Bryan Gibson

How We’re Making Tulsa a Great Place to Learn

Bryan Gibson is principal of Mitchell Elementary School at Tulsa Public Schools. Bryan has wide experience in education, spending time as a mental health counselor and a special education teacher before entering school leadership with the encouragement of his peers. He’s a first year member of the Empower cohort. We talked to Bryan about how teacher leadership and development are improving teaching and learning in his school.

What does leadership and development have to do with teaching? 

Everyone is a leader in some capacity. My job is to find out, “What are they strong in?” We’ve given teachers an opportunity to use their strengths to make real changes in teaching and learning. Teacher-leaders that have expertise in a given subject bring together teachers to talk about what’s working in the classroom and what challenges they are facing to co-create better lessons. This kind of work is new to our school and we’re seeing big changes.

How do you think about creating development and leadership opportunities for teachers? 

We have to come to teachers with a pure heart so they know these opportunities to develop their practice and become leaders are for them. We aren’t bringing teams and committees together just because it’s a district initiative or because it makes us look good. We’re doing this for them. We have a policy - no fluff. We’re doing things that impact us personally and make us better for students. That’s helped us develop a strong sense of culture. We don’t want to ever feel like we’re wasting time just to check off boxes.

What changes have you seen in your school?

Teachers hold their colleagues more accountable to best practices in teaching than ever before. We are seeing things change around equity by ensuring we are teaching in a way that supports every student identity. It’s been a positive struggle. This work is not just a “going through the motions” type of exercise. If I see a teacher is teaching something exceptionally, we now have the opportunity to spread that excellence. Plus, it has impacted our teacher retention - we have less than ten percent teacher turnover, which is great. 

Kids are more engaged in the work. They’re having a good struggle, too, with the curriculum. Part of our new vision for how we use curriculum is to think of it as a tool that gives kids access to grade level opportunities. It’s an equity issue to ensure each student has access to the same learning opportunities.

What should families know?

We want all of our students to be proficient in everything they do. We talk a lot about growth with students and families. We’ve started to hit the marker where students are hitting growth goals for proficiency in different subjects. That’s a continuous conversation we have with families - how we’re working to ensure every student hits their goals. Giving teachers the time and space to develop their knowledge and skill together is part of the way we make that happen.