Start of a Teacher-Led Revolution? Ask the Teacher-Leaders!

by | October 1, 2015

“Opportunity Culture® is not a program, it’s a culture change.”

Last week, Public Impact® convened a select group of 90 teachers, principals, district administrators, and national education organization leaders in Chapel Hill, N.C., to plan the future of Opportunity Culture® (OC).

The goal: Learn from pioneering OC districts and teachers and plan ahead to improve this work, with help from leaders of national education organizations.

Our message: We want to help OC districts and schools support principals and teacher-leaders who, in turn, are providing all teachers with significant support on the job every day.

The message we heard back from teachers and principals: Keep this going and grow it faster—within schools, across districts, and across the U.S.

“We had to move the breakout rooms at the last minute when the session on scaling up Opportunity Culture® drew the largest crowd. We had scheduled it for the smallest room, not the largest,” notes Stephanie Dean, vice president of teacher and leader policy for Public Impact®.

A motivating opening panel of teacher-leaders, all Opportunity Culture® Fellows chosen by their districts for teaching excellence and leadership, brought the message home: This works. Districts, find a way to keep and expand Opportunity Culture®. Bring it to more teachers and students, now.

The district needs to create more of this—a strong district commitment is crucial. … We had the highest growth scores in math in grades three through eight in the district, and we’re not a small district. So students are growing, and growing at a rapid pace.”— Middle school Multi-Classroom Leader (MCL) Karen Wolfson, Nashville, Tenn., who led both novice and veteran teachers to high growth.

“Keep this alive. It’s such a great thing, and so exciting.”—Elementary school Multi-Classroom Leader Karen von Klahr, Cabarrus County, N.C., who is also featured in a video about supporting new teachers.

“This past year we saw tremendous progress in [my school’s] MCL teams’ [test scores]. But beyond just the academics, we saw a decrease in behavior referrals as well, and we credit the MCLs working more closely with teachers for that…..I am growing professionally … so much more than any other teaching position, instructional coach, that I’ve done in the past.”— Elementary school Multi-Classroom Leader Maggie Vadala, Syracuse, N.Y.

“Empowering teachers has been incredible. My team was in tears this year when we found out that we made growth for the first time—it was so incredible to see all that hard work finally pay off and for them to buy into all this that I was pushing last year.”—Biology Multi-Classroom Leader Erin Burns, Charlotte, N.C., who went from reaching 80 students a day to about 500 students in a high-poverty high school, and who began leading a team last year that had made negative growth in its previous three years.

“It’s great, it’s working, teachers are happy, kids are happy, parents are happy!”—Elementary school Multi-Classroom Leader Danielle Bellar, Charlotte, N.C.

A panel of principals who have achieved high growth using OC models followed:

“Opportunity Culture® is not a program, it’s a culture change. … We need to share this work.”—Alison Harris Welcher, who was principal of an Opportunity Culture® middle school last year, when its students made extremely high growth, now director of school leadership for the Project L.I.F.T. school zone.

“Teaching is a team sport. … We see that in two years of this work, our math team led the highest gains in the city, teacher absenteeism dramatically reduced … student discipline fell in an astronomical change, because the culture of the school became one of aspiration.”—Christian Sawyer, formerly principal of a Nashville Opportunity Culture® middle school. 

Watch last week’s new Teacher Support in an Opportunity Culture® video—drawn from our interviews with teachers and multi-classroom leaders, who just couldn’t stop talking about the long-awaited support they get and give to help everyone extend great teaching to all their students.

And we debuted our new Opportunity Culture®: Teaching, Leading, Learning—a fun six-minute cartoon video showing what an Opportunity Culture® is and what it means to all those teachers who want great things happening in their schools and careers. Share it with everyone you know who’s affected by K­–12 education today!

What we saw and heard last week was true “teacher voice,” emphatically speaking to those with the power to spread a school revolution that brings an Opportunity Culture® to all.


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