navigate the financial aid system in place at the time, so instead, she paid out of pocket for her entire education. Giannandrea remembers the constant sleepless nights she would experience while working toward her first degree. She did not have the traditional college experience in the sense that she didn’t live in the dorms or attend student parties, something that Giannandrea is grateful for since she believes it fit her personality and allowed her to focus more on her studies. 

Giannandrea’s journey toward her master’s degree is even more vivid in her mind and came with its share of lessons, as well. One of the first things she learned is that expectations and beliefs held by professors in higher education are much different than those harbored by K-12th public education professionals. Giannandrea began learning about critical literacy concepts while also being taught inventive, research-based methods to capture the attention of students and encourage them to read and write in a real-world context. After coming back to Rosy High school, she found that it was exceptionally difficult to implement her learning since many of the faculty members were still so entrenched in the traditional methods of teaching that had been used since the late 1800’s. Giannandrea was slowly able to meld what she learned during her master’s program with her in-class curriculum, demonstrating new and innovative teaching methods to her other coworkers. Another lesson that Giannandrea learned is that research remains vital even after one has completed their education. She is currently the department chair and a full-time instructional coach for the English Language Arts department at Rosy High School. Giannandrea is part of a professional learning community where she asks what goals or learning outcomes parents have for their children and then researches ways to help her students connect more with their coursework. She participated in a project based on youth participatory action research where she helped students learn how to become competent researchers, both in the classroom and in their personal lives. 

Over the years, Giannandrea has won numerous awards and medals for her academic achievements, both as a student and as an educator, but the accomplishment which she is most proud of is her ability to aid other educators, something that her master’s degree helped come to fruition. Thanks to Fresno State and their creation of a remote master’s cohort program, Giannandrea was able to obtain a wealth of leadership experience which helped to prepare her for her position as an instructional leader. She learned the importance of documenting change, as well as how to develop systems to support student learning. Having mentors in the master’s program also benefited Giannandrea tremendously, since there were many instances when she came across a situation where she was uncertain how to proceed. She was fortunate to stay in touch with her professors, since whenever she encountered a predicament, Giannandrea would simply email them and receive a solution by the end of the day. Giannandrea is forever grateful for the relationships she built with her colleagues and the immense support she continues to receive from Fresno State. 

(Written by Audra Burwell, a Creative Writing student employed by the Kremen School of Education and Human Development .)

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