Tonya Gilchrist is an internationally experienced educator, presenter, consultant, instructional coach, and curriculum specialist. She specializes in amplifying inquiry across reading and writing workshops and effectively utilizing the workshop model in host country languages.
Tonya helps schools around the world powerfully launch reading and writing workshops and create balanced literacy programs. She currently resides happily in Tokyo with her husband, a fourth-grade PYP teacher. Hope you enjoy the post below and our conversation!
I grew up in Northern Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley which is about an hour from Washington D.C.
Most of my family was in West Virginia as well as so I grew up around lots of cousins, aunts, and uncles. I have one sister, Tabitha who goes by Tabby and is a few years older than I am. All of my cousins and family were close, and it was wonderful to have that support growing up.
Starting at the age of seven, my sister and I were raised by my father and the one big thing that shaped me was having him be such an important presence in my life. He died when I was just about to graduate from university. That was so hard because he was my dad, my best friend, my minister, and my example of servant leadership that I strive to emulate today. My sister and I are so close and are there for each other.
What it was like when you were a student
I had incredible teachers that inspired me when I was around third grade when I was 9 to become an educator. I had excellent experiences in that sense with supportive and fantastic teachers who were caring in positive cultures. Reflecting back now, I dealt with perfectionist tendencies—a “straight A” student, but still dealing with a need to be “perfect.” That was challenging for me then and into my adult life because I put so much pressure on myself because of the systemic nature of the school. It meant that to be “good” meant all straight As and doing things perfectly. In other areas of my life, I felt like trying to be perfect left a mark, not necessarily in a positive way. I was always feeling like I’m not quite “good” enough and not being able to embrace my imperfections. That has impacted me now because I don’t want other students to have to feel that pressure. It should be about the process, joy, and curiosity, not the mark you get at the end.
How are we helping to free ourselves and our students from this harmful expectation? The magic happens in our so-called imperfections—that’s where we learn and grow through the exploration. That’s how they are going to discover their genuine, authentic self. That’s what creates a lifelong learner.
Your journey as an educator
I went to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, then to Shenandoah University in Winchester, VA. I started teaching in Fredrick County, VA and had a great experience there for about four years. I had an incredible administration that taught me in my first year of teaching about what it means to be an educational leader. Then I met my husband, Nathan, who was in Texas, which meant we had a long distant relationship for about a year. We realized we needed to be together so I moved to the Fort Worth area to be with him and taught there for about 4 years with wonderful colleagues and leaders.
Nathan and Tonya Gilchrist
It was then when the focus was on standardized tests and standardized teaching. It seemed like all the joy was sucked out and all the creativity was gone. I was really struggling with that and hitting a professional low. It wasn’t joyful anymore and I was literally googling what else I could do with my teaching degree. That’s when I discovered the world of international teaching and IB schools that are all inquiry-based. I knew this is what I needed. So after my husband and I agreed, I started applying for jobs. I received several offers and decided on Bangkok, Thailand. That was 2013 and staying in Thailand for 2 years. It was phenomenal and definitely recommend it. The students and the people there are incredible. It was a wonderful experience and exactly what I needed. It was like a breath of fresh air. I was given autonomy and developed agency to have a voice and choice in how I wanted to teach.
Living in Tokyo
We have been in Tokyo now for four years and love it. I am a middle school literacy coach at Tokyo International School, a, IB (International Baccalaureate Organization) Prek-8th-grade school for English and Japanese literature classes. Nathan was a web designer and started subbing at my school. He is now a 4th-grade teacher at the Canadian International School in Tokyo. I also teach English and Literature for 6th and 8th grades. What I found is that skills are transferable across all languages. There’s a term called “Translanguaging where there is lots of research regarding it. We need to respect and honor the native language while we are learning a new language.
What are we doing in education to honor all languages?
[Listen to Tonya’s analogy about languages, translanguaging, and cooking at 25:55.]
Literacy Coach & Consultant
To celebrate my joining the incredible @ErinLiKent Consulting, here’s a “quick guide” to two of her favorite things: Amplifying Inquiry & Honoring Agency in R/W Workshops. To access the whole document, go to http://www.erinkentconsulting.com
Classroom Culture: It’s All about Relationships
It’s all about relationships.
Are learners disengaged? Work to form stronger relationships. Are they off-task, possibly even misbehaving? Work to form stronger relationships. Are they itching to leave your classroom? Work to form stronger relationships. Are they reluctant to share their thinking, even one-on-one? Work to form stronger relationships.
What is Agency? Should it be Measured?
For most of us, agency is something that we have always valued. We became educators because we want to instill a lifelong love of learning in our students. We want our students to develop the skills they need to have agency over their own learning and over their own lives.
Tonya Gilchrist is an internationally experienced educator, presenter, consultant, instructional coach, and curriculum specialist. She currently serves as a staff developer for Erin Kent Consulting. In addition to helping schools around the world powerfully launch reading and writing workshops and create balanced literacy programs, she specializes in amplifying inquiry across reading and writing workshops and effectively utilizing the workshop model in host country languages.
Along with her experience as a classroom teacher and educational leader, she also holds an IB Certificate in Leadership Practice and an IB Advanced Certificate in Leadership Research. Moreover, she is certified by Results Coaching Global and also as a trainer for ISTE’s Coaching Academies. She also served as a curriculum designer at Pearson’s CCSS Summer Institute with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She has presented at EARCOS as well as numerous international literacy conferences. She also presents annually at Shenandoah University’s Children’s Literature Conference. She currently resides happily in Tokyo with her husband, Nathan, a fourth-grade PYP teacher.