Thursday, February 13, 2014

Leading Educators’ Boston School Visits

DC Fellow Edwin Dela Torre wrote this reflection after the School Visits Trip to Boston in November. As potential Fellows consider applying for the program, we encourage them to see the insights shared in our current participants' blog posts. 

by Edwin Dela Torre, Leading Educators Fellow in Washington,D.C., Cohort 2013

The saying goes that “it takes a village to educate a child.” And this is even more applicable in today’s world, what with the globalization trend and the world becoming smaller and smaller, that is, getting more and more connected. Connections and networking comprise another trend that affects all sectors of our world, including education. Getting to visit and learn from schools and districts in another city like Boston was s a great opportunity for us Fellows of Leading Educators to connect with our colleagues in that part of the country. And this visit proved to be just that, an awesome learning experience that will strengthen our resolve and re-ignite our passion to make a difference in the lives of our students back here in DC.

It was a mere two and a half days of debriefing (Nov. 13-15, 2013), but I felt like the education situation in Boston (which, I believe, represents the whole country like a microcosm) was presented to us from different angles and perspectives. The Leading Educators’ organizers arranged it so well that we were able to observe a whole gamut of different setups of how education is in Boston, and, by extension, how it is in the whole country. At the time of the actual visits, our small groups saw this angle or that perspective, this style or that emphasis, these grade levels or that special group of students. But during later debriefing and bigger group sharing, we saw the whole picture in its different pieces of the puzzle, like a collage forming a greater canvas.

Finally, with the use of seven different levers for visiting schools, which have also been used in the process of observation itself, we were able to integrate what we learned in small pieces. A great tool indeed, much like a pair of eyeglasses that can help one focus on particular aspects, eliminating other distractors, or putting those “distractors” in their possible frame of integration into the bigger picture.

Moving forward, we are now equipped with such a rich arsenal of experiences, compressed in such a short period of time, but still very useful, if we are able to digest these experiences, and make them our own. And we can eclectically choose what may or may not be applicable to our setting here in the schools and districts in or around our nation’s capital.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Life's most persistent and urgent question is:

What are you doing for others? - MLK, Jr. 

In celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, over 50 New Orleans Fellows, staff, and friends showed up to help Success Prep Academy. Over the course of four hours, volunteers:
  • created two incredible murals in the cafeteria
  • painted the benches and tables outside by the playground and blacktop 
  • set up four new portable basketball hoops 
  • touched up four classrooms with new paint
"It was so great to see the reaction of students and staff this morning," said Success Prep Director Niloy Gangopadhyay today. "It really made the day special for everyone! I feel extremely lucky that we were chosen to be the site."

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Learning from School Visits in New Orleans

by Jeff Fouquet, Leading Educators Fellow in Kansas City, Cohort 2012

Two weeks ago I traveled to New Orleans with the 2013 Leading Educator fellows from all around the Kansas City area. Although I had already experienced a School Visits Trip to Chicago with my own cohort (2012), I knew seeing more schools and talking with more teachers would broaden my thinking about the possibilities for my own students and adult team. These goals were certainly accomplished, but I did not anticipate how many new partnerships this trip would introduce. 
Because of the generous levels of time, attention and guidance offered by our hosts in NOLA, I was able to identify specific, bite-size adjustments that would help my team immediately impact our students. Upon returning, I partnered with the computer apps teacher in my building to develop a data tracker so we could provide specific feedback to students. By using measurable, timely data to encourage academic and behavioral growth, students can show students specific changes they can make to improve their levels of success. Additionally, this week my team will stop recognizing a “Student of the Week” to adopt “Weekly Shout-outs.” My school serves an at-risk population, so spreading the praise around strategically instead of highlighting the success of one student will result in higher levels of student investment and build a stronger sense of community.

As exciting as these changes are, the best part of the School Visits Trip was getting to work with other teacher-leaders as they tried to address their teams’ needs. As a second-year fellow, it felt good sharing some of the resources and strategies my Leading Educators coach, Tara Tamburello, had showed me to gain ground in similar situations. And, in kind, all the teacher-leaders I met were able to lend their perspectives to my mission to increase student investment.

I feel like I’ve written so much, yet I haven’t even mentioned the amazing educators and reformers who joined us from as far afield as England! We had guests from organizations both peripheral and essential to education who came to NOLA hoping to leverage what they learned in ways that might immediately impact the students they serve.

I sincerely thank Leading Educators, Kansas City Cohort 2013, and the teachers, students and schools of NOLA for creating such a transformative opportunity for personal and professional growth; I met so many amazing teachers and people. My team and my students are grateful for the changes this experience has inspired -  and I’m already look forward to next year’s trip!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Studying Teacher-Leadership with Leading Educators in Houston

Two principals from London joined the Greater New Orleans Fellowship's School Visits Trip (SVT) to Houston this fall. 

by Beth Kobel, Vice Principal, Preston Manor School, London, UK

This year I have had the opportunity to visit inner city American schools to gather good practice happening in effective schools. Our time in Houston allowed for an opportunity to join a Leading Educators School Visits Trip (SVT) designed for their Fellows. The experience was fantastic! From the very beginning, it was clear that this was going to be a highly organized and effective three days.

At each of the schools visited, we were able to experience a variety of events including: lesson observations, meetings with teaching staff and administration, learning about their induction programs and staff development opportunities, interviewing panels of students, observing student government classes, and visiting spirit assemblies. Every school was very welcoming, highly organized, provided extensive information and answered any questions.

What was an especially valued added bonus, was visiting these schools with highly professional and enthusiastic middle leaders from New Orleans. Seeing the schools through their eyes and listening to their high level of conversation was a fantastic opportunity to learn so much about what we were observing in the context of culture.

Leading Educators has designed the SVT exceptionally well. At the end of each day their are structured opportunities to share good practice, review the evidence gathered to demonstrate various 'levers', as well as begin planning for how this practice might impact on their home schools.

There were so many practical examples to influence our practice on both individual and whole school levels. One thing that I will take away from this visit is the positive impact they are having by dedicating a significant amount of time and resources to staff development. In every school the commitment to making this a priority was evident in its culture, consistency, structure and timetable. Thank you for this opportunity - It really was inspiring!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Teacher-Leaders in Ireland: Lessons on Student Leadership

Recently two of our Fellowship alumnae and our Executive Director from the Greater New Orleans region visited Ireland, touring schools and meeting with members of the N. Ireland DOE to learn about their system and the avenues for teacher-leadership. The trip was a reciprocal visit after several Irish and British teacher-leaders visited New Orleans last year as part of an exchange program facilitated by the British Counsel.

Last week, Alumna Meghan Mekita wrote some of her key observations about adult leadership in the schools she visited. Today, she follows up with this post on student leadership.

by Meghan Mekita, Leading Educators Fellow in New Orleans, Cohort 2012

While the high schools we visited taught us about adult leadership, the primary schools taught us about student leadership. At Victoria College in Belfast, students have taken over many of the jobs that adults do in our schools. Older children apply to be mentors to pre-schoolers and kindergartners. During lunch, the mentors cut food for the younger children and teach them how to sit and use their utensils properly. At recess, the older children organize games and teach younger children how to play nice.

What really made our hearts melt, though, was the idea of the ‘friendship stop’. Somewhere on the blacktop there was a stop sign that designated the location where any student could stand if they needed help finding a playmate. The older mentors would swing by, scoop them up, deliver them to a kind group of their peers, and set everyone up with a new game or activity.

Student leadership didn’t stop on the playground. Students as young as 5 were on the student council, working on environmental initiatives and fundraising for causes that they had chosen as a class. Almost every student was on a committee, allowing them to build public speaking and leadership skills from a very young age. In the older grades, these roles were expanded. A group of seniors in the attached high school applied and were selected to become prefects. As prefects, they handled duties, such as correcting uniform infractions, which teachers are normally tasked with. Our visit to Victoria College made us question our current expectations for student leadership, and start to think creatively about ways to build student leadership programs at our schools.

Shira, Julie and I felt lucky to have had this experience. We have developed relationships with several staff members at the schools we visited, and we hope that the foundation has been laid for us to continue asking questions about how their schools began the programs that we saw as well-oiled machines.