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DOE Principal: 3 Lessons I Learned from Success Academy

I am the principal at PS 48, a small elementary school in Jamaica, Queens. We are located in a high-poverty district and serve a large population of African American and Latino students.

Before my arrival in 2007, my school had one of the worst student attendance rates in the city. To put it simply, the school was in disarray. Four principals had passed through the school over the previous seven years and teachers seemed dispirited and resistant to change.

After implementing various reforms over the past seven years, we have seen dramatic improvements at our school. But our efforts have not produced the strong academic gains that I know our students can achieve.

That’s why I accepted an invitation to visit Success Academy schools last month. I was curious to learn how these schools are getting children of all backgrounds to love learning and achieve at high levels.

I was both impressed and inspired by what I saw. These are the three most important lessons I learned:

1. Excellent preparation: At Success, principals and teachers work together to plan rigorous and engaging lessons. This collaboration allows teachers to be confident in the classroom. I observed teachers who were teaching literacy like they wrote the books themselves. They knew which questions to ask, how students might respond, and how to help if a child struggled. Going forward, I will focus more on helping teachers become experts in their content.

2. Give feedback in the moment: I observed a principal swiftly redirect teachers when students were not clear on a task or when their responses were not as strong as they could be. These were just a few examples of principals giving teachers in-the-moment feedback as opposed to waiting to give feedback over email after the lesson a day or a week later. It was direct, respectful, and effective. This approach to coaching could help my teachers get the student outcomes we all want.

3. Strong teacher collaboration: At Success, I observed a few classrooms with two teachers as opposed to the traditional one teacher per classroom model. The more experienced teacher led the lesson while a teacher in training was taking notes on students and giving them feedback. This co-teaching model helped create a strong level of student accountability and engagement, which seemed especially valuable with the large class size. It also allowed teachers to know which students need extra help after the lesson. Inspired by this approach, I have trained a group of YMCA volunteers at my own school to collaborate with my teachers in the same way that teachers collaborate at Success.

Written by Patricia Mitchell November 12, 2014

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