Prairie Profiles: Teaching the gifted

Published 7:42 pm Monday, April 22, 2019

District’s coordinator loves the enthusiasm of her students


Gayle Brownlow’s time in elementary school libraries includes a revolving door of students all there as an answer to one question: “What do we do if they already know it?”

Brownlow is Albert Lea Area Schools’ gifted and talented coordinator and has been for six years. Every week, she spends one day apiece in each of the elementary schools’ libraries, meeting with third, fourth and fifth graders for math and reading, as well as additional groups as her time allows.

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“I love the enthusiasm of my students,” she said.

The students meet with Brownlow during WIN time — what I need — when students have shown teachers they already met the learning goals for a specific unit. Because the district does not use testing to identify its gifted students, Brownlow said, the children who come to meet with her change.

“Week to week I have different students,” she said.

However, students who continually meet teacher standards may come all year long, Brownlow said.

According to Brownlow, doing it this way allows her to see more students. Over the course of a typical week, she may meet with over 200 students.

“There’s so many other ways to identify gifted, in my opinion,” she said.

The biggest challenge is time: She said she wishes she had more to give to students.

Brownlow does not work with students younger than third grade, though she said she does operate as a resource for those teachers whose younger students are not pulled out of class. At times, Brownlow may also go into classrooms to assist teachers.

“Gayle is just such an asset to our district,” Sibley Elementary School instructional coach Jill Petersen said.

Petersen said Brownlow jumps in wherever she can help, collaborates well with teachers and comes up with creative, engaging activities. She holds children accountable and pushes them, but she makes it fun, Petersen said.

“The kids absolutely love to go,” Petersen said. “They learn just a ton from her.”

Brownlow does not work with middle or high school students. Middle school students have differing levels of math to choose from, and high schoolers can take Advanced Placement and college courses, she said. She can also operate as a resource person for middle school teachers, she said.

Prior to this position, Brownlow worked as an Albert Lea High School Spanish teacher for 20 years.

“If you had told me that I would have been doing this, I would not have believed you,” Brownlow said.

While Brownlow was earning her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction — following her bachelor’s degree in Spanish, math and education — she said she was drawn toward the idea of differentiation: tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. She used strategies she learned in her Spanish classroom, but that interest in differentiation led her to pursue a graduate certificate in gifted, creative and talented education, she said. Afterward, there was an opening for the position she is in now. Since then, she has also received her talented and gifted endorsement in Iowa.

Now, Brownlow is back in school to receive a license to teach reading for kindergarten through 12th graders.

“Because I teach reading half of my days, I just craved more knowledge — more direction,” she said.

Brownlow also coordinates the district science fair and Math Masters as well as helping with the Battle of the Books at Southwest Middle School. Outside of work, Brownlow likes to play bassoon, walk for exercise, read, go to her children’s activities and travel.

She said the students she sees make her job easy.

“They have a passion for learning, and it’s fun to work with that,” Brownlow said.


Gayle Brownlow

Age: 49

Address: Albert Lea

Occupation: Albert Lea Area Schools gifted and talented coordinator

Family: husband, Steve Brownlow; children Sean, 20, Dane, 17, and Lauren, 14

Interesting fact: Brownlow plays bassoon in the Austin Symphony Orchestra. She began playing in sixth grade


About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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