How I Spent My Summer Vacation

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BY SULYN WEAVER, M.Ed.

SuLyn Weaver is a math educator of 19 years with Kentwood Public Schools in Greater Grand Rapids, where she also serves as a teacher leader. She is active on Twitter at @eunmi220


This summer, my family didn’t take any big vacations or go to the beach. We did spend some time in the sun, went to an outdoor movie (Crazy Rich Asians), and I was cast for a role in a short film.  For much of the past three months, I was preparing myself to be my best for students on day one.  Here’s a taste.

First, I created a new attendance system for our summer school administrator and then taught two groups of students for six weeks. My first assignment was to help prepare incoming high school students for the demands they will experience this year in freshman Algebra. It was as much about building relationships and confidence as it was about developing mathematical skills and knowledge. My second group of students will return to us this fall. We worked together to close gaps in their learning so they have the skills and confidence as students to embrace grade-level work.

I also planned to implement a new curriculum resource. Each time the middle school math department adopts a new curriculum, in many ways, it feels like hitting a reset button. I’m preparing for the hours I’ll spend aligning lessons to standards and assessments to lessons. I’m preparing for unit mapping and setting an implementation guide that will be my base for the following year. I’m drawing on all the knowledge I’ve gained through professional development, conferences, and collaboration to set up my math peers for success.

Accepting that I haven’t always done what is best for my students, but instead what was best for me, is a hard pill to swallow.”

Yet another part of my summer was devoted to my development as a teacher leader with Leading Educators. Through learning experiences with the LE team, I have felt personal growth of colossal proportions in my knowledge and awareness of:

  • the standards, 

  • the essential math shifts of focus, rigor, and coherence, 

  • how to analyze a lesson for the most crucial components of the mathematical tasks,

  • and how to plan and teach through a lens of equity. 

Beyond sessions, we heard from a group of exceptional student performers who shared poetry and stories of self that reminded us why we were there. Leaders from Godfrey-Lee Public Schools and Kent ISD also shared data about the opportunity gaps that exist within our own schools and the responsibility we have to ensure the likelihood of success is not dependent on a student’s skin color.  Accepting that I haven’t always done what is best for my students, but instead what was best for me, is a hard pill to swallow. 

This work has afforded me a safe place to examine my own practice with a more critical focus. I spent two full days with our district’s Leading Educators coach and her colleagues. The time is intense, vulnerable, and profound; it is also exhausting. As each day closes, we’re asked to summarize it using a survey. This year, as I struggled to access words, activities, and learning, I reflected on the numerous times my students might feel that same mental exhaustion throughout the day. I have new empathy for them as they’re also working through all the conundrums of adolescence.

My last, and most personal, activity this summer has been joining an organization which endeavors to support, advocate for, and amplify the voices of educators of color. I teach in the most diverse school district in our state, but there are times I don’t interact with an adult who is a person of color all day. As I think about my own daily interactions, I reflect on the implications for my students and with whom they interact. I am excited for what this network of educators will collectively bring to the community.


Read another Grand Rapids leader’s take on preparing for the new school year here (via EdNet).

Leading Educators Partners with Atlanta Public Schools

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 
Adan Garcia, Associate Director of Communications
(202) 510-0827, marketing@leadingeducators.org

LEADING EDUCATORS LAUNCHES MATH TEACHING  PILOT WITH ATLANTA PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Professional learning approach will help teachers bring engaging math lessons to life

August 12, 2019

ATLANTA, GA -  As Atlanta Public Schools (APS) students return to school today, math educators from some of the district’s schools have new supports to help them create excellent and equitable student experiences every day.

The Math PLC Pilot Program, launched in partnership with Leading Educators, focuses on strengthening professional supports for teachers within schools as they implement the Eureka Math curriculum.  To accelerate student learning outcomes, APS has made big bets on scaling adoption of higher-quality instructional materials and deepening teachers’ knowledge of math content, simultaneously building their awareness of implicit biases that affect teaching decisions and providing pedagogical approaches to address them.  Research demonstrates that teaching is the most influential within-school factor on a students’ success. Leading Educators will support APS leaders to foster alignment around a vision for excellent math instruction and work to strengthen the conditions for exponential student growth across classrooms and schools.

Over the next year, Leading Educators and APS will collaborate around the professional learning key lever in the APS Academic System.  The school-based professional learning approach provides weekly opportunities for math teachers to co-plan, practice teaching approaches, and analyze data with the guidance of “PLC leaders” in their building to implement the Eureka Math curricular program.  These school-based leaders will have access to supports including professional development workshops focused on refining the skills necessary for facilitating learning for their peers, and leadership coaching.  

Leading Educators is a rapidly growing innovator of equity-centric instructional improvement for school systems across this country.  In addition to APS, the organization currently serves students in Chicago, Detroit, Greater Grand Rapids, New Orleans, and Tulsa Public Schools.

Earlier this summer, school teams enrolled in the pilot program participated in summer professional learning designed to prepare them for instructional leadership through an equity lens.  School-based professional learning activities begin this fall. 

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ABOUT LEADING EDUCATORS

Leading Educators is reinventing professional development for teachers, igniting the potential for exponential impact in schools and across districts. We partner with states, districts, and public charter networks to design curriculum-based learning and support structures that create the conditions for continuous improvements in teaching across their schools--helping teachers reach more equitable student outcomes every day. www.leadingeducators.org

Taking Coherence Across the Chasm in Tulsa

“Taking Coherence Across the Chasm” spotlights the district’s efforts to support teachers in bringing powerful lessons to life

August 5, 2019

TULSA, OK -  Nearly one year ago, Leading Educators launched an innovative partnership with Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) to help teachers foster equity in the classroom by developing their practice.  Today, these efforts are the focus of a new publication, “Taking Coherence Across the Chasm”, which highlights the importance of adopting a coherent instructional approach and districts who are leading the way. 

Every day, educators make countless in-the-moment decisions that shape a student’s opportunities to learn.  Before this point, many teachers spend 7-8 hours per week searching for instructional materials to supplement their lessons, which is neither a good use of their time nor a reliable way to ensure students engage with the content they need.  Instead, when schools and districts adopt a coherent instructional system that aligns time for meaningful collaboration, quality curricular materials, and supports for strong teaching and learning, teachers are more likely to create teaching experiences that set up every student to succeed. 

TPS is among a group of “early adopters,” visionary districts who have been willing to experiment with new ideas and pursue innovative systemic change.  This approach could be misperceived as risky, so leaders at TPS made concerted efforts to coordinate a network of support partners including Leading Educators, TNTP, and Education Resource Strategies who could bring expertise and technical assistance to the design and implementation. This required setting a strong vision with a narrow yet deep focus on instructional improvement to succeed.  One year into a five-year roll-out of Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA), there is promising evidence that the conditions for effective teaching and learning are improving.

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In the piece, TPS Deputy Chief of Academics Danielle Neves shares, “CKLA takes a long time.  [The curriculum] requires 120 minutes for K-2, 150-180 in grade 3, and 90 in grades 4-5.” The authors note that, without thoughtful design, either the curriculum would be implemented poorly or leaders would have to let go of other priorities. 

Early adopters like TPS are critical to generating new learning and establishing proof points of practices and strategies that may work in other systems.  Devin Fletcher, Chief Talent and Learning Officer at TPS, shares “Teachers are rapidly building their knowledge both in content and the pedagogical process.  [Seeing the progress] from where they self-assessed at the beginning to where they are now is exciting.”

Grantmakers and mission investors have an important role in helping coherence take hold at large: increasing compatibility with existing systems and initiatives, providing capital for iterative product and service development, and building research and evidence-sharing capacity.  Learn more at leadingeducators.org/coherence.

Bringing Equitable and Excellent Teaching to Life in D.C.

“The Path to Instructional Excellence and Equitable Outcomes” shines a spotlight on D.C. Public Schools’ successful efforts to strengthen teaching and student learning.

When D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) and Leading Educators launched LEAP (LEarning together to Advance our Practice) in 2016, many saw the potential for a significant teaching and learning evolution.  More than three years later, “The Path to Instructional Excellence and Equitable Outcomes,” a new report from Learning Forward, shares lessons learned from system investments that have paid off for students and teachers. 

You know your content but you don’t know why the math works the way it works. It’s a struggle for an adult to say, ‘I don’t know this. I have to study to learn this.’”
— Marian Wilkins, LEAP Leader at Kelly Miller Middle School

DCPS has been a system on the rise for much of the past decade which is part of what made it an ideal setting for LEAP to take shape.  The program, which established a strong vision for students’ instructional experiences rooted in equity and alignment to college and career readiness standards, built upon previous district efforts focused on teacher leadership and curriculum.  Creating a learning architecture that provides consistent opportunities for teachers to learn, plan, and practice collaboratively with high-quality instructional materials provided a structure and arc for collaboration that was already occurring in some schools and filled gaps in schools where teachers and school leaders were feeling a real need for support.  “LEAP Leaders”—teacher leaders, instructional coaches, department chairs, and assistant principals selected to lead content-based professional learning in their schools—are now the drivers of instructional improvement at all 115 DCPS schools. 

Bringing the promise of LEAP to life was a complex endeavor requiring clear focus and strong buy-in at all levels of the district.  The support provided by Leading Educators as a design and change management partner was critical to accomplishing scale with fidelity while also bolstering capacity for continuous improvement.  One such adjustment after the first year of implementation, for example, was to create more school flexibility as to how time reserved for LEAP could be used. Leading Educators and district leaders also made adjustments to the strategy for leadership coaching at school sites, prioritizing more touchpoints for LEAP leaders who needed more support. 

In the piece, Marian Wikins, a math LEAP leader at Kelly Miller Middle School shares, “[The experience of having one-on-one coaching] was amazing.  They were able to give me feedback on my presentations, how I was facilitating adult learning. They came out during debriefs to look at how I was providing feedback, making sure teachers walk away with something tangible. It was also great when they came out to co-observe with me. I really loved having that one-on-one support because it was customized for me.”

The takeaways for system leaders in other contexts center around prioritization and key conditions for success.  These include:

  • Provide rigorous content for teacher learning that moves beyond student data protocols to deepen content knowledge and curriculum expertise together.

  • Select leaders with intentionality.

  • Align resources (including materials, people, time, systems, and money) while gradually building school capacity to nurture those conditions without central office. 

  • Plan for intentional scaling over time using a multilevel program evaluation strategy and a commitment to continuous improvement.

  • Protect time for teacher learning and remove priorities that don’t allow teachers to focus on deepening pedagogical content knowledge.

DCPS’s commitment to centering excellent and equitable instruction while creating the operational flexibility and school-based choice for contextual relevance has made LEAP work. Looking into the future, the district now has bolstered capacity to bridge student and teacher needs with support, igniting the potential to keep rising. Read the full report here.

Leading Educators Launches Partnership With Detroit Public Schools Community District

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 
Adan Garcia, Associate Director of Communications
(202) 510-0827, marketing@leadingeducators.org

LEADING EDUCATORS LAUNCHES PARTNERSHIP WITH DETROIT PUBLIC SCHOOLS COMMUNITY DISTRICT
Professional learning approach will help teachers bring engaging English language arts lessons to life

July 22, 2019

DETROIT, MI -  This week, master educators and English language arts (ELA) teachers from high schools across Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) begin their participation in a new effort to foster excellent and equitable teaching.

Launched in partnership with Leading Educators, a national nonprofit focused on systemic improvement, the program builds on DPSCD’s master teacher initiative with a focus on helping teachers make instructional decisions that accelerate learning breakthroughs.  School systems across the country like DPSCD are recognizing the importance of an instructional approach that leverages high-quality curriculum, opportunities for teachers to build knowledge and skill together, and supportive school conditions. When teachers have effective opportunities to grow in their practice, schools are better equipped to ensure every student succeeds in school and in life. 

Over the next year, Leading Educators and DPSCD will increase district-level capacity for continuous improvement, scale shared leadership that allows master educators to mentor peer teachers, and implement regular collaborative learning opportunities for ELA teachers.  Master teachers will have access to additional supports including monthly professional development workshops, opportunities to analyze data and prepare for facilitation, and instructional leadership coaching.  

Leading Educators is a recognized innovator of curriculum-based professional learning design for school systems through their work with school systems including DC Public Schools, Tulsa Public Schools, and public charter school networks in more than 15 cities in the United States.

Leading Educators CEO Chong-Hao Fu shared, “Teachers need to feel comfortable finding balance in making instructional decisions that meet every students’ needs without feeling overwhelmed.  This partnership builds on the powerful work that DPSCD has been doing to align teacher support and high-quality curricula.  It’s a huge opportunity to bridge classrooms to foster schools where teachers work together to bring powerful lessons to life every day, knowing how to serve diverse learners without sacrificing the integrity of their content.”

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ABOUT LEADING EDUCATORS

Leading Educators is helping education leaders build sustainable environments where teachers and students thrive, igniting the potential for exponential impact in schools and across districts. We partner with states, districts, and public charter networks to design curriculum-based learning and support structures that create the conditions for continuous improvements in teaching across their schools--helping teachers create excellent and equitable student experiences every day. www.leadingeducators.org

Put Learning in High Gear

In a recent article in The Learning Professional, Leading Educators CEO Chong-Hao Fu makes the case for why access to effective professional learning is critical to teachers being effective at creating excellent and equitable educational experiences for every young person.

Chong-Hao Fu, CEO of Leading Educators (a curriculum-specific professional learning design organization), explains that just as doctors aren’t expected to invent a new procedure to do open heart surgery, teachers shouldn’t have to design lessons from scratch. Instead, they can apply professional judgment to differentiate instruction, drawing from evidence-based practices to meet students’ needs.

“There isn’t a Platonic ideal lesson that exists outside of the relationship between teachers and students,” says Fu. “Teachers inevitably must make decisions to respond to their students. The question is, how do we help them do so skillfully?”

True equity—that is, the sum of intentional efforts to ensure students furthest from opportunity are given what they need to be successful—happens at the intersection of a coherent instructional approach and systemic supports for excellent teaching. A system that has the success of every young person in mind has strong academics at the center.

You can read the full article from Learning Forward here.