Learning to Lead: A Day In the Life of Leadership Fellow Veronica Wilson
Success Academy – December 15, 2017
Mondays are Veronica’s favorite day. Why? Because she gets to greet each and every scholar at SA Bed Stuy Middle School as they enter the building ready to begin a new week of learning.
When Veronica started working at Success Academy, she wasn’t an educator — she worked at the Network office, helping our Creative Content team share stories from our schools. Previously, she had worked as a product marketer for an e-learning company. But she quickly realized that the best part of her job at SA was getting to interact with our scholars during her school visits. She started spending more time in our schools, even starting a class to teach one of her passions — yoga — to scholars at SA Crown Heights!
Veronica was thrilled when she learned that SA had a Leadership Fellows program that helps professionals from fields outside of education bring their skills to SA as school leaders and educators. L Fellows are mentored by their senior leaders and assume increasing responsibility during their first year in our schools. Today, Veronica manages elective teachers and helps support and lead humanities classes at her middle school. The goal of the program is to prepare L Fellows for assistant principal or principal roles.
We accompanied Veronica as she went about her Monday at SA Bed Stuy MS. Join us and learn more about the L Fellow role through Veronica’s eyes.
I wake up and begin my morning routine: a cup of coffee, then feed and walk my dog, Harry, a 13 year old lab mix. Mondays can be tough, but I do look forward to seeing the scholars after a weekend.
I leave my apartment in Park Slope and board the G train to Bed Stuy, where I grade papers during my 25 minute commute, or do other work on my way to school.
To start the day, I officially welcome the scholars into homeroom — what we call Advisory here. This is a fifteen minute period where scholars prepare for their day. They have breakfast and read a great book from our classroom libraries.
Afterwards is Zero Period, which is when some of our scholars take their elective classes and others receive extra help in challenging subjects. I like to use this time to prepare for my humanities lesson – I currently teach history.
From day one, I have been responsible for supervising the elective teachers. So, after I finish my prep, I visit chess, debate, art, computer science or sports classes. It’s so inspiring to witness our scholars debating education policies or studying great painters!
I love that I get to teach as part of my role. As a Leadership Fellow, I’m learning everything there is to know about running a school from managing people to directly teaching our kids.
All middle schools are trying a new schedule design this year, where students have a humanities block (history and English) and a STEM block for math and science. I love the block system, because it allows us to really get to know each scholar over a longer period of time. It also encourages teachers and scholars to adopt a cross-disciplinary mindset about their work — critical thinking and great writing are important in both ELA and history.
Last week, our class took a trip to the African Burial Ground National Monument, so we spend today doing a ‘gallery walk’ around the classroom to examine artifacts found and photographs taken at the burial site. Scholars are asked to think like archaeologists and answer a single question, based only on the objects: What was life like for enslaved Africans in early New York City? Gallery walks give scholars a chance to demonstrate their thinking through the interpretation of objects.
After history, my scholars stay in the classroom for ELA class. I don’t lead that class, but I help support the teacher by checking in with individual scholars around the classroom. Right now, we’re in the middle of a unit on news writing — as a journalism major at Syracuse University, I love passing along what I learned to our scholars. Helping our scholars learn how to write like journalists is the kind of hands-on learning that makes me excited to come to work.
I head to my grade team meeting with all of my fellow sixth grade teachers. This is an opportunity for everyone to reflect on our practice as educators, study scholar work, and see where we can improve. Our team shares what’s working or not in their classes and we bounce ideas off of each other. Today, we discuss how to best support several scholars who are struggling to learn the material. These meetings help us all understand the big picture — maybe a child is really strong in math but struggling in English — it’s important we’re on the same page and can create a strategy together to support a scholar.
It’s time for lunch and recess! I get to supervise our scholars during these periods. At Success Academy, we’re big believers in recess — it’s critical that scholars have time to let off some steam, be physically active, and develop socially.
During my free periods, I like to touch base with my principal or assistant principal. Being new to teaching, I really rely on them for direct feedback on a daily basis. My principal and I will reflect on what’s going well in my lessons and where I can improve. When it comes to my growth as a leader in the building, I shadow my principal as he observes other teachers and we debrief about the feedback he would give them. It’s my own kind of leadership scaffolding!
It’s time for afternoon advisory, which is a critical opportunity for us to have important conversations about tough topics that are relevant to middle schoolers. Recently, we’ve been talking about bullying — what it looks like and how we can prevent it in our school. In middle school, scholars start to care more about their social status, so we talk together about the qualities that make a good friend and what healthy friendships looks like. Sometimes, we spend advisory talking about other important life or academic skills — like how to stay organized!
The scholars’ school day is over and it’s time for dismissal!
I’ve learned that as an L fellow, you really have to be flexible and ready to wear a lot of hats — every day, we’re communicating critical information to parents, scholars, and other teachers, all while supporting scholars who might be having a bad day. We have to be able to think on our feet and stay calm in tough situations.
After school, I help a smaller group of scholars master concepts that they’re struggling with in a tutoring group. At SA, we identify scholars who are close to passing and offer as much support as possible, including a periodic after-school session. Recently, our scholars took midterms and we were able to see the positive results of everyone’s efforts and learn who will need additional support on the final exam in order to be successful. We strategize together to ensure every scholar excels!
My colleagues and I swap stories from our day as we depart the building. Our faculty is really tight-knit, and I feel lucky to work alongside so many great educators. They make our schools amazing places to work.