always be learning

Some city schools look for support to boost teacher leadership

For many of the city’s strongest teachers, moving up professionally means moving out of the classroom and on to jobs in school management, consulting, policy, or academia. That was the conclusion of a recent survey from the New Teacher Project on the challenges districts face retaining teachers who have hit their stride.

The Department of Education is in the early stages of several experiments to encourage those teachers to stay in schools, offering higher-level professional development and sometimes higher pay. But some school leaders don’t want to wait to give their teachers opportunities to improve their leadership practices.

Enter the National Academy of Advanced Teacher Education, a fledgling training program for teachers who have already demonstrated strength and commitment to the profession, but want to improve even more. For the past two years they have offered teachers around the country an intensive leadership training workshop tailored to the experiences of classroom instructors. This year, six city teachers joined a cohort of 50 in Chicago, for a two week long summer seminar series.

The curriculum is split between teaching skills and leadership skills like public speaking and improvisation, and peppered with business school-style case study reading assignments, according to Deborah Levitsky, the program director. The idea is to help them to think deeper about non-supervisory leadership roles, such as grade-level team leaders and department chairs. The program runs for two years, with a winter weekend-long meetup and at-home reading and writing assignments.

One reason teachers leave the classroom, according to the TNTP study, is that they feel their talents are going unrecognized. The study authors posed paying teachers more based on merit as one solution. But in lieu of that option, school districts were encouraged to find ways to help teachers to refine their teaching approaches through special programs.

Jason Griffith, the only district school principal to send a teacher to the academy, said the stakes are particularly high for small and selective schools like his, Brooklyn Latin High School, where a smaller number of teachers makes up the total staff.

“We spend an awful lot of time trying to find great teachers and then supporting and developing them. If we do have a teacher who leaves after three or five years, we’re losing all their knowledge and skills they have built,” he said. “If there’s a program that can keep teachers in the schools for any amount of time longer, that’s a real benefit for us.”

Griffith,who also sent a teacher last year, said the program was worth the cost of about $5,000 from the school’s discretionary budget.

The teacher “came back with more tools in his toolbox to be a better teacher and a better facilitator in meetings,” Griffith said. “Budgets are tight right now, but as we grow as a school—we’ve almost doubled in the last two years—there’s a major need to build capacity and leadership.”

The other city participants hailed from local charter schools, including Explore Charter School and schools from the Democracy Prep and Achievement First networks.

John Huber, who has been teaching 9th grade literature at Achievement First Brooklyn for the past two years, said his supervisors nominated him for the academy at a turning point in his four-year teaching career.

“I’ve been given a great deal of responsibiltiy this year—I’lll be the department chair, and doing a lot more curriculum design work,” he said, noting that this would be particularly challenging this year with the citywide push to align curricula to the Common Core State Standards. “What I had the opportunity to work on at NAATE has enhanced by ability to meet some of those responsibilities.”

Huber rattled off a dizzying list of instructional and classroom management strategies covered during the summer workshops that he continues to think about as school year approaches.

“Issues such as, what does really high quality classroom discourse sound like? Issues surrounding test efficacy, and making sure each child is receiving the same high quality education despite different ability levels,” he said. “And selecting the best strategy to use to achieve a particular objective, whether the teacher is trying to decide if a teacher-led discussion is the best way to go, or a seminar, or small group discussions.”

Reshma Ramkellawan-Arteaga, a seventh-grade reading teacher and grade-level team leader at Democracy Prep Charter Middle School in Harlem, said one lesson that particularly stuck with her was a case study about a teacher called Mr. Chen.

He was highly regarded by his fellow teacher she said, and ran a tight ship in his classroom. But when he encountered a student whose learning style didn’t fit into the structure of his classroom, confrontation ensued. The moral of the story was to reconsider tools you use to help students who struggle.

“There are moments in the middle of February when you’re exhausted, and waiting for mid-Winter recess, that you don’t always see the best in your students,” Ramkellawan-Arteaga explained. “But the student [in the reading] was trying to pay attention. This forced me to take a step back and remind myself that I need to attempt to see the best at all times.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.