When math teacher Jean Beagan first heard about the Solving with Students Cadre through Impact Florida, she jumped at the chance to participate.
A middle school math teacher at Fort King Middle School in Marion County, Jean loves to remind herself and others that there is always room for improvement. For Jean, teaching is a second career that she discovered later in life after raising four children, and she has been in the classroom for nearly 13 years.
“I am passionate about my profession,” said Jean, “Quite honestly, I can’t believe they pay me to teach.”
About the Solving with Students Cadre
Solving with Students is Impact Florida’s first Learning Cadre for teachers, and it has been designed to improve student experience in math, a critical pathway for college and career success. The innovative pilot program revolves around a free, research-based tool called PERTS Elevate that allows teachers to survey their students and then learn about classroom strategies for improvement within six evidence-based learning conditions: affirming identities, classroom community, feedback for growth, meaningful work, student voice, and teacher caring.
Teachers in the cadre gave students surveys four times throughout the spring semester and used the results to incorporate classroom strategies to improve instruction. They also had the option to receive one-on-one coaching to help talk through their results and brainstorm ways for growth and development. This work is designed to support the Five Conditions that Support Great Teaching, especially effective professional learning, empowered leaders, and data for improvement. There are 48 teachers across the state who completed the Solving with Students Cadre, and they have enjoyed collaborating and sharing with each other along the way.
The Solving with Students Cadre was an ideal opportunity for Jean to utilize student feedback to promote professional learning. She had asked students for feedback in the past, but usually only after the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA).
A Tough Start
In the beginning, the cadre wasn’t all hearts and roses for Jean. She was very discouraged when she saw the results of the first round of survey results from her seventh-grade math classes. She had always prided herself on being a responsive teacher, and it was tough to hear students report a less positive experience than she hoped to provide. The surveys covered six learning conditions with questions such as, “In this class, my ideas are taken seriously” to “In this class, we do meaningful work, not busy work” to “In this class, we have lots of opportunities to interact with each other.” Jean’s initial results ranged from 30 to 50 percent, with a few scores dropping even lower during the second survey. Also, Jean also realized from the feedback that her sarcasm wasn’t going over well with the students, and was even being misinterpreted.
“I was already having a challenging year. My students were behind from the very beginning on knowing and learning the standards for their grade level, and then this was a very vulnerable experience,” she said. “It was the first year ever in my teaching career when I felt like leaving.”
Putting data to use
Despite the initial results, Jean didn’t let herself dwell on the negative. She pivoted quickly toward using what she had learned for classroom improvement. Her co-teacher across the hall was encouraging and supportive, and Jean implemented a system where students could anonymously provide ideas for improving the class on sticky notes. She would categorize them and discuss them with the class. From that feedback, she made a number of changes, such as providing additional choices in the classroom, where students could select from different pieces of work.
“The surveys gave me information to think about that I never would have thought about before, and I realized right away that the different sections all relate because improvement in one area may affect the others,” she said. “It was amazing how as the semester progressed, the atmosphere in the classroom changed. There was a ‘meeting of the minds’ with my students that was transformative.”
“A fantastic year”
In the final survey, the classroom results had improved considerably in every category. And Jean is looking forward to implementing her same strategies next year – but at the very beginning of the year when they can become a regular part of her teaching. She also began to tone down the sarcasm, and when she did use it, some students actually seemed to “get it” and appreciate it more.
“I definitely plan to use the sticky notes from the very beginning of the year since it was so successful,” she said. “Since I will have different groups of students from this year, the feedback will tell me more about me, which will be very helpful.”
Jean’s advice for other teachers considering using student feedback or participating in this kind of study is to not hesitate.
“This is all about helping me become better at what I do, and I tell my kids that I can’t do that without help from them. It is their job to question respectfully if they think it will help their learning,” she said. “This has ended up being a fantastic year, and the cadre was a large part of that.”