Student Success

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.

Reigniting My Practice at the 2017 Leading Educators Institute

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Kelly Compher is a teacher leader at North Godwin Elementary School in Grand Rapids, MI and a member of the 2017 Leading Educators Grand Rapids cohort. 

This past June, I had an incredible learning experience at the third annual Leading Educators Institute (LEI) with my team from North Godwin Elementary School in Grand Rapids, Michigan. One of the most exciting experiences over the course of the five days of learning was the opportunity to reflect on how we use data to set goals for our students at North Godwin. For context, our school has been actively engaged in the process of looking at student data as the basis for setting student learning goals and developing an ambitious action plan to meet those goals.  We have a strong desire to respond to the trends we see in the data, and we have much to celebrate about our current practices. However, we have consistently faced gaps in our ability to revisit previous goals to measure progress against teacher actions in our action plan. We tend to move on to the next problem without fully resolving the current one. As a result, we continue to miss opportunities to get better as teachers.

By utilizing the Cycles of Professional Learning (CPL) approach we explored at LEI, we will be going into this next school year with a more structured, embedded process for examining our goals and identifying adjustments.  The key shift under this model will be utilizing our data to inform what we, as teachers, need to learn to achieve our goals. We have always been so focused on what students need to know to achieve their goals, that we forget to consider the instructional supports that teachers need to move their students forward.  For all of our students to be successful, we have to be purposeful about how we are working together as adults to learn and build skills.

As I look ahead, I’m excited to take all the learning we did around literacy at LEI and apply it to the CPL learning I’m designing with my colleagues. The English and language arts sessions that we attended that focused on text complexity and text dependent questions could be the missing link as to why our changes in teaching to the Common Core State Standards have not yet been as successful as we had intended.

In order for us to take advantage of this new learning fully, we will all have to show vulnerability and approach our practice with a growth mindset. Showing vulnerability is often a challenge among adult learners because it can spark uncomfortable emotions. As a teacher leader, it is my responsibility to help my colleagues work through personal barriers and misconceptions to create a safe space for learning. The Leading Educators Institute reignited my passion for teaching and inspired me to be a part of greater change. I hope to reignite and inspire my colleagues to transform their teaching as well, so that we can provide an excellent education for all of our students.  

Leading Educators May Newsletter

Dear Friends of Leading Educators:

Last week was national "Teacher Appreciation Week." At Leading Educators, we have the opportunity to see the amazing things teacher leaders are doing every week to develop and support their colleagues and their students. We deeply appreciate this hard work and the critical, exponential impact it is having on student learning. As you'll see throughout this list of our latest accomplishments and developments, Leading Educators has been working hard to ensure that more teacher leaders have the opportunities and skills to make the impact they seek:

  • During Teacher Appreciation Week, our Chief Program Officer, Chong-Hao Fu, and I wrote about teacher leadership as a force to improve schools for all students; how three types of teacher leadership roles are busting cages to improve student learning; the untold story of New Orleans' big education export; a DC superintendent's perspective on teacher leadership; and thebridges that are key to effective teacher-leader roles.
  • Leading Educators has released our 2014 Annual Report, which features some of our Fellows' impact on teachers they lead, principals they support, and students they serve. Check it out on our website here:www.leadingeducators.org/impact
  • Our latest white paper, Building Bridges: Connecting Teacher Leadership and Student Success, focuses on roles that make teacher leadership successful.
  • In the last two months, we did strategic consulting work with Hiawatha Academies in Minneapolis and provided training for Teach For America alumni in Connecticut. We are also finalizing contracts with the New York City Department of Education, the Michigan Department of Education, and DC Public Schools. 
  • The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is now supporting our work as we take on the important tasks of developing teacher leaders and their teams in high-needs schools. 
  • The Carnegie Corporation of New York is supporting our development and launch of online classes that we will be offering to teacher leaders across the country for the first time this fall. These classes will focus on coaching others, leading teams, student culture, performance management, and Common Core State Standards in Literacy and Math. 
  • Leading Educators continues to be at the forefront of the national discussion of the teacher leadership movement. In the last few months, Chong-Hao and I have presented at conferences hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers, National Board of Professional Teaching Standards' Teaching and Learning, Iowa State Administrators, Teach For America, Educators 4 Excellence, National Network of State Teachers of the Year, Teach to Lead, ECET2 Kentucky, Massachusetts and New York City Departments of Education, Denver Public Schools, and Urban School Human Capital Academy.

Leading Educators has worked with over 700 teacher leaders so far this year. I am honored to be a part of this growing movement. I hope you will share any feedback or questions you have for me or our team, and that you'll join me in celebrating teachers for all that they do year-round!

Best regards,

Jonas Chartock