Four Lessons Learned in my First Two Months as a Teacher Leader

Things have been busy these last two months. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing too much and other times I feel like I’m not doing enough! This role is ever changing and because there is space to initiate new ideas and projects, I am constantly thinking of things to start or try out. There’s been a ton of learning in the last two months. In this blog I’ll reflect on some of the steps I’ve taken as a NYC Department of Education Peer Collaborative Teacher (PCT) and some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1.    Be gentle with yourself.

This has been my number one lesson learned over the last few months because this role comes with a lot of moving parts, a lot of expectations, and only 24 hours in a day. I hold myself to high expectations, as I’m sure many of us do, and I have to remember that if something doesn’t go as planned or I’m not able to accomplish what I want in a set amount of time, I can’t beat myself up about it. I’ve missed classroom visitations because they slipped my mind, set weekly goals for myself that still haven’t been accomplished, and have had days where it felt like I got absolutely nothing done. Even so, I’ve had to remember that I’m human and can only do so much. Self-forgiveness is key to surviving and thriving as a PCT.

2.    Make a weekly schedule.

My first week as a PCT was so confusing I knew I had to make a weekly schedule that helped me see what was happening every period of every day. There are set periods I teach my 7th grade ELA class every day and there are set department meetings that happen every week but beyond that, my schedule is essentially wide open. I create a schedule every Sunday for the upcoming week that helps me prioritize my time and be most successful. Am I visiting one of my mentee’s classrooms during a particular period? Am I working on setting up our Center for Teaching and Learning another period? Am I in popping into colleagues’ classrooms to take pictures of best practice in action another period or debriefing with a group of teachers who visited a lab classroom? Whatever the event, I need to schedule it so I know what’s happening each day. I feel more at peace and have been more productive knowing how I’ll spend each day.

3.    Reach out for support.

Since I am the only teacher at my school in a formal teacher leadership role I don’t necessarily have a colleague who is in the same situation. I work better in community and have reached out to particular people for support. I found another PCT at a nearby school and went over to meet him and learn more about the work he’s doing. As he gave me a tour of his school we talked about ways our two school communities could collaborate. My assistant principal has also been a huge support to me in this role. We established a regular weekly meeting time where we can check in about how the role is going for me and the teachers I work with and any support I may need. Knowing that I’ll end the week with her has been helpful. Lastly, our school secretary has been one of my biggest allies. She has been instrumental in creating our school’s first Center for Teaching and Learning. I’ve learned a ton by watching her persistence and out-of-the-box thinking make things happen. Because I am the only PCT at my school it’s important that I consciously reach out for support from colleagues. It has made this work so much better for me and the colleagues I work with.

4.    Make yourself visible.

It’s easy to get stuck in my classroom or hide out in other places to get that email out or those classroom visitation notes finished but if my colleagues don’t see me and I don’t see them, I miss valuable opportunities to connect and see all of the great things happening in our school – and the areas where we can grow as a staff. I need to get better about making a point of walking around our school and popping into every classroom at least once every few weeks. I am always inspired by what I see and it also helps me recruit more colleagues to open up their rooms as lab classrooms, where peers can come and see good practice in action. I never travel anywhere in the building without my phone because it’s a great opportunity to document helpful anchor charts or teachers and students in action. I’ll share this with the rest of the staff through a newsletter or a quick email shouting out something awesome I saw. Being visible also spreads the word to my colleagues about the PCT role and I’m hoping that it will inspire some of them to apply for this role next year so we can have a team of PCTs helping improve the professional learning in our school community.

I know there will be countless lessons learned throughout the year. I’ve learned a ton already and look forward to growing this list as the year progresses.

Here I am debriefing a lab classroom visit with three colleagues and with a fellow Peer Collaborative Teacher at a neighboring school.