This post by Whitaker Brown, an eighth-grade science teacher at Ranson IB Middle School in Charlotte, N.C., first appeared on the Project L.I.F.T. website. See here to learn how to apply in February for Opportunity Culture positions in the Project L.I.F.T. zone of schools.
Long nights. Physically and emotionally draining days. Moments feeling that I was just barely keeping my head above water. All of these were common occurrences during my (and I have no doubt, other teachers’) first year in the classroom.
Fast forward to midway through my second year and the picture is dramatically different. I feel refreshed; motivated each and every morning by the work that I do. The feeling of each day as an endless uphill climb is replaced by one not without its challenges, but rather one with a clear vision of what it will take for such challenges to be overcome. I now have time before and after school to invest further in my school, my scholars, and my development as a teacher leader. At the end of the year I’m able to see the fruits of my labors; increasing the overall proficiency of my 130 scholars at college and career readiness (levels 4-5 on EOG) from 83% my first year to 96% as part of an 8th grade science PLC that produced a student growth of 5.2% on the N.C. Growth Index (bearing in mind that a score of 2 indicates exceeds expected growth).
When asked about what the biggest difference was between my experience during my first and my second year in the classroom, my response without hesitation has been the addition of the Multi-Classroom Leader (MCL), Bobby Miles, to our 8th grade science team at the beginning of my second year. Here are 5 ways that having an MCL leading our team has made me a better teacher:
Less time planning = More time to hone my craft
During my first year, when I would tell non-educator friends and family members that the reason I had left school after sundown on the previous night was to finish the planning of lessons for the following day, they would often look at me with a puzzled expression. “You have to do all of that? Isn’t that already done and given to you by the district?” Of course, the reality was anything but; due to the fact that the previous school year had seen complete turnover on the 8th grade science team, myself and the other two teachers on my team collaborated to create all of our lessons for that year from scratch – an unimaginably daunting responsibility.
As our newly hired MCL, Mr. Miles was tasked over the summer leading up to my second year with the responsibility of reviewing and honing the materials from the previous year, supplementing them with techniques and activities from his expansive and experienced toolbox to make our curriculum even stronger. No more did I spend long nights creating lessons the night before they were to be executed – rather, I was given top notch materials days, if not weeks in advance, allowing time to review, personalize, and provide feedback to the team in order to ensure lessons were as rigorous and engaging as possible.
Smaller class sizes through a Blended Learning model
TGIF? How about TGIMoT? Mondays and Tuesdays have come to be two of my favorite days of the week given the strategy that our team has developed to utilize our MCL and Reach Associate for Blended Learning. On these two days, my standard class packed to the brim with as many as 36 scholars is cut in half, using technology and small group instruction to give groups of scholars the targeted remediation that they need based on recent assessment data. This allows me more time to provide significantly more personalized instruction to fewer students at a time, or to execute hands on labs that might have otherwise been logistically impossible given the class size constraints.
Over the course of my first year, I received great feedback from various instructional coaches and administrators that were critical to the development of my instructional practice. However, often these leaders were balancing large coaching caseloads of teachers across the building, and I always yearned for a more consistent source from which I could receive feedback that would help me to hone my craft.
With a minimum of one formal coaching conversation a week (yet, in reality, vastly more informal conversations and pieces of advice throughout the week), my MCL has become that consistent coach that I was looking for during my first year. Even now, in my third year in the classroom, Mr. Miles continues to be my first point of contact when I need a tip or want feedback on a lesson or a technique that I plan to use.
One of the most important pieces of this coaching is the fact that 100% of the feedback I receive from my MCL is non-evaluative in nature. All educators have experienced that feeling of the unannounced observation – tensing of the muscles, rush of adrenaline, just praying that Johnny doesn’t act the way he was acting just 5 minutes before the administrator walked in. With the knowledge that my MCL’s presence in class is for the sole purpose of making me better, I can feel entirely comfortable being my true teacher self; even if it so happens that one of my (many) weaknesses as a teacher is put on display at a particular moment in the lesson. In fact, some of my most painful days in the classroom have since been turned into great starting points for growth with the help of coaching from my MCL.
Regardless of the environment in which you teach, this profession is difficult, and there will always be days at the end of which you’re left feeling disappointed, isolated, and drained. Over the past two years, having a colleague whose primary role is to support me and my teammates when we need support, and challenge us when we need to be pushed, has made a monumental difference in my well-being and my drive for success inside the classroom.