William Shemin Midtown Community School in Bayonne, NJ: Powerful Teaching & Learning

On April 13 four ISA team members had the opportunity to visit partner school William Shemin Midtown Community School in Bayonne, NJ and see deeper learning in action in sixth and eighth grade English language arts and mathematics classrooms. The visit was transformative, as ISA team members saw teachers facilitate student learning that was inquiry-based and instruction that centered on students’ social-emotional and academic development. It was apparent through the building – in the hallways, in the greeting of the students, and in the conversation with administrative staff – that everyone believes in creating an engaging and healthy learning space for all.

ISA team member Dr. Marvin Pryor marveled at the strong commitment the school has taken to the social and emotional wellness of students, while also ensuring a strong and rigorous academic program. “William Shemin’s staff,” he said, “masterfully demonstrated that a commitment to these two critical and important components in education can be accomplished congruently. That commitment to student social and emotional wellness was demonstrated by a high level of student engagement in the learning process and the outward expression of caring by staff toward the students.”

Dr. Pryor continued: “Dr. Wachera Ragland-Brown, the principal, and her leadership team have created an environment where teachers feel valued and appreciated and, in return, the students are the recipients of the residual effects from that value.”

A Blast of Professional Development Leads to Common Coaching Conversations

On April 4 three veteran ISA coaches provided professional development for staff at ISA partner school Eagle Academy for Young Men of Newark. The afternoon was titled Instructional Strategies in the Classroom that Support Effective Learning: Tailored Instruction, Questioning, and Feedback.

The questioning session was particularly well received. Questioning lies at the heart of inquiry. When students set about answering a question, they begin to construct ideas, apply knowledge, absorb new information, and demonstrate understanding.

Staff experienced each topic area in 35 minute blocks, and follow up will occur when the coaches are back on site. “It’s a great model for those schools that may have limited amounts of professional development time allotted each month,” said ISA senior director Dr. Betty Greene-Bryant. “The coaches provided important information to all faculty, which will be built on when those same coaches are back in the school building for their coaching work.”

Send an email to ISA’s Abner Oakes – aoakes <at> ets.org – if you’re interested in this kind of approach for your school!

Coach’s Corner: Q and A with ISA Coach Laura Reyes-Diaz

Laura Reyes-Diaz began her teaching career in 2007 with Teach for America at C.S. 211 in the Bronx as a self-contained special education teacher and then moved into teaching 6th through 8th grade math and algebra at KIPP Academy Middle School, her alma mater. After ten years of classroom teaching, Laura moved into administration, first working as a coordinator for programs for English language and dual language learners and then as an assistant principal. In 2010 she graduated from Pace University with a master’s degree in the topic areas of middle childhood and special education and then in 2020 from Lehman College with a master’s in educational leadership.

Laura is passionate about creating equity for all students in the classroom and creating solutions to support and grow teacher knowledge for special populations. She serves as a board member on Bronx Community Board 5 and is on the board of trustees at Creo College Prep. She’s proud to be from the South Bronx and actively seeks ways to help better her community through activism and community outreach.

Which teacher of yours do you feel most impacted your coaching approach? Why?

Dr. Rosa Rivera- McCutchen is an associate professor of leadership studies at Lehman College, CUNY. Her approach to teaching is to make no assumptions, to be reflective and strong. She always asks about my thoughts without advice or judgment and has impacted my coaching approach because she’s taught me that teaching and therefore coaching is reflective, not directive. She provides support while gently nudging me to be better.

What do you enjoy most about your coaching work?

I love growing with teachers! It’s incredible to see growth and know that you might have been a part of it. I love showing teachers how the action steps we created together turned into student outcomes. I also love watching teachers evolve and get passionate about their content. For example, today I spoke to a teacher I coached three years ago who created a new course at his high school. He’s been working on the curriculum for over a year. I knew this course was a passion project and pushed him to pitch it to his admin. As a result, he’ll be teaching it next year as an elective. I am so proud of his growth!

What was your most memorable moment with a student or students when you were teaching?

A few years ago, when I was teaching 8th grade math, I learned a former student passed away over the weekend. During my first period class the following Monday, I was having difficulty getting through the lesson because I was very emotional. I apologized and kept teaching as I cried. Slowly, some students began helping me teach. At the end of the class, as the students transitioned out of the classroom, every single student hugged me. It was so memorable for me because of their kindness; it gave me the resilience I needed to get through my grief.

What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Chocolate chip!

From the Education Trust: Getting Black Students Better Access to Non-Novice Teachers

In this newsletter we highlight a brief from the Education Trust called Getting Black Students Better Access to Non-Novice Teachers, authored by Sarah MehrotraIvy Morgan, and Allison Rose Socol.

As they write, “having a teacher with more than just a year or two of teaching experience matters. And yet, students of color and students from low-income backgrounds are more likely to attend schools with greater numbers of inexperienced teachers than their peers. This disparity, the result of a variety of factors (i.e., centuries of systemic racism, housing segregation, and resource inequity), means that groups of students are missing out, by no fault of their own, on the critical learning opportunities necessary to prepare them for success in college and/or the workforce.”

Click here to read the brief.