TFA Improves Student and Teacher-Centered Models in North Carolina

The following is part of my monthly column, One Day and One Goal: Expanding Timely in NC. I invite you to follow along as I share classroom stories and explore the critical issues facing education in our state. Go here for past columns.


In my conversations with principals, teacher-coaches and seasoned teachers across our state, one thing has become clear: Getting back to “normal” is not enough. As we work towards a future of education where all students feel secure, developed and proud of who they are, we need to recognize not only our past, but our present as well.

On top of the stresses teachers are already feeling – like salaries, shortages and their impact on health and emotional well-being – I would add another stress that is missing from the headlines.

The students are tired.

Yes, this title by itself is widespread. But we cannot overlook the link between the well-being of students and that of teachers.

For every student who struggles to adjust to in-person learning, there is a teacher who manages their own adjustment. And for each teacher there is a class of students with very different experiences from the 2020-2021 school year.

When students are excited to come to school, the work of our teachers becomes all the more joyful and fulfilling. That’s why today I wanted to share with you some of the ways I see students being encouraged and listened to, in order to improve their school experience.

These schools, students and teachers show us that it is possible.

The future of education includes support at all levels

Southwest Edgecombe High School in Pinetops, North Carolina is led by District Principal of the Year Lauren Lampron (and Teach for America Eastern North Carolina alumnus since 2010). Under Lampron’s leadership, simple suggestions for maximizing the school environment are taken to heart.

“I always tell my students, and they agree, this principal will listen to you,” says Sarah Scott, second-grade teacher (Eastern North Carolina ’20). “She won’t always agree with you or accept what you say, but she will listen to you, and that’s how good ideas were implemented.”

One such idea was to extend the student lunch break to include an extra hour for tutorials two days a week and extracurricular activities on the other three days. In these spaces, students can prioritize working with teachers in classes that they have difficulty with or that they simply admire and want to know more about. Whether it’s anime, rugby, or Club Uno, students have a designated time to explore their interests or just take a break.

Another is the reallocation of the School Suspension Room (ISS) to also include a “cool down” space for students who feel over-stimulated or who are experiencing tension with their peers in class. They can rest or continue their schoolwork in a private supervised room and return as soon as they are ready. The effect, Scott notes, has been encouraging.

“The southwest is really important – a kid won’t learn if they don’t come to school, so we have to make the school a safe place for them,” Scott says. “Students are different now. There should be expectations that they will have days off. When this happens, I don’t want to remove the options to put something in a student’s file, so it helps to provide them with a voluntary space that is guaranteed to be calm. It works for them.

TFA’s Reflection-Based Model

Much like Lampron and Scott, Teach For America has strived to be equally responsive in supporting new and early-career teachers to ensure they can adapt quickly to the needs of their students. . We have developed a coaching model that is both individualized and scalable across the 23 District and Charter Partners we serve in North Carolina. Based largely on the work of educational consultant Elena Aguilar and other master educators, our ‘transformational teaching model’ consists of cyclical coaching conversations that center adult development through ‘belief, ‘being and behavior’.

During the first eight weeks of the school year, first and second year TFA corps members receive weekly coaching conversations. Then they take place every two weeks, or more frequently depending on the type of support requested by the body member.

“Reflective-based practice is something that many school teams want to work on with their teachers, but they just don’t have the time,” says program executive director Kristi Orange (Greater New Orleans ’09). “We know that our added value is to develop the members of the body by helping them to identify how they present themselves, how their identity and their leadership have an impact on their teaching and the success of their students. “

Through the leadership development provided by TFA and the data-driven development provided by their placement districts, our teachers and their students are showing growth. The data has shown us that teachers are not only more satisfied with this type of support, but that many of our placement schools are also, because the end goal is a common goal: to provide students with excellent educators who will engage them in a rigorous process and learning adapted to the culture.

The future also includes fun

The right of every student to a great education in an environment of emotional and physical safety is not always so simple to realize, as schools like Garinger High School in Charlotte, North Carolina are finding. With an influx of students returning to class, cases of weapons found on campus are on the rise. That’s why the Student Government Association’s (SGA) goal this year to increase student participation – and therefore attendance – has come so close to home.

“We have to spend all this time at school together,” laughs a member of the SGA. “It might as well be fun.”

First-year Spanish teacher Caroline Fatemi (Charlotte-Piedmont Triad ’21) was quickly put in touch with SGA when her experience in student government was brought up during her interview.

“I said yes when they asked me if I would be interested in becoming the LMS advisor,” says Fatemi. “But I wasn’t quite sure what that involved.”

Fortunately, she got a lot of help. The former counselor, another Spanish teacher and former TFA student, left a helpful guide to complement it. A committee of teachers stepped in to help with planning for the traditional fall court, with students noting the positive and complimentary air among the applicants. When it became clear that a homecoming dance would not be possible due to security measures, Garinger’s deputy manager was also a helpful resource in thinking about alternatives.

However, it was the SGA student administration that made the week special. They chose themed days of the week including Character Day, Twin Day, Throwback Day, and Pink Out for breast cancer awareness. A highlight was Cultural Pride Day. The diversity of the school was brought to light, as students arrived dressed in soccer jerseys, traditional clothing and more.

“Normally, attendance on Mondays and Fridays is [low], says a member of the SGA. “But more students showed up to school, honestly.”

Throughout the week, the group of students – including a stellar drumming line – and the cheerleader team alternated performances for their fellow students over lunch, like daily “fit” gatherings.

“As soon as the drum line warmed up, students flocked into the room, lining up to see them,” Fatemi explains. “The cheerleaders worked so hard, collaborating and making it their own. I was so proud to see the students paying attention and enjoying it.

Then, the homecoming soccer game arrived, and against all odds, it seemed, Garinger won. The students stormed the field for the first time in three years.

“They called it the best day ever,” continues Fatemi. “They were talking to each other, like how do we celebrate the team?”

In keeping with the theme of “Homecoming Day,” dance battles erupted throughout the school the day after the game, with a crowd of students gathering after each period and growing so large that the staff had to pull it apart to bring the kids back. students in class. on time.

“It’s good when high school kids remind you how young they are. Things like this remind you that they want to have fun and feel the spirit of the school, ”says Fatemi.

What we can do to make it happen

We seek a future where students are engaged, are able to meet their physical and emotional needs, and are encouraged to bring their full identity to school.

Now is the time to reflect on our systems, structures and curricula, and ask ourselves how we can best meet students and teachers where they are. At TFA, we are privileged to see teachers and schools across the state develop student learning and leadership, and share promising practices with our network of education advocates.

We all have a lot more to do. We will move one step closer to a fair and excellent education for all North Carolina students by listening to them and respecting the full diversity of who and what “the school” understands.

Monique Perry-Graves

Monique Perry-Graves is an award-winning leader, educator, speaker and author. As of June 2021, she has served as the first statewide executive director for Teach for America (TFA) in North Carolina. In this role, Perry-Graves is the Executive Director of the State in support of TFA’s mission of finding, developing and sustaining a diverse network of leaders working together to end inequalities in education and leadership. over 50 TFA employees across the state. She is a proud graduate of Central University of North Carolina, where she received her undergraduate degree in English. Perry-Graves continued his education with a Masters in Strategic Communications and Leadership from Seton Hall University. She then obtained a doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Florida.

Edward K. Thompson