Teaching as Leadership: How City Year AmeriCorps Members, Staff, and Alumni can use this book to drive their student impact
By: Sean Miller, City Year Jacksonville
Throughout my current year of service, I've been reading Teaching as Leadership by Steven Farr, the Chief Knowledge Officer with Teach for America (TFA). In his role, Farr is responsible for Teach for America’s teacher training and support efforts. He also helped developed the Teaching as Leadership (known as TAL) framework and rubric system that is used to assess corps member success. Steven Farr also served as a Teach For America Corps Member and taught high school English and English as a Second Language (ESOL) with the 1993 Rio Grande Valley Corps.
One could describe Farr’s book as a “how to” guide for incoming TFA corps members. The book highlights success stories from TFA corps members and their journey with their students. Before I started the book the two questions that were on my mind were: “How can this book apply to City Year and its mission?” and “How can a book that is mainly used as preparation material for TFA members correlate with City Year AmeriCorps members?” The answer is within the book’s six points (or chapters) of becoming a highly effective teacher to create change for students. In this book review, I will highlight two of these chapters focused on “Invest Students and Their Families” and “Continuously Increase Effectiveness”.
In “Invest Students and Their Families”, the chapter goes in depth on how successful TFA teachers were effective in creating and maintaining relationships with their students and their families. It also discusses student resistance to investments on their education due to many factors such as: socioeconomic status, language, race, gender etc. Farr discusses that students will resist investment because of negative cultural representation/stereotypes or they have been told from other teachers and adults that they will never be successful.
One strategy to combat student’s resistance of investment is the concept that Farr labels “culture of achievement”. A culture of achievement is a concept that highly effective teachers use to recognize and to invest in their student’s academic achievement while being aware of the student’s disadvantages. Farr provides examples on how teachers can create a culture of achievement within the classroom through different examples that are provided below:
- “Academic Achievement=Opportunity”
- “Together Everyone Achieves More”
- “Work Hard. Get Smart”
Another highlight of this chapter are the strategies for creating systems of open lines of communication. The book suggests that highly effective teachers get creative when wanting to build communication with parents. One TFA Corps Member’s best practices to engage his students and their parents particularly stood out: creating biweekly newsletters for parents that highlights class updates, sending home progress reports to parents, and creating both email and non-email forms of communication for parents.
Chapter 5, “Continuously Increase Effectiveness”, really digs deep into the conversation regarding teacher effectiveness and student performance. One strategy that definitely correlated with City Year was the cycle of reflection. Teaching as Leadership has a framework that strongly believes that highly effective teachers need to consistently reflect their teaching practices by using data driven assessments to progress monitor if their students are achieving their goals. The book has some suggestions on how teachers can use data to drive their reflection:
- Videotaping a lesson
- Sending surveys to parents and students
- Student scores on assessments and previous year data
- Observation notes from administrators, district liaisons, ESE paraprofessionals, grade team/department head
- Student work (homework, exit slips, tests)
The two takeaways from the chapter that I connected to our work here at City Year were: Self-Reflection and Prioritizing the root causes. Self-reflection gives teachers and corps members the opportunity to find areas where they can improve not only teaching/tutoring students but to assess if the lesson was effective through assessments. These practices can shine a light on multiple causes as to why students might not have figured out the concepts that they are needing to know.
Overall Teaching as Leadership highlights Teach for America’s model with how they are addressing educational equity in America. There are many connections on how City Year is addressing the same issues through our service model and educational practices. This book fits perfectly to our value of “Students First, Collaboration Always” by providing a space where we can apply techniques that can create a greater impact to our students and our mission. It also offers great suggestions that we could utilize in the classrooms we serve everyday. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to teach and is passionate about educational equity/student achievement.
Sean Miller is serving as an AmeriCorps Member as a Team Leader for City Year Jacksonville after previously serving in 2013-2014. He graduated from the University of Wyoming with a degree in Women and Gender Studies. Following his service, he plans to teach in an urban community and is grateful to his students for teaching him about their culture, their families, and most importantly how they learn.