Professional Educators

Transforming Phoenix’s Mitchell Elementary

By Kathy Wiebke and Daniela Robles

Isaac School District is a district that parallels many districts in the nation. Labels that indicate low performance, multiple messages that led in numerous directions, and teachers that strive to do what is asked of them at all costs because of the commitment they possess for the students in their classrooms.

In the midst of Corrective Action is Mitchell Elementary. The difference is that this school has been an anomaly. There are two schools out of twelve that are not in School Improvement; Mitchell is one of those schools. As a result, the conditions of the Isaac District have been a part of Mitchell’s reality and during the last thirteen years at Mitchell, this dim reality has varied in its intensity. However, the condition that filters from a district immersed in School Improvement is the absence of teacher empowerment. Teacher empowerment ensures that when teachers think…students think.

Focused on a result of teacher empowerment as the means to sustaining an environment of continuous improvement, National Board Certification was the focus as a way to achieve that goal. I know the effect that National Board Certification had on my own practice, and my own empowerment. At the same time there was a high degree of frustration at the lack of minority board certified teachers.

As I looked at my colleagues I recognized them as accomplished educators. All that was needed was a pathway for them to discover the depth of their knowledge, connect with students, and embrace their own learning to then guarantee student learning. I opened a door of opportunity for Pathways to Accomplished Teaching. One pathway for Take One! (the NBPTS single-entry alternative) and the other for teachers to pursue the full process of National Board Certification.

Video highlights importance of National Board Certification

It was with the choice factor that I ensured teachers taking the next step would be doing so as a result of their decision, not a mandate. It was through 20 teachers out of 33 choosing a pathway toward Accomplished Teaching that transformed individual efforts into a collective group’s shared vision…a true Professional Learning Community.

The desired result of teacher empowerment is not an individual endeavor, as it also must have a collective group to support such efforts. My initial partner and ally was the school site administrator. The principal embraced the desired goal as she has strived to empower teachers to the maximum of her abilities. At the time she allotted a substantial amount of money to ensure that any barriers would be eliminated in such a change effort. She engaged the teachers in a discussion on what they needed to make this journey not only a successful one but an engaging one as well. She knew the power of reflective conversation and learning as a cohort.

The Assistant Superintendent supported our efforts and approved Accomplished Teaching to be the only professional development that Mitchell teachers pursued. Partnering with Arizona’s leader in professional development, the Arizona K12 Center, also allowed for assistance with facilitation/candidate support and the creation of a curriculum to guide this journey. As a member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards D.R.E.A.M. (Direct Recruiting Efforts to Attract Minorities) team, monies to support the twenty teachers were also made available. Accomplished Teaching has been valued by the Isaac District Education Association as they have championed for a $2000 National Board Certification stipend, advocate for its importance, and featured National Board in the association’s newsletter.

Of the 20 teachers who began this journey, 17 finished. More importantly, all those who did not achieve certification are continuing the process and doing so alongside four teachers from the Take One cohort who made the decision to become full candidates for National Board Certification. Equally significant is the change in perception towards professional development. Teachers understand that the quality of teaching and learning in their classroom is their responsibility. It is a responsibility they embrace and through mandates they are seeking opportunities to move their practice, and ultimately student learning, forward.

Equally noteworthy is there are over 200 teachers in 11 schools throughout Arizona, including three schools in the Isaac School District, who are pursuing either full candidacy or Take One. They heard the story of Mitchell and saw the possibilities. Like Mitchell, they are making the choice to pursue this learning in a cohort because this is where the difference lies.

The partners in this change effort all valued one critical component: teachers.

Teachers have emerged as empowered. Teachers have become leaders in their classrooms, and beyond their classrooms. Strategic placement of grade level representatives to be teachers who walked the pathway of accomplished teaching last year have cultivated grade level teams to perform at a higher intensity. Conversations that were occurring between cohort members are now occurring with the majority of Mitchell teachers.

A paradigm shift has happened from my students to our students, from my instructional priorities to our instructional priorities. As our district has embraced Professional Learning Communities, Mitchell has been noted at the forefront of this work. This work has resulted in a school culture of empowered teachers that are committed to continuous improvement for themselves and their students.

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