By Kristin Cubbage, first published by Real Clear Education, May 16, 2016
This piece is the 13th and final in a series of monthly pieces by teachers participating in the Opportunity Culture initiative and circles back with North Carolina teacher Kristin Cubbage, who launched this series a year ago.
When I became a multi-classroom leader in 2013, the position was new to our school, district and state—new to the nation, in fact. I have vivid memories of the questions I received, especially in an early meeting with team teachers, when one said, “So what exactly do you do now? What is your job, anyway?”
I remember feeling a little flushed and nervous, considering I wasn’t 100-percent sure, myself, of everything I would do. With all eyes on me, I responded, “Well, I will coach and support the teachers on my team and also teach a group of multi-aged children for literacy.”
It was all I knew at the time.
I’ve thought about this moment often since. I have so many answers now that I wish I knew then. It’s not that I want to validate my position as a multi-classroom leader to others (the work alone covers that), but that I had no idea of the impact I would have on the teachers I was beginning to work alongside—or their impact on me. The role has changed, and will continue to change, but the overall principle is the same.
If I could respond now, I’d take a deep breath—very deep!—and say something like this:
“My job is to coach all eight teachers in kindergarten, first, and second grade. Not the usual coaching we see in most schools today, though, because I am still teaching alongside them and take accountability for every student’s learning in those classes. No matter how much or how little experience the teachers have, I will work in their classrooms with them—and their students—to help them become an even more effective teacher. I’ll choose the precise steps that will help them change their practice immediately, and I will support them in implementing the feedback correctly—support teachers don’t usually get.
“I will co-teach with them to show new ways of teaching skills. I’ll model lessons when they need help with a standard or just need fresh ideas. I’ll work with students while the teacher pulls small groups for guided reading, so there is precious uninterrupted time with four to six students—and I’ll pull reading groups myself. Using headsets as a teacher teaches, I will give live feedback around classroom management and instructional strategies, and I’ll see their practice change before my eyes! Since we share accountability for students, I will do the work they do, and then more.
“I’ll lead their content planning team meetings to ensure that lessons align with standards. I’ll give weekly feedback on how to upgrade a lesson plan, and schedule a time to watch the lessons unfold. I’ll help them analyze their data after assessments, and guide them through creating a plan to meet each student’s needs.
“I’ll differentiate how I coach my teachers just like we differentiate for students—helping them grow as professionals no matter their experience. I’ll teach a first-year teacher how to efficiently make transitions. I’ll teach a polished teacher strategies for responding by using hand motions to gauge the entire class’s understanding. I’ll teach a veteran teacher how to increase rigor in their lesson, in the moment, based on student data.
“I will be there for encouragement and motivation when they’re in tears because of the stress of teaching in a high-poverty school. I will clear my schedule to teach in their room when it gets too challenging to handle alone. I’ll work tirelessly to support my teachers to ensure that they don’t quit before the end of the year—as so often happened before MCL positions existed here—so that the new normal is retaining incredible talent for our students because of that support! I will love their students the way they do and share in the joy of watching our little ones succeed.
“I’ll remind them of the students we get to teach and why we are here. I will be the adult who spends the most time in their room, and I’ll recognize their hard work frequently with praise, shout-outs at staff meetings, love notes full of encouragement, chats with the principal about how to reward each of them, and will show videos of their exemplary teaching at staff meetings to train others.
“And because I’m the multi-classroom leader for three grades, I’ll be able to tell them about every student who walks in their room because I know their reading levels, siblings, and home lives. They won’t have to spend the first month guessing about their students, because I spend three full years with them.
“They will no longer teach in isolation. I’ll be their partner in the toughest work in the world. I’ll be the one who shows tough love because our kids our worth it, but I’ll also be their friend. I’ll be protective of them like I am with our students, because I care about their success as much as they do. I will be there when they fall and when they thrive.
“My job is to ensure growth in all my teachers, because I am accountable for all of our students. My job is to ensure that every single one of my students, in all eight classes, has the most effective teacher standing up front each day, because our students deserve that kind of dedication to their lives. That’s what I get to do. That is my job.”