Four Lessons Learned in my First Two Months as a Teacher Leader

Things have been busy these last two months. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing too much and other times I feel like I’m not doing enough! This role is ever changing and because there is space to initiate new ideas and projects, I am constantly thinking of things to start or try out. There’s been a ton of learning in the last two months. In this blog I’ll reflect on some of the steps I’ve taken as a NYC Department of Education Peer Collaborative Teacher (PCT) and some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1.    Be gentle with yourself.

This has been my number one lesson learned over the last few months because this role comes with a lot of moving parts, a lot of expectations, and only 24 hours in a day. I hold myself to high expectations, as I’m sure many of us do, and I have to remember that if something doesn’t go as planned or I’m not able to accomplish what I want in a set amount of time, I can’t beat myself up about it. I’ve missed classroom visitations because they slipped my mind, set weekly goals for myself that still haven’t been accomplished, and have had days where it felt like I got absolutely nothing done. Even so, I’ve had to remember that I’m human and can only do so much. Self-forgiveness is key to surviving and thriving as a PCT.

2.    Make a weekly schedule.

My first week as a PCT was so confusing I knew I had to make a weekly schedule that helped me see what was happening every period of every day. There are set periods I teach my 7th grade ELA class every day and there are set department meetings that happen every week but beyond that, my schedule is essentially wide open. I create a schedule every Sunday for the upcoming week that helps me prioritize my time and be most successful. Am I visiting one of my mentee’s classrooms during a particular period? Am I working on setting up our Center for Teaching and Learning another period? Am I in popping into colleagues’ classrooms to take pictures of best practice in action another period or debriefing with a group of teachers who visited a lab classroom? Whatever the event, I need to schedule it so I know what’s happening each day. I feel more at peace and have been more productive knowing how I’ll spend each day.

3.    Reach out for support.

Since I am the only teacher at my school in a formal teacher leadership role I don’t necessarily have a colleague who is in the same situation. I work better in community and have reached out to particular people for support. I found another PCT at a nearby school and went over to meet him and learn more about the work he’s doing. As he gave me a tour of his school we talked about ways our two school communities could collaborate. My assistant principal has also been a huge support to me in this role. We established a regular weekly meeting time where we can check in about how the role is going for me and the teachers I work with and any support I may need. Knowing that I’ll end the week with her has been helpful. Lastly, our school secretary has been one of my biggest allies. She has been instrumental in creating our school’s first Center for Teaching and Learning. I’ve learned a ton by watching her persistence and out-of-the-box thinking make things happen. Because I am the only PCT at my school it’s important that I consciously reach out for support from colleagues. It has made this work so much better for me and the colleagues I work with.

4.    Make yourself visible.

It’s easy to get stuck in my classroom or hide out in other places to get that email out or those classroom visitation notes finished but if my colleagues don’t see me and I don’t see them, I miss valuable opportunities to connect and see all of the great things happening in our school – and the areas where we can grow as a staff. I need to get better about making a point of walking around our school and popping into every classroom at least once every few weeks. I am always inspired by what I see and it also helps me recruit more colleagues to open up their rooms as lab classrooms, where peers can come and see good practice in action. I never travel anywhere in the building without my phone because it’s a great opportunity to document helpful anchor charts or teachers and students in action. I’ll share this with the rest of the staff through a newsletter or a quick email shouting out something awesome I saw. Being visible also spreads the word to my colleagues about the PCT role and I’m hoping that it will inspire some of them to apply for this role next year so we can have a team of PCTs helping improve the professional learning in our school community.

I know there will be countless lessons learned throughout the year. I’ve learned a ton already and look forward to growing this list as the year progresses.

Here I am debriefing a lab classroom visit with three colleagues and with a fellow Peer Collaborative Teacher at a neighboring school. 

My First “Week” as a New York City Department of Education Peer Collaborative Teacher

This year I am in a hybrid role at my school where I get to teach a few periods of 7th grade English Language Arts and support the professional learning of my colleagues. I am a Peer Collaborative Teacher (PCT) and so far, I’m loving it! After an initial 2-day week, we just completed our first full week so here are a few highlights from my first “week” as a PCT.

Building Relationships with New Teachers

This year I am responsible for helping support four first year English Language Arts teachers at our school. Three of them teach 9th grade students and one of them teaches 6th and 7th grade students. This week I simply wanted to start to build a relationship with each of them so we sat down one-on-one and started that process. I asked them the following questions and it helped me get to know them a bit more. I’m looking forward to getting into their classrooms and starting some of our coaching sessions.

  • Why did you become a teacher?
  • What was your best experience in school?
  • What was your most difficult experience in school?
  • How’s your year going?
  • What is working for you? What are your strengths?
  • What is difficult for you? Where do you want to grow?
  • What do you like to do for fun? What are your favorite snacks? :)

Best Practice at BSSWA

I love my school and one thing we can get better at is sharing the good stuff that’s happening in our classrooms and learning spaces. In my role as a PCT I get to visit people’s classrooms more frequently than most so I’m privileged to see some excellent practices. I’ve started taking pictures of the good things I see and sending them out to the staff as a “Best Practice at BSSWA.” I’ve only sent one so far but I’ve asked the staff to snap a pic or take a video of something great happening in their own classrooms or someone else’s to be shared.


Collaborating with other staff members

As a PCT, I’m focused on supporting the professional learning and growth of our staff. This week I had time to sit with our Dean of Students to apply for a grant to support our staff in developing and sustaining culturally responsive practices. In my full-time teacher role all of this work would have had to be done afterschool or during another time-constrained period. In my new role, I could allot a period during the day over the course of a few days to collaborate on the application. Precious time that more teachers need!

Creating the Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists’ Center for Teaching and Learning

While my principal and I were discussing my new role over the summer we brainstormed an idea for our school to create a Center for Teaching and Learning where staff could come to share best practices, get advice from colleagues, hear guest speakers, find helpful resources and research, and grow and develop as professional educators.

I presented the concept to our staff at the very beginning of the school year and sent a survey out soon after to hear what types of programming and resources people wanted and what they wanted the space to physically look like. Everyone had wonderful ideas and it’s now our job to make it happen. Some of their survey results are below and they remind me how important it is for educators to have a space where they feel safe to take risks, where they feel connected to others in the work, and where they can learn, reflect, and grow. I’m excited to see how the space manifests and what it will create for our school’s community of teachers and learners.

QUESTION: Are there specific professional resources would you like in The Center? If we don't have them we may be able to order them.

“Any Professional published resources that deal with Urban Education, dealing with African American and Latino Boys (Pedro Noguera, Dr. Steve Perry, etc.), and building self-esteem in girls in Mathematics and Science.”

“Anonymous ways to ask for/give feedback and support.”

“I would like to have more resources around ENL, SPED and literacy in content areas.”

QUESTION: What would you like the space to physically look like or include? What is your dream learning space?

“I think the space should be cozy and bright. Comfortable seating, moveable/stackable tables or trays to maximize the space, maybe some plants, artwork...”

“Comfortable seating, whiteboard wall, PD opps posted, best practice board.”

QUESTION: Is there anything else you want to be considered as we build BSSWA's first Center for Teaching and Learning?

“Let it be a safe space to talk about our struggles and a place to take chances.”

"Our understanding of who was and was not a good student were rooted less in experiences with urban students and more on our perception of them, which were largely based on a flawed narrative." I say all that to say it is gravely important that we approach teaching and learning with the least amount of bias; sometimes it gets in the way of us doing our best job. Training/workshop on this could be helpful! :)

Mindful Mornings

60% of the staff members surveyed said they’d like the Center to host mindfulness sessions for staff to participate in. We have one particular member of our school team who is a mindfulness practitioner and they volunteered to facilitate the session so we started a 10-minute mindfulness sit on Wednesday mornings just before our students enter the building to set the tone for the day. We had our first one last week and it was a peaceful way to start a day of teaching and learning at BSSWA.

I’m grateful for this opportunity to teach and learn in my school building. I'm excited to see how our work progresses and the impact it has on our students, our staff, our families, and our larger community. 

Does your school have a PCT or another teacher leader role? If so, what advice do you have for me and my colleagues as we embark on this journey?