When Kellyann Campbell was asked just after Thanksgiving last year to return to the classroom at Yearling Middle School in Okeechobee County to teach 8th grade Pre-Algebra due to a teacher shortage, she was understandably nervous.
Even though she has been an educator for more than a decade, Kellyann had been out of the classroom for three years, serving as an instructional coach and mentor at the school and district level, after she was honored as Okeechobee’s Teacher of the Year. So when she saw the opportunity to participate in Impact Florida’s Solving With Students Cadre, focused on using student feedback for professional learning, she jumped at the chance for some additional help with her teaching.
“Not only had I been out of the classroom for a few years, but I was going to be working with different level students than before,” Kellyann said. “I was also nervous about building relationships with the kids, especially since they had inconsistent classroom leadership all year. The cadre provided a way to directly involve students right away and to get information and insight about them beyond just the standard academic progress that we are normally measuring.”
About the Solving with Students Cadre
Solving with Students is Impact Florida’s first Learning Cadre for teachers, designed improve student experience in math, a critical pathway for college and career success. Based on a free research-based tool called Elevate by PERTS, the innovative professional learning experience allows teachers to survey their students and then learn about classroom strategies for improvement within six evidence-based learning conditions. It also reflects the Five Conditions that Support Great Teaching, promoting, in particular, effective professional learning, empowered leaders, and effective use of data.
Participating teachers gave a total of four student surveys in the spring 2022 semester and used the results to incorporate a variety of classroom strategies to improve instruction. There are currently more than 50 teachers across the state working with Solving with Students. At Yearling Middle School, there are three teachers participating in the cadre, including Kellyann.
Building A Foundation
From the results of the very first survey, Kellyann was struck by lower scores than she would have liked in the areas of classroom community and meaningful work – each registering just over 50 percent of students responding positively about those conditions in the classroom. She immediately began to implement some of the strategies suggested to improve these areas.
“I was very aware from the beginning that the students had already experienced an inconsistent year with a lot of teacher turnover, and they were concerned about whether or not I was going to stay with them,” said Kellyann. “My initial focus was gaining their trust and building good classroom relationships. We began to have a regular community circle every week to share with each other, and I also let them decide how they would individually work on classroom activities.”
By the second survey, results went up and continued to climb. By the fourth and final survey, student perceptions of classroom community had risen by nearly 20 percent, and every other area had improved, as well.
“Having the opportunities to forge relationships actually helps the students work harder for me,” Kellyann said. “They build on that, even on days when I’m out of the classroom. This foundational work ethic is very important, not only for this specific classroom experience but for their whole future.”
Meaningful work was another category that Kellyann set out to improve, and she began to add real-world problems that related to current times and to what students might possibly do in terms of their future careers. She also took the focus and pressure off end-of-the-year testing and stressed the relevance of the specific material in the individual units to make it more interesting.
She also created opportunities for students to share more with her and with each other about their interests, education, and future, and she implemented more collaborative activities that allowed them to work together. Favorable responses on meaningful work rose by nearly 10 percent.
“One positive change that I’ve noticed is my students can work with each other better, and they feel safer and more open to having discussions with their peers,” she said. “They are not only better engaged in classroom lessons and activities, but their overall attitudes and values have improved.”
Close to Home
For Kellyann, the SWS Cadre had additional meaning because her daughter, also a student at Yearling Middle School, was participating in the surveys herself as part of another teacher’s class. At the same time, Kellyann was sharing results and getting feedback from the other teachers in the cadre.
“It was interesting and helpful to not only have two other teachers to get ideas from, but also to have my daughter taking the surveys herself,” said Kellyann. “We had one conversation where she shared that her teacher had discussed the results with their class, so I was able to get her perspective, as well as feedback from the other teachers about what they were doing. It was rewarding and eye-opening.”
Open to Growth
Asked to share the main benefits of the cadre, Kellyann has found it to be a meaningful opportunity for her to grow, in addition to her students. The experience was organic and easy, and she particularly liked being able to choose which teaching strategy she implemented to improve the classroom experience. Teachers can introduce as few or as many strategies as they need to suit each classroom or their schedule, and the entire focus of the cadre centers around the students – something that Kellyann points out should be the number one goal of every classroom anyway.
“The beauty of the cadre is that it works with each individual group of students – who are different every single year and vary from classroom to classroom – and then gives you the overall data as a whole, which is extremely helpful,” she said. “As educators, we’re always learners ourselves and we’re in this field to grow. If you’re not, then you might need to take a hard look at yourself. Any opportunity that allows for reflection in the way this cadre does is a gift.”
As to whether she would do it again, she said yes, absolutely – and ideally for an entire year.
“It would be really interesting to do the surveys for more than one semester and see how everything works and changes,” she said. “For me, the cadre really helped with my return to the classroom. When you’re not working directly with students, you forget how much they touch your heart every single day.”