The following is part of my monthly column, One Day and One Goal: Expanding opportunity in NC I invite you to follow as I share classroom stories and explore critical issues facing education in our state. Go here for past columns.
I know firsthand how significant mentorship can be in a person’s leadership development. I shared in these columns that I would not be the person I am today without the investment of my parents, my first educators and various professional supports; and there are many more personal mentors I hope to give space and credit to in these columns.
Reflections based on my own journey – as well as the journeys of people I have had the privilege of meeting through our One Day Breakfasts series – have led me to believe even more deeply in the power of the educator coalition of our State which continues to fight to improve the life trajectory of each student under their care.
It’s a power that’s often taken for granted, which is why I want to stop and acknowledge the myriad roads that lead teachers in this area and the ties that bind educators to the front lines of inequity in of education.
How to foster the force multipliers of education
We prepare educators to enter K-12 classrooms with a skill set that may or may not fully equip them to meet the expectations of our education system.
Built on the assumption that each teacher who stands in front of the class will have a positive and immediate multiplier effect, the formula boils down to one teacher for every twenty, thirty, fifty or more students, multiplied and averaged to measure the effectiveness of both teaching and learning. The impetus then goes towards installing a force of quality educators who will execute this formula with results that affirm that the system is working.
This leads to a number of different outcomes – as well as side effects – including the alarming trends of teacher burnout and chronic student absenteeism.
Rewriting the expectations we have set for educators and students in this learning system will take time; but even as we work towards change, we must also recognize the work our current faculty do, day in and day out, to ensure students can thrive.
In light of Teacher Appreciation Week, I propose that we begin to think of teachers not only as capable of having a multiplier effect, but also as force multipliers when they receive individualized coaching and development.
Like “the multiplier effect”, “force multiplier” is a term that originated outside the field of education. We borrow it to describe a capability or resource that, added to the force currently applied, increases the power and potential for success of the mission as a whole. When we think of the potential of educators in this way, we come to think of them as leaders and pinch hitters for nearly every aspect of systems change.
Simply put, put that person in a position of influence – in front of a class, on a school board, or in a school leadership position – and the impact will be exponential.
The Teach For America leadership model is rooted in the belief that developing force multipliers is possible – and necessary – through a series of learning experiences.
First, it must be understood that brilliance is equally distributed among all students, but opportunity is not; and simply based on circumstances of race, class, and/or geography, students face outsized challenges in their educational and professional pursuits.
The next is a lifelong commitment to disrupting this reality, beginning with a two-year commitment to teaching in a low-income community, and thereby experiencing first-hand the genius of all students and the individual-level impact of systemic inequalities.
As class leaders, Teach For America (TFA) corps members receive one-on-one development from a teacher coach who provides educational and culturally-appropriate support during the particularly steep learning curve that each new teacher faces. Often, these relationships are a critical indicator of the level of success corps members will have in transitioning into their roles. Another is to have affirming relationships with other educators, including those within and beyond the TFA network.
The learning experiences TFA engages with our alumni after their two-year commitment to generate outsized impact on students and systems is what sets our program apart. In fact, around 85% of TFA alumni remain in the education sector and related fields. The breadth of program partnerships available to alumni is a draw for teachers who want to pursue development opportunities such as additional accreditation in school leadership – that is, teachers like Deon Morris.
Elevate teachers, listen to their leadership
Deon was a sophomore physical education teacher at Vance County Middle School (VCMS) before learning TFA. VCMS deputy director Dr. Lemondré Watson had joined TFA in 2013 and, during his informal mentorship of Deon, had encouraged him to consider applying for the corps.
“It’s been a blessing,” says Deon. “I said [Dr. Watson] I wanted to go back to school for my masters. I love being in the gym with the kids, but I want to move into a position where I can do even more.
Now he is ending his commitment to the corps and considering graduate programs, taking advice not only from Dr Watson, who has since run a nearby elementary school, but also from Gloria Holden, a physical education teacher at VCMS, who has more than 20 years of experience. experience and mastery as a bonus. He is also advised by Heddie Alston Somerville, who was Deon’s headmistress when he was an elementary student and who has been advising him since he was hired as an educator under her.
That doesn’t mean Dr. Watson’s place has been eclipsed in Deon’s life.
“He’s always someone I can talk to,” Deon says. “He was one of the first people I spoke to when our twin girls were born a few months ago.”
Deon was a fully accredited – and by all accounts successful – educator before joining TFA. Yet the addition of a network of like-minded educators and the committed mentorship of an alumnus activated a new set of skills and relationships that made all the difference in her career path.
We cannot expect a leader in education to reach the level demanded by our system without putting our time and resources on the line. If we are to fulfill the promise we make to every student who enters our classrooms , it will take accelerating our teacher recruitment processes knowing that a substantial investment must be invested in every teacher that comes forward, as well as honoring the exponential impact of the force multipliers we develop along the way. . The future our students deserve will be achieved by nothing less.