Felecia Evans is the principal of Lander Elementary School in Mayfield Heights, OH. Find out how Principal Evans and her team transitioned to a bold new schedule that harnessed professional learning communities and teacher leaders to create a flexible school week that allowed teacher planning time and effective learning experiences for students. We talked to her about the doable steps she took this year that could lead to deeper transformation in years to come.
Hear more from Felecia in this FutureEd webinar!
How did Lander Elementary School make use of teaching teams and adapted schedules to make sure teachers had enough time to plan together?
Going into this school year we knew we needed to make some changes in regards to our schedule and the way we approached teaching and learning. We previously ran a very traditional elementary school schedule where students would go to their specials and they’d have a traditional 45 minute special a day. But we knew that that type of movement in a pandemic environment was not going to be the best for the health and safety of our children. We also knew coming into the school year that we were going to be teaching in a completely different way, and that it would take time for our teachers to really collaborate, for our PLCs to work together. So we kind of took those two issues and made one solution out of them.
We basically took our specials class and made a “specials day” out of it. A grade level will have specials for an entire day, then they will not have specials again for another six days. What that allows us to do is the specialists are responsible for the children on that day, while the classroom teachers are engaged in professional development and professional learning communities for the entire day.
It solved two issues and allowed some very significant planning time every six days. It created this short cycle of iteration where we create instruction, we then employ that instruction, and then we have a chance six days later to kind of reflect on that instruction and make tweaks.
How do you make sure your learning communities are powerful and implemented effectively?
Part of what I do as the principal is to put some of those accountability measures in place — things like agendas, things like notes. Because of the way we run our schedule I’m able to spend an hour a day with the PLCs as well, learning side by side and talking side by side with them. That’s a huge commitment that I have as a building principal to support the work of the teacher leaders as well.
Then there’s the idea of authority and true leadership. Authority, I have that as a principal; I can tell you you have to be together for these five to six hours a day. That’s where the art of leadership comes in really understanding and building the support and building the tools with my teacher leaders so they truly feel the ownership of the time and are truly making the most of that time that we have.
What’s the role of lead teachers and the importance of their work during this pandemic year?
We have a lead teacher at each grade level and for our specialists team. I’m able to meet with them every two weeks and work with them. They then work with their teams to lead that reflecting work, that planning work. It really has distributed the leadership and made us able to build a collaborative approach to this that’s not necessarily top down, it’s empowered with the teachers making the decisions of what their day-to-day instruction looks like. It’s really made it more collaborative and it’s made it less isolating for me as a building leader.
What benefits have you seen for students and teachers from these scheduling changes?
We’ve seen relationships with the classroom teachers develop. One thing that went along with the schedule is that our teachers also do lunch and recess with the students. We’ve seen this dynamic where office referrals are down, children’s behavior is better, they feel safer coming to school, they feel like they have an adult they can really connect with. And I think teachers feel very much this same way.
The other piece of this is when we think about teacher leadership and teacher ownership and teacher and teacher empowerment, we’ve found that the people who are in the best position to make decisions about what a child needs are the people with them all day. It’s that idea of building the trust and understanding that the teacher voice is very important in the decisions we’re going to make day-to-day for children.
What is an important takeaway you want people to have from this interview?
I think we will lose the lessons of today if we do not take this as an opportunity to change and continue the momentum for changing. We’ve surveyed the teachers already and 80% of them want to keep the schedule the way that we’ve had it this year. But also we’ve asked what are the blind spots, what are the things that we’ve missed, what are the gaps for kids and teachers as well, and we continue to work and iterate to adjust for those.
The biggest thing is start small, iterate, come back to the table and try again. Don’t be afraid to fail forward. None of this works in a vacuum, none of this works the first time, and I think we’ve found within this pandemic that nothing is what we plan it to be. I think when you have that mindset and lead with that mindset of “it’s okay, we’re gonna make mistakes, we’re gonna try again, we’re gonna learn from it” — I think that’s a really important thing as we continue to move forward into the unknown next school year.