Ralph's Reflections for September: Family Ties at Breakthrough
As we settle into the school year, I continue to visit our schools with a sense of curiosity and awe. With each interaction with teachers and scholars, I learn something new that makes me appreciate our community even more. Here’s one recent example:
As I was walking the halls of Village Prep Woodland Hills, I met a teacher between classes. She introduced herself as Ms. Mariah. I was curious why she preferred to go by her first name.
She answered that she could not be called “Ms. Jordan” because her sister Mica had been a teacher at Breakthrough for three years.
And that’s when I learned our Village Prep has two sisters teaching third grade; in fact, their classrooms are directly across the hall from one another.
Now, according to Mica, all of her current and past scholars are aware that Ms. Mariah is her sister, and they think “it’s the coolest thing ever.” In fact, they often ask if they can be part of her family too!
Let me go on the record and state that her students are not alone – I also think it’s the coolest thing ever.
Mariah’s path to Breakthrough started before she even graduated from college. She volunteered with the Greater Debaters of Cleveland, a speech and debate non-profit founded by her sister Mica. Many of the participants in the program are Woodland Hills students, and Mariah “fell in love with teaching adolescents.” Upon graduating from college, she moved back home to Cleveland and - with a little encouragement from her sister - applied to become a teacher.
As the leader of this network, it’s my responsibility to make the Jordan sisters' story the norm - to make Breakthrough a place where teachers recruit their families and friends because it’s such a desirable place to work.
To accomplish this, we need to create a workplace where adults in the building can be their authentic selves and grow as professionals.
Like so many schools across the country, we experienced staffing challenges last year. With so many teacher vacancies, our leaders stepped in to provide classroom coverage.
Last spring, our Network Leadership Team (NLT) began to address this challenge. We used the summer to fundamentally change the paradigm of how we approach professional development. Specifically, there are 4 changes that our teachers should, hopefully, already be experiencing:
- Creating community and a sense of belonging with a strong, responsive start. We are taking very deliberate steps to build a strong student culture. This includes culturally-responsive instruction, moving away from consequences to restorative practices, and hiring more social workers and counselors to offer a comprehensive system for student wellness.
- Elevating literacy as THE top academic focus. When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. By narrowing in on literacy as our top priority, we are able to go deeper on content and pedagogy. Our focus during Summer Institute emphasized that all school-based staff are literacy teachers, no matter what subject or grade they teach.
- Providing coaching to teachers through high-quality, in-the-moment feedback. Teachers grow as professionals when they receive candid, constructive feedback from a skilled peer. This year, all teachers receive weekly coaching and our new teachers receive daily coaching. In addition, twice a month we have in-person professional development days where we work collaboratively to strengthen our practice.
- Leveraging our network academic team to support school leaders. To provide all of this coaching and professional development, we have a team of six content specialists who work with our Deans of Instruction and a new Director of Scholar Experience who supports our Deans of Culture.
All of this training and support is designed with one goal in mind: to make Breakthrough a great place to work and grow as a teacher and a leader.
When I asked Mariah why she decided to come to Breakthrough, she said that while working with our scholars in the debate club, she saw their “excitement, energy, and passion, and I quickly knew that I wanted to be a part of the Breakthrough community!”
As I’ve observed our schools over the past few weeks, I have seen our teachers’ excitement, energy, and passion, and I’m committed to making sure we sustain that level of enthusiasm.