“Leading the Way,” is a series featuring the next generation of leaders in the field of early education and care.
Tatiana Roll started her career in education early, teaching her sister and her stuffed animals when she was still a girl.
Teaching, she says, “was just something that was always a part of me.”
At Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, Roll majored in elementary education with a concentration in early education. She went on to Boston College where she earned a master’s degree in early education.
“I knew in my heart that it’s where I was meant to be. And I just felt so much passion and love for what I was doing every single day. I knew that this was just what I was meant to do,” Roll says.
She taught in pre-K and kindergarten classrooms in New Jersey and Washington, D.C., even teaching in the preschool she attended as a child, the Sundance School in Plainfield N.J.
For Roll, teaching in urban schools has yielded career-shaping insights:
“I knew where in the world I wanted to be, not just geographically but demographically. I knew that being a teacher is so much more than teaching kids to be what they want to be in the world and giving them the tools. Teaching is also a social justice position.”
As Roll sees it, “There’s an imbalance and inequality, and this achievement gap is a real thing. It’s up to us in this field to give every child, no matter where they live and where they come from, a high-quality education and access to the same things in the city that they would have in the suburbs.”
Eager to return to Boston, Roll took a job at the MATCH Community Day Charter School in 2012. This pre-K-to-fifth grade school is in Boston’s Hyde Park community, and it has a significant number of students who are English Language Learners and a number who have special needs.
Roll started at the school as a K1 teacher and went on to teach first grade. For the past few years, she has served as the MATCH schools’ early childhood director.
MATCH’s approach, Roll says, is to teach the whole child, meeting the full range of students’ needs. In MATCH’s classrooms, high standards and academic rigor are mixed with warmth and joy. “Our tagline is high expectations and high supports. We live that out every single day.”
This year, MATCH is trying to close a reading gap: ensuring that by end of the school year, every student is reading at or above their grade level. It’s a significant challenge, Roll says, but one that the school is prepared for and excited about.
Now that she’s the director, Roll’s perspective has grown.
“Of course, I miss being in the classroom, but it’s really amazing now to be reaching kids through adults,” helping and guiding them in their journey as educators.
Roll’s work includes training teachers, who attend weekly coaching and professional development sessions. This is a chance to discuss educational strategies and analyze data on students’ work. Roll observes teachers’ in their classrooms, provides feedback, and discusses strategies for teaching academic and social/emotional lessons.
“I want my team to deeply understand the age they teach.” This way teachers can encourage children to succeed in developmentally appropriate ways. To accomplish this, Roll builds trust — both with individual teachers and as a team of educators. She also tries to pave a two-way street, encouraging teachers to give her feedback in return.
Engaging families is another vital part of Rolls’ job. There are formal programs that bring parents into the school and its classrooms, and there’s the personal touch of saying hello in the mornings, learning parents’ names, and making sure that they have Roll’s name and her phone number.
“We’re in very close contact with the families because we believe that they are a key part in collaborating on helping their scholar be successful in their school journey.”
What does Roll want policymakers to know? Her answer comes, as she says, “straight from the heart.”
“The work that I do every day is full of love and passion and drive to see our students succeed because they deserve that from us. We have a part to play in that big picture of social justice: closing the achievement gap and teaching the whole child.”