Successful classrooms don’t have to be the same – and quite honestly, they shouldn’t be. I learned this valuable lesson from my mentor Jon Wilhelm while student teaching in college. His classroom was exciting, and the students contributed on a level I had not seen or experienced before. Observing different methods of teaching, different levels of student ownership, and different classroom expectations throughout college inspired me to think about what I valued most.
As a first-year math teacher at Dr. Earl J. Lennard High School in Hillsborough County, Florida (which was rated an “F” school at the time), I quickly realized I valued my students more than anything. As I got to know all 157 of them more and got to know myself as a teacher, I found their engagement in class made all the difference. By creating a structure that instilled confidence and allowed students to explore who they were as learners. Together, we developed a classroom of 25 teachers, not just one.
Students began to ask each other the same questions I would ask. If a teammate had made a mistake, they would say, “Why did you divide by three here?” or “Number 2 is similar to this problem. What did you do there?” instead of “You did that wrong.” My students preferred to discover strategies and similarities in content by using the cumulative knowledge of the entire class. Each student thought and worked in different ways, which added depth and interest to the content. It would have been a shame to let that value go unnoticed. Empowering my students to lead the classroom, paired with my extensive planning, use of data, and content knowledge, is what skyrocketed our AP Calculus AB pass rate from 11% to 80%.
These same qualities that I describe in my classroom are qualities that I see in Impact Florida. Districts for Impact is a prime example of how much value Impact Florida sees in academic leaders throughout Florida. Leading a peer-to-peer learning community around the Five Conditions That Support Great Teaching is exciting work. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) aren’t just for teachers! Each district has so much to share, and we all have so much to learn. The Learning Walks each of the five districts are hosting for, and participating in, with each other are an integral part of seeing others’ ideas successfully in play. If we want to increase our impact, we cannot work in isolation, just as I could not teach in isolation, and my students learned more when working together.
In joining the Impact Florida team, I hope to bring my experience as a classroom teacher and instructional coach to further the mission of empowering education leaders to recognize, support, and scale great teaching practices. The Five Conditions That Support Great Teaching are at the forefront of all of Impact Florida’s work, and scale to any level. Teachers, grade-level teams, schools, and districts from small to large all can benefit from a shared vision of what great teaching looks like, using high-quality instructional materials, engaging in effective professional development, empowering leaders, and using data for continuous improvement.
It will never be enough to have one high-performing teacher or district. We need consistently great teaching in place across every school in Florida, for every student, every day. Impact Florida is a unique organization dedicated to that goal, and I am thrilled to be a part of the journey.