Checking in with Instructional Specialist Michelle Morrow

Michelle Morrow is the Instructional Specialist at North Godwin Elementary School in Grand Rapids, MI and part of the 2017 Leading Educators Grand Rapids cohort.  This past July, Michelle spoke with us about her vision for school transformation after attending the 2017 Leading Educators Institute (LEI).  We checked in with Michelle to hear about her team’s experiences during the fall semester.   

LE: When we spoke with you in July, you said LEI was one of the most intense and rewarding professional opportunities of your career thus far.  What were you looking forward to as you entered the fall semester?

MM:  I was most excited to see how our team’s learning would translate into our school culture and ultimately what it would look like in the classroom.  I knew the equity sessions at LEI had a powerful impact on our team, so I was also excited to explore how having the equity lens front of mind might impact how our teacher leaders speak about the standards, their instructional practice, and our students’ learning.     

LE: What were some of your team’s specific priorities for the fall?

MM: We not only wanted to increase teacher collaboration within our school from a functional perspective but also have those collaborative conversations anchored in equity, evidence, and rigorous standards.  Our staff has the best of intentions for our students and they have worked extremely hard to open up their classrooms and collaborate with each other.  Our goal was to deepen these collaborative conversations and push ourselves to examine our instructional design and delivery through an equity lens.

LE: How did you use your team’s professional learning plans to get to that place?

MM: We began the school year with professional development where staff members challenged their biases and opened themselves up to be honest and vulnerable with each other.  This continued in the work of our cycles of professional learning (CPLs) when we narrowed in on creating lessons and units that were rigorous with the proper scaffolding so all of our students could access high standards.  Beyond our regular content learning as adults, we have also had teams practice challenging conversations with their colleagues in order to push the envelope for our school culture.  All of these experiences have helped increase collaboration to a deeper and more meaningful level.

LE: What was challenging about implementing this work?  What surprised you or others on your team?

MM: Time.  With our district having several other priorities on the table, our team had to get creative in meshing them together.  We did not want this to come off as ‘one more thing’ to do, so our team had to carve out additional time to design the CPLs as part of our districts goals.  I wouldn’t say this surprised me because of the dedication and willingness of our team, but I’m always amazed by the commitment that educators have to making changes that help their students get the most out of school.  Our team made a commitment to come to work 60 minutes early two days a week to continue our instructional work, and they also gave up their prep period  once a week to review their session facilitation.  Our team even created a website where staff participating in the CPL could have easy access to presentations and materials.  They are the hardest working bunch I know!  

LE: What has been your biggest win so far?

MM: We had more than half of our elementary staff volunteer their personal time and come to work 60 minutes early for eleven weeks to attend our first round of professional learning sessions.  Because we did not have this time built into the master schedule for this year, it is amazing to see the dedication of not only my teacher leaders, but also their peer teachers who also gave up their time to participate in instruction-focused learning.  

LE: What advice do you have for others leading similar work across the country?

MM: Keep with it!  It is tough, and the wins might feel small, but look carefully enough and you will see those little wins adding up to much bigger successes. Every tough step through the mud is a step that gets us closer to closing the equity gap.