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Focus on Teachers: Janet Pennington, Teacher Leader

September 19, 2013

A high school science teacher in the Shelby County School System, Tennessee, Janet Pennington teaches 5 classes of 11th and 12th graders in anatomy, genetics and ACT prep.  “I have 35 students in my Anatomy class last period,” Janet tells our team. “But I have a lot of energy during that last period of the day because I just feed off of the kids.”

 We have a good working document. It isn’t perfect but it is a good starting point. We wanted to design a document that helps to grow teachers and not be punitive."Janet Pennington

Janet’s energy doesn’t stop there. During one of her two planning periods Janet serves as a new “master teacher” in her building.  She provides in-class coaching support to colleagues, helps teachers reflect on their practices using videos of their teaching, and conducts formal classroom observations.  She also uses the time to co-plan her work with other teacher leaders in her building.

Janet describes her master teacher role in terms of ongoing learning and collegial support.  “Everybody needs a coach and needs support—no matter what role you are doing,” she explains. “For example, we may think we are teaching one way, until you watch a video of yourself in the classroom and find out ‘I had no idea I looked like that or sounded like that or that the students were misunderstanding that part of the lesson.’ You really need to see yourself teaching and reflect with others on improving your work.”

Janet served on her district’s evaluation working group and has been heavily involved in designing the teacher observation tool that she uses in her coaching and that others use to observe her teaching as well.

“We have a good working document,” Janet reflects on the observation tool.  “It isn’t perfect but it is a good starting point. We wanted to design a document that helps to grow teachers and not be punitive.  [We wanted the document to answer the question…] how can it help me be better in practice rather than what does it say that I’m not doing?”

While this is her first year conducting formal observations of her colleagues, Janet learned a lot about observing and mentoring from her past role as a learning coach in her school. Assigned to work with new teachers and struggling veteran teachers, Janet conducted informal observations to help them identify the areas for improvement and guide them in designing strategies to do so.

“We worked on structuring and chunking lessons, pacing, identifying and using appropriate resources, grouping activities—anything they needed,” Janet recalls. “At first it was somewhat uncomfortable to be in a teacher leader role because I didn’t want the teachers—particularly the veteran teachers—to think that I was ‘all that and a bag of chips’ when it comes to teaching.”

“But the one of the worst feelings is when your supervisor tells you that you need to work on certain areas and you have nobody to turn to,” Janet continues.  “My goal was to help the teachers in any way possible through no fault coaching and the use of best practices. We were also able to visit and watch other teachers in their classroom.  We all learned a great deal from seeing new practices.”

Both veteran teachers whom Janet worked with last year “rolled off of” coaching support before June. Two of the 3 new teachers she worked with successfully entered their second year of teaching at her school.

You can find further information on Shelby County School System’s teacher support and effectiveness work, including their classroom observation tool, here.

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