Success Academy labsite teachers are our best of the best—teachers who mentor and model best practices for their peers. There are less than two dozen labsite teachers across the whole network, and this year, we at SA Harlem 3 are fortunate to have Melissa Schulman, a third grade teacher who has been at Success for four years, be our very first labsite teacher. Previously, Melissa had stepped up as a leader in the school, but now that she is a labsite teacher, she has taken it to a whole new level.
Walk into her classroom, and you can immediately feel her focus and energy, her attention to detail and precision, the community she builds within class, how she invests the scholars in wanting to please not only her, but themselves. Everything she does has the purpose of helping the kids grow and learn—how they sit, how they track, how they are pressed to clearly express their ideas and how they respond to mistakes as a learning opportunity—so it becomes part of their daily life. She inspires the children to want to learn and become better.
Teachers come from other classrooms and even other schools to watch her work. She always takes the time to speak with her colleagues about the moves she makes in the classroom or to problem-solve with them. When she drops in on other classrooms, she might suggest ways that the teacher might tweak her practice, or handle certain types of behaviors. Coming from a peer, it’s valuable feedback given in a much less formal way than if it were coming from the boss.
She inspires the children to want to learn and become better.
She is also on the lookout during these visits for best practices that she can adapt for use in her own classroom. One of Melissa’s greatest strengths is her desire to learn from others and to improve her own practice.
But being a labsite teacher is not just about being a classroom coach. Labsites have an instrumental role in T School, our summer professional development program. This past summer, Melissa led a 90-minute session on literacy, vocabulary, and shared text for several dozen third grade teachers. She spent a week before the rest of the staff came back for T School going through slides and planning how to get the most out of the conversation.
She knows our school history as well—what has worked and what hasn’t, how to incentivize school culture, what sorts of family-oriented academic events have been successful in the past. When we are planning school events, Melissa is the first point of contact.
Melissa also coordinates with our education manager for data, turning numbers into action. Whether it’s helping to set individual goals for scholars, come up with next steps for the whole grade, or track progress, she interprets and implements our assessment results in ways that are most useful for our teachers.
She communicates with other labsites to swap ideas and learn about different approaches to lessons that are used in other schools.
No matter whom Melissa is coaching, I always see a huge difference in that teacher’s performance and outcomes. Last year, Melissa worked with third-grade teacher Ashley Wilson, who was new to Success Academy. She spent a week in Ashley’s classroom: modeling what the lessons should look like, co-teaching, and then watching Ashley implement the strategies she had provided.
There is so much that a new teacher needs to balance—achieving high levels of active listening, interpreting scholar work, setting goals, identifying classroom trends, individualizing instruction to meet specific children’s needs—that being able to work with a successful, more experienced teacher is invaluable.
Ashley said, “Melissa is always willing to come into my class. She even rearranged the desks to make my classroom more conducive to learning. We plan everything together: what are good questions to ask, what the expectations should be, how to create consistency across the classroom, ways to celebrate scholars. Her scholars want to please her, and she helped me learn a lot about how to motivate my scholars.”
“She showed me what makes Success Academy different, the why behind what we do. She has a serious passion for Success Academy. She is so driven; that’s one reason I’m back this year.”
Melissa applied to be a labsite teacher because when she was new, she struggled. She didn’t know a lot, but watching great teachers helped her improve her practice, and she wanted to do the same for someone else.
She does it, spectacularly, every day.