What does Beyoncé have to do with great teachers? Ranson IB Middle School Principal Erica Jordan-Thomas wants you to know:
“There are Beyoncé educators in every single school building dropping number 1 albums year after year in the form of mind-blowing results with their kids.”
But, Jordan-Thomas says in her just-posted Fall 2017 TEDx talk, those Beyoncé educators are being held back by the traditional one-teacher, one-classroom setup in most schools. And there just aren’t enough Beyoncé educators to fill every U.S. classroom.
Jordan-Thomas is spreading the word about how Ranson is doing things differently—getting Beyoncé-level teaching in front of all 937 Ranson students.
By creating highly paid positions—within her school’s regular budget—for Opportunity Culture multi-classroom leaders, and having those excellent educators reach more students, Ranson is making teaching an appealing, sustainable, and affordable profession, even in a high-poverty environment, where schools often go begging for teachers.
Multi-classroom leaders (MCLs) at Ranson, who lead teams of up to five teachers, provide intensive, on-the-job coaching, planning, and data analysis leadership to a team of teachers while continuing to teach students, too. MCLs’ daily coaching, lesson planning, time for team teachers to practice delivering lessons, data analysis, and small-group instruction give teachers just the sort of support they crave.
“Our staff, they’re happier,” Jordan-Thomas says. “There’s been some conversation around whether it’s fair to pay some teachers more than others, but our teachers truly value the support of their MCL. No longer are teachers staying up late at night trying to figure out what they’re teaching the next day—they have the support of their MCL. We are making teaching more sustainable through improving work-life balance.”
And with that support, “our teachers are getting better faster. They are receiving feedback every single week from a Beyoncé educator. And when our teachers get better, our kids get better.”
At a school like Ranson, where 65 percent of students come in below grade level, student growth since Opportunity Culture and the MCL model went schoolwide in 2014–15 has been dramatic. Ranson had the highest student growth among Title I district schools in the state and was in the state’s top 1 percent overall for growth. Even though it’s difficult in North Carolina’s value-added EVAAS system to post growth that high year after year, Ranson again posted huge gains the following year. After science MCL Bobby Miles—highlighted in Jordan-Thomas’s talk—moved from being just the sixth-grade MCL to MCL science schoolwide, Ranson showed the highest science growth of any middle school in the district.
Ranson didn’t stop with its multi-classroom leadership. By adding blended learning—in which great teachers take on more students, but work with only a portion of them at a time while others learn in teacher-crafted online programs—students get more personalized instruction, meeting them at their learning level and helping them to grow, fast.
“Most importantly, our kids are learning,” Jordan-Thomas says. “We have been ranked number 2 in the district for our growth in language arts and number 3 for our growth in science [among all district schools]. Opportunity Culture is making a difference.”
For this principal, nothing matters more than getting great teaching and powerful relationships with adult role models to every student in her building—and across the nation.
“I believe teaching is one of the most patriotic acts in this country,” Jordan-Thomas says. “Every single day, parents send their greatest gift to a teacher. The fate of this country rests on the shoulders of our teachers. The leaders of tomorrow are sitting in classrooms today with our teachers. If we do not change the way we pay our teachers, because their pay does not reflect this impact, more teachers will continue to leave the profession, because they are tired of working two or three jobs just to provide for their family. Or even worse, those who have the potential to be great teachers…won’t even consider the profession at all. …
“Every student, everywhere, every day, deserves access to a great teacher. And at Ranson IB, that is not a slogan, it is a reality,” Jordan-Thomas concludes.