Monday, May 25, 2015

What Does a Teacher Leader Do?

Victoria Luhrs (now Lynch) completed her student teaching at the first high-needs, urban middle school I led. The overarching impression I had of Victoria as a fledgling teacher is that she defined her own success by her students' success. If she ever didn't get out of her students what she wanted or planned to, she examined her own performance and tried again.


In addition to delivering solid instruction and facilitating what we now call "21st Century Skills," Victoria strived to provide opportunities to our kids that they would not otherwise have. She invested kids in meaningful projects that required them to think, act, decide, speak, and listen as citizens. She enjoyed collaborating with her teammates, and they enjoyed her creativity and passion.


Then, she went to Virginia to teach in a school with her best friend.  When I learned she wanted to return to our district, I was looking to fill a recently vacated Teacher Leader position. Victoria Luhrs (Lynch) and "Teacher Leader" go together like white boards and markers, like elmos and LCD projectors, like parties and decorations! I knew she'd be perfect for the job. 


I said it. She knew it. Done deal.


Our new TL was VL!


Victoria (on left) joins (then) Teacher Leader Monica Randle at Arrowhead.
Monica, another fabulous Teacher Leader, moved on to administration in another district school.


For the past four years, I have enjoyed Victoria's creativity, passion, dedication, her considerable intellect, and the way she responds to challenges in relationships and leadership.  Our district provides time weekly for professional development. Teacher leaders plan and deliver much of our professional learning, and that takes an understanding of adult learners, an ability to connect all learning to shared goals for our students, strategizing to ensure implementation, and small- and large-group facilitation.


As the instructional leader of our building, I have been immensely gratified that Victoria has grasped and owned the mission of our school. It sure helps that she is as motivated as I am to make sure our students don't fall through any cracks while they are with us. She is almost always spot-on with her decisions about what to emphasize or focus on, and that is very hard to teach.


Victoria (standing) leads our August inservice.





I love to be impressed by educators. I'm, like, totally thrilled when I'm impressed by teachers and school leaders. This young woman impresses me regularly. In her position as TL, she has been leading the implementation of our building literacy plan. Under her leadership, we have made enormous strides toward establishing a culture of reading and toward learning how to teach writing.


What does a teacher leader do? Here are a few things that Victoria does as teacher leader:


* Every teacher in our building facilitates a MIRP period with a classroom of students. MIRP is an acronym for Monitored Independent Reading Protocol. This year we have learned how to help kids use the I-PICK strategy to select just-right books for them to read for pleasure. Victoria made us bookmarks so we could easily use the strategy with kids, and so that kids could easily use the strategy for themselves. We have also learned just how easy and quick it can be to conference with readers about their books.



Teachers practice the 3-Step Interview Victoria taught, to use with students during MIRP time.




We do a WHOLE LOT MORE READING AND TALKING ABOUT BOOKS at Arrowhead, thanks to Victoria.


* Before the end of last school year, Victoria convinced me to make changes to the master schedule that would allow for a weekly meeting among all teachers who are assigned to struggling readers in our building. This group consisted of a Life Skills Special Education teacher (for students with special needs who perform below a second-grade level academically), two Direct Reading teachers (for students with disabilities who perform more than a couple grades below grade level), two Targeted Literacy Instructors (whose job is to help kids fill gaps that make reading hard), and our ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher. They called their weekly meeting "The Reading PLC." 


With Victoria as facilitator, they studied and shared The Cafe Book: Enaging All Students in Daily Literary Assessment and Instruction, by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, as well as portions of Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading, by Tanny McGregor, and I Read it, but I Don't Get It, by Cris Tovani. Each member tried out relevant strategies in their classrooms and shared their results with one another.






We do a MUCH BETTER JOB SUPPORTING TEACHERS OF STUDENTS WITH THE SEVEREST NEEDS at Arrowhead, thanks to Victoria.


* The Reading PLC also became the Reading Response Team. These teachers and Victoria flew to the help of any student who could not connect with an independent reading book. They were successful in generating an appreciation for reading in dozens of students over the course of the school year.


The Reading PLC presents to the staff at our AMS Faculty Expo



* Victoria is so determined to fill the school with reading options, that she orchestrates two or more Scholastic Book Fairs each year. She wants to give kids and parents a book-buying experience, but she also wants to take advantage of the bonus funds we earn from the fairs to buy more books. She always has a stack of books selected for me to buy with school money as well. Because she will identify the titles that young people love to read, I am happy to budget lots of funds for her to spend on the purchase of new books each school year.


* Victoria makes sure that area agencies, such as our public library and local book marketers become active participants with our school. Our students attend regular book talks and check-out times, not only in our school library, but also at our public library.


We do a MUCH BETTER JOB OF GETTING JUST-RIGHT BOOKS TO KIDS, thanks to Victoria.




* Victoria is a gifted group facilitator. She is very adept at getting all voices into the room about critical issues related to literacy in our school. She facilitates all of the study and planning meetings we've had to craft, implement, and reflect upon our building literacy initiative. She is a natural with learning-focused conversations and with the use of structured protocols for thinking and sharing. We never waste a second at Victoria's well-planned sessions, and we have fun too.


Victoria and Lisa present to the staff at our Faculty Expo.


We do a MUCH BETTER JOB OF COLLABORATING AROUND INSTRUCTION, thanks to Victoria.


* Although not an official requirement of the job, Victoria is a professional party planner, so we regularly enjoy her considerable gifts in this area. Victoria has prepared lots of teacher gifts over her few years with us. She has orchestrated some really fun, themed refreshments and events, for students and for staff. One of my favorite events for teachers was the breakfast bar during Teacher Appreciation Week one year. One of my favorite events for students was Pancakes and PJs for students who met the requirements for developing "college-going habits."


Our year's end treats at our final professional learning session last week was "Orange You Glad It's Almost Summer" with every orange food we could find. Just for fun.





We do a MUCH BETTER JOB OF CELEBRATING ONE ANOTHER, thanks to Victoria.


* In addition to everything else she does, Victoria also coaches teachers and content PLCs in the areas of English/Language Arts and Social Studies. She knows the standards for her content areas and she knows instructional strategies. She knows backward design and unit planning. She knows kids. She knows management. She knows the complexities of a teacher's job and the challenges of time management. The meetings we require with our instructional coaches (teacher leaders) actually save teachers time and work, as our coaches help to streamline their thinking around what's required, what resources are available, and how they might get the most bang for their buck in student achievement. With any district-wide initiative, Victoria quickly conceives how best to have our teachers study it, plan for it, implement it, and reflect on it (as well as how I can monitor it) over the course of the school year. She also helps teachers examine and plan from their students' achievement data.


We do a MUCH BETTER JOB COMMUNICATING EXPECTATIONS FOR INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICE AND SUPPORTING ITS IMPLEMENTATION, thanks to Victoria.


* Victoria is also a gifted graphic designer. She whips out designs for school banners, themed covers for our student planners, t-shirts for various purposes, the family crests for our Houses, instructional materials, and many more items.


We LOOK MUCH BETTER - MORE THEMATIC AND PUT-TOGETHER, thanks to Victoria!




Victoria also goes on field trips when extra supervision is needed, arranged field trips whenever possible with connections to teachers' units, jumps in to assist with our assessments, helps with the master schedule, lends an ear to struggling teachers, and co-teaches or models instruction when needed. She even shares her friends and family members with AMS.


Victoria and Kip Lynch at the AMS Career Fair


(Shout out to Kip Lynch for sharing his profession with our kids at this year's career fair!)


Next year, Victoria will share her gifts and talents with another school. I am happy for them and for what they will accomplish with her help. I am happy for her as well, because she craves challenges, and a new assignment always presents a challenge. I am immensely thankful for her contribution to our school.


ARROWHEAD IS A BETTER SCHOOL, thanks to Victoria!


And that's what a teacher leader does.