Michelle Morrow

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.

Q&A 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.  She attended the Leading Educators Institute (LEI) with her team in June.  Michelle spoke with us about her biggest takeaways from the week of learning and her vision for school transformation this year.

LE: What are the most urgent student needs in your school building?

MM:  Amid the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) several years ago, we have experienced growing pains at North Godwin around aligning instructional approaches to the shifts.  Given that we work with an at-risk population, the CCSS required us to significantly shift our instructional strategies in order to ensure that our students were mastering content and on track for college and career readiness.  This came with difficult transitions that we are still trying to work our way through today, particularly meeting new ideas and shifts in our teaching approaches with openness and a desire to learn.  At a time when test scores can seem heavily weighted, we are finding it difficult to frame the opportunities that come from more rigorous teaching and learning for teachers and students.  While this is a challenge, we have gradually seen our staff embrace personal development and dip their toes into the water.  Our students are collaborating more than they ever have, and they are engaging in deep, meaningful dialogue with each other, which is incredibly exciting!

LE: What do opportunities do you see to build on these successes?

MM: Students in our school need to be exposed to a curriculum and teaching practices that are directly aligned to the standards.  I feel that the focused content learning at LEI opened my team's eyes to how to make rigorous content accessible to our students.  We have learned how to create a more equitable environment for our students.

LE: Looking specifically at teacher practice, how has your thinking or approach to professional learning for teachers shifted as a result of LEI?

MM: There is so much I am excited about!  In particular, I think about finally using data to drive meaningful instructional shifts rather than getting stuck in our old pattern of looking at data, making adjustments, and never returning back to a connected plan to see if those changes actually had an impact on students.  I am excited about the laser focus of the Cycle of Professional Learning (CPL) structure and the way in which it connects professional learning aims.  Through the Leading Educator experience so far, I have learned that we have missed a large component of professional learning in the past that is needed to truly shift our practice and our thinking as adult learners.  Seeing ourselves as learners in this process is key in creating significant impact for our students.  

LE: How can we best provide support for the student and teacher goals your team is prioritizing? What do you hope to gain from being in the Leading Educators program?

MM: Leading Educators has already reignited passion for improving instructional practices among my team of teachers that attended LEI!  The learning experience was intense, but we are excited to bring the CPL process to our entire staff and use it as a tool for school transformation.  My team chose to seek out Leading Educators in the hopes of sparking new thinking and deepening our understanding of current education trends. We all have a passion for the education field and in particular urban education.  Through Leading Educators we are looking for our thinking and approaches to be challenged so we can continue to grow and impact the students we teach.

LE: What would you like others to know about your experience at LEI?

MM: LEI was one of the most intense and rewarding professional opportunities in my career thus far.  This work is not for the faint of heart!  Through the LEI experience I have realized what an incredibly challenging and difficult line of work we are in, and it has inspired me to continue to dig in and challenge myself both in content knowledge and instructional practice.

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