Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!
At Impact Florida, we have been working with a fantastic group of teachers from across the state for our Solving with Students Cadre, specifically designed to improve student learning in math and aid teachers in professional learning by utilizing student feedback. We wanted to take this week to honor some of our dedicated and passionate educators by introducing you to some of our cadre participants.
Leisha Collins is a math coach at Leto High School in Hillsborough County, currently supporting all levels of Algebra 1 and Geometry, and she also does instructional coaching for a team of math teachers at her school. Leisha has been an educator for almost eighteen years and wanted to participate in the cadre to learn and implement new instructional practices and learning strategies, in order to support and accelerate student learning. Through the cadre, Leisha is working with the teachers she coaches to use Elevate by PERTS to gather feedback and improve the student experience.
“I’ve known Leisha for over a decade and have always admired her skill as a mathematics educator and instructional coach,” said Kelly Zunkiewicz, Director of Educator Innovation at Impact Florida who has been leading the cadre. “She is incredibly reflective, and she’s not only thinking about how to support her teachers with the student surveys from the cadre, but also how she can grow and improve as a coach. This comprehensive approach is refreshing and inspiring for the teachers and students she works with.”
Leisha shared her experiences with the cadre in the following Q&A:
What interested you about this cadre, and the idea of getting student feedback on your teaching?
I’m an instructional coach, and student achievement data is often the foundation of my coaching conversations with teachers because it can indicate specific standards that need to be supported or re-taught and can reveal if students need interventions or scaffolds to demonstrate proficiency. Reflection upon the data can also help improve student learning outcomes. However, until joining the cadre, I had never introduced student perception data into the mix. The idea of getting student feedback about content, their teacher, and specific learning tasks provided an opportunity to bring an additional data point into coaching conversations. Topics shifted from what teachers believed would support student learning to what students believed they needed to support their own learning.
What did the first round of survey results say, and what did you learn?
In reflecting on the survey results with the other teachers in the cadre, we recognized some commonalities among the data. The first round showed that the majority of students did not feel the learning was meaningful and relevant. Many students also felt that their voice was not heard or valued. My initial reaction was disappointment because our team of teachers works very hard to plan and facilitate lessons that students will identify with and that will prepare them for state testing. But after examining specific responses and discussing what students were saying, it became apparent that we needed to focus our attention on ways to ensure that students felt more a part of what and how they were learning.
How did the teachers you support share their results with students? Why did you think it was important to engage them in what you were working on?
Teachers on our team shared their results with students and discussed what the students noticed about the data trends and if they were surprised by any of the results. Most students felt that while lessons prepared them for the state tests, they weren’t meaningful and relevant to their current and future goals. And because students were rarely provided choices in how to apply and demonstrate their learning in activities and assessments, they perceived that their teachers didn’t value their voice or opinions. Our team decided that we wanted to focus on improving student voice and the relevance of lesson materials. Including student opinion in how this would be done showed them that we cared about their feelings and what they considered to be valuable learning experiences.
What are some of the strategies you’re using to improve the classroom experience?
Some of the teachers on the team focused on creating a project-based learning activity to connect Algebra 1 and Geometry concepts and standards with city and neighborhood planning. Other teachers opted to integrate student choice boards for an assignment and assessment each week. Student selections varied based on readiness level, learning style, and preference. Students also had increased opportunities to share ideas and strategies with each other through collaboration. Each teacher also committed to soliciting student feedback about what influenced their decisions in the selection of assignments and assessments, and how these selections impacted their feelings of being heard and valued.
Why do you think student experience matters to math achievement? How has this experience changed the way you think about coaching’s role in improving student experience?
I think students need to have strong feelings of self-efficacy to become proficient in mathematics, and this is especially important for students who may enter the Algebra and Geometry classrooms with limited success in past math courses, heightened sensitivity to feedback, and negative perceptions of teacher beliefs in their ability to be successful in math. To combat this, it’s essential for students to experience a safe, positive classroom culture, where they feel comfortable to try, make mistakes, and try again. Student perception data is particularly important because it considers their opinions about their opportunities to share ideas and experiences in building meaningful learning tasks and improving confidence in their abilities as problem solvers. I include student perception data in coaching conversations with teachers now, along with student achievement data, to emphasize the importance of student feelings about their learning and how this relates to their potential to be successful in the mathematics classroom.
Thinking about past opportunities for professional learning, what has made this different?
This has been different than other professional learning because the focus has been centered around student perception rather than student academic performance. Survey results have highlighted opportunities for teachers to improve student feelings about mathematics and their ability to be successful. It also provides cyclical learning opportunities for me and the math team to use data to identify areas for improvement, make commitments to try something new aimed at improving these areas, and then measure the results of the implementation through additional student survey data. We can support our professional growth with real-time feedback and continual data.
How has this experience helped you in your coaching?
Joining the cadre has heightened my awareness of the role of positive student self-efficacy in student achievement, especially in the mathematics classroom. As a result of this experience, I have committed in my coaching to help teachers also recognize this importance and to encourage them to continue to elicit student feelings about their learning experiences. This will help ensure that all students have opportunities to be successful in learning mathematics and also the confidence to attempt upper-level mathematics courses and pursue career opportunities in mathematics-related fields.