Becoming Part of your School Community

I just left a writing workshop with 18 Edwin Markham Middle School girls. We all left in tears, sharing hugs and words of encouragement after revealing some of our deepest struggles through original poetry. It was that kind of workshop.

I am at Camp Ubuntu, a 3-day and 2-night experience for 100 of our students hosted by the Harold Robinson Foundation. It’s happened for multiple years and when I was invited to attend this year I jumped on the opportunity. Not only do I love being in the outdoors and at camp, I have seen the powerful impact outdoors and overnight activities have on our students and our school communities. Being out of the city with students always allows us to form deeper connections and relationships with one another. Whether we’re cheering each other on as we cross a tightrope, 50 feet in the air, hiking, taking a hip hop dance class or sharing a meal, we build bonds that will last a lifetime and positively impact our school culture and community. I’ve only had these experiences as a teacher and wondered what it would be like as a literacy coach who does not directly teach students. I am happy to share that it’s been just as beautiful and impactful.

I’ve been traveling with a group of girls who named themselves “The Soul Sisters.” They are 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students and I’ve seen most of them on campus in their English Language Arts classes but I didn’t know any of them well. Our last few days together have allowed me to learn their names, meet some of their parents, laugh, dance, and eat with them, and get to know them as individuals. All that I learn and the bonds that we build will positively impact my work as a literacy coach. The more I know my community and the children we serve, the better equipped I am to support our teachers in being the best facilitators of literacy learning for our students.

While we all may not have the opportunity to come to the awesome Camp Ubuntu, we all have the opportunity to say yes when we’re invited to an event that will allow us to build bonds and deepen our connection with our school community. We can all build relationships with staff members to learn more about their work and how it impacts or connects to the literacy work we’re doing. We can all attend events where families and community partners are present to learn, make connections and build bridges. We can all say yes to deepening our knowledge of the children we serve in an effort to better meet their needs.  

Growing and Learning as a Literacy Coach

Hello world! It’s been almost a year since I’ve written a blog. What?!?! How is that even possible? It’s possible because teacher leaders are busy folks. Real talk. So much has happened in the last year including a move from the city that never sleeps to the city of angels. I absolutely adored my role as a Peer Collaborative Teacher at Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists in the south Bronx but my husband was ready to leave New York and come to L.A. for warmer weather, a new job, and (his words, not mine) friendlier people.

I am in a new role as a Secondary Literacy Coach for School Transformation at the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. It’s a new role for the organization and I am based 4 days a week at Edwin Markham Middle School in Watts where I support literacy instruction across our campus. (Go Eagles!) Every Friday I am at the Partnership offices downtown learning alongside my colleagues and building my coaching toolkit to take resources back to Markham.

I am enjoying the role and love that most of my time is spent on a middle school campus (which is absolutely gorgeous by the way). I definitely miss teaching students directly but I’m starting to build relationships with a few since I’m in their classes so frequently. So far, coaching is not as time-consuming as teaching, so I’ve decided to commit to publishing a blog on my coaching experience at least every other week. This counts as the first!

Some of the coaching topics I may explore are:

  • Building relationships with teachers and students

  • Key professional resources

  • The power of video

  • Instructional walks

  • The importance of regular check-ins

  • Managing it all - scheduling!

I hope that you’ll join me on this journey as I grow as a literacy coach. I’m hoping to inspire, inform, and connect with as many readers as possible.

Here’s to every student having an incredible English Language Arts teacher and every teacher having an incredible coach!

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.