Hillary Wooley, Logan Elementary Reading Intervention Specialist

Hillary Wooley, a lifelong Ann Arbor resident, attended Lawton and Wines Elementary Schools, Forsythe Middle School, and Pioneer High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Albion College, a master’s in Educational Leadership from Concordia University, and completed her Reading Specialist graduate work at Western Michigan University.

Wooley began her teaching career at Lawton, teaching second grade in the same classroom she occupied as a first grader.

Adding to the sense of returning to familiar territory, Wooley’s first supervising principal as a teacher was none other than the principal who oversaw Wooley’s fourth and fifth grade education at Wines Elementary.

“I guess you could say I’m a true townie,” she says. “I love Ann Arbor and its people.”

Logan Principal Will Wright highly respects Wooley’s work at the school.

“Hillary is one of the hardest-working teachers,” says Wright. “She goes above and beyond in our reading intervention program, supporting students in grades K-5. She serves as a literacy coach and supports all our classrooms and teachers. And she is always willing to step in and support wherever and whenever needed. She just does really incredible work.”  

Wooley and her husband, Chris, are the parents of Will, a first-year graduate student studying to become an optometrist at the University of Chicago Midwestern campus, and Maya, who is exploring a career in health at the Michigan Health Academy.

Why did you pursue a career in education?
My mom owned a Montessori school in town, and I have always been around children. School is an environment where I feel comfortable and at home.  

Why did you decide to become a reading intervention specialist/teacher?
All children need someone in their corner to support them. Working as a classroom teacher, I saw students who struggled with reading. I yearned to have the time to work with them intensively but struggled to find the amount of time needed.

Have you always liked to read?
I have always liked to read. My bookcase was one of my prized possessions as a child. I still appreciate cuddling up with a good book at home, by the lake, or while camping. 

Why is it important to help struggling readers as soon as possible?
Often you can catch striving readers as kindergarten and first grade students and bring them up to grade level. Those students are later unaware that they ever had reading support. They can access the grade-level curriculum and have success in school. I have been teaching long enough to see students I have serviced go on to some of the best colleges. It always brings me joy!

Do you ever get to witness a child who hates to read become an avid reader? If so, what made the difference? 
I often see students who do not care for reading at first become avid readers. The difference is the confidence in their reading ability and the ability to select their books. I have a program where students can borrow books from my classroom library to read at home. Students can request the title if they desire a book on a topic or by an author. When I order the title, the requesting student is the first to take the book home. 

Describe an average workday. 
An average workday includes having teachers visit my room first thing in the morning with reading questions or just checking in. Then, I meet with K-5 grade-level intervention groups. I see some students in 1:1 or 1:2 outlier groups based on need. I often go into classrooms to coach teachers, co-teach lessons, model lessons or strategies, or meet with teachers to make plans for striving readers. I also support in the lunch room and during dismissal by doing Driveline.

Why did you want to work for Ann Arbor Public Schools?
I attended AAPS myself, and so did my children. It is an excellent and diverse school system. 

What do you like about working at Logan specifically, and AAPS in general?
I was in a meeting with a former Logan principal. I was sharing my enthusiasm for teaching and my love for the school I worked for at that time. She said, “I would love for you to come and work at Logan!” It just so happened that a Reading Intervention position opened up at Logan the following year. I saw it as a sign and transferred to the position. I do not regret my decision. It is a wonderfully diverse and kind environment, and I am so thankful for the excellent staff and families there.  

What’s the happiest part of your workday?
The happiest part of my day is when students come up to me and tell me something they are passionate about. Sometimes it is about reading, and sometimes it is about something else they want to share. I believe in building relationships with students, staff, and families. When students stop me in the hall to excitedly tell me about things happening in their lives, I know they know I care, and I want to listen. 

What do you want most for your students?
I want them to feel confident about their reading, to develop a joy for reading, and to see themselves as a successful student.  

Best advice your mother ever gave you?
My mom loved Robert Fulghum’s poem All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. She said so many parts of the poem were true. When she became sick, she asked me to hang a copy of it in her rehabilitation room. 

If you had to choose your favorite children’s books, what would they be?Wolf!” By Becky Bloom, “Charlotte’s Web” by E. B. White, and “Amazing Grace” by Mary Hoffman.

What are your favorite books as an adult, and do you get much time to read these days?
I love to read and try to read at least two adult books for pleasure every month. I am able to read one a week in the summer. Some recent favorites are: “Tom Lake” by Ann Patchett, “The Covenant of Water” by Abraham Verghese, “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah, and “West with Giraffes” by Lynda Rutledge.

Favorite podcasts, websites, apps:
My favorite educational website is What Works Clearinghouse because you can find research-based reading information on it. 

What have you changed your mind about recently?
As I get older, the quote, ​​”I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” rings truer. I strive to educate students and coach staff and leave them feeling better in their day. 

Was there a teacher who had a particularly strong influence on your career? If so, what did you learn?
My first-grade teacher at Lawton, Ms. Marlene Milazzo, started her day by singing and playing the piano. I also remember she had us write books about ourselves and publish them. I still have that book to this day. I learned from her that part of teaching is creating a welcoming environment and allowing students to bring their lives into the classroom.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of my day is the pace. Between instructional groups, meetings, coaching, working in the lunchroom, working Driveline, research, writing lessons, assessing, and making intervention plans for students, there is barely time to eat some days.  

Your thoughts on the district’s focus on dignity, belonging, and well-being?
The district’s focus on dignity, belonging, and well-being is important because that is where it all starts. Students have to feel like they belong, have a voice, and that their culture is valued to succeed in learning. 

How is teaching different from the way you imagined it would be?
Teaching is different than I imagined because I never knew before becoming a teacher that every student you teach becomes one of your kids for life. When teachers ask each other ‘how are your kids?’ they almost always start by updating me on the kids in their classrooms, even if they have kids at home.

What’s the best compliment anyone could give you?
The best compliment someone can give me is to say I somehow made a positive difference in their lives.  

What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
The most rewarding part of my job is giving students a jump start on school, and then they are off to the races and have a successful school career. I see them going to college later or succeeding in theater, music, or other avenues, and I think that’s one of my kiddos! 

What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher?
I wish people realized how much teachers care and all the little things they do in the classroom daily. Teachers spend their own money, their free time, and many hours thinking about their students. 

How do you spend your summers?
I spend my summers camping, traveling, working with students on Zoom, hanging out with my grown children and husband, and reading!

Nelly and Rosie

What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life?
It is exciting that our classroom reading instruction aligns with crucial research in the reading field. Teachers are using programs like UFLI and seeing amazing results with students.
In my personal life, my puppies bring me joy. I have two puppies that are mixed breed-chihuahua and a toy fox terrier. They constantly want to cuddle, play, and go on walks. 

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