When I started teacher training at Success Academy this summer, I did not know what to expect. I had worked in D.C. public schools the last two years, teaching students with special needs. In my experience, most professional development was not aligned with the needs of my students or the expectations I had for my classroom.
Success Academy Teacher School, or T School, made me see professional development in a different way. I was impressed that the sessions were so targeted and thoughtful.
From the very first day, T School was illuminating. We started with broad strokes, with introductions to how Success Academy teaches literacy and math, and how teachers can maintain a culture of joyful rigor in the classroom. As the days and weeks went on, the training was more targeted to individual schools, different grade levels, and the distinct needs of various groups of scholars, like scholars with special needs.
The fact that we were meeting at the CUNY Graduate Center, not at our assigned schools, turned out to be very important. In my old district, professional development and classroom setup were squeezed into the same week. We were pulled in nine directions at once, often so distracted that it was impossible to plan strategically or focus on an individual task. But at T School, my only job was to develop a deep understanding of Success Academy’s approach to education.
I learned, for example, the philosophy behind progressive pedagogy—that the students do the thinking and lead the learning, with the teacher as a facilitator. I also learned more about anticipating scholar responses and planning student-centered classroom discussions. This is challenging enough in a general-education class, and it takes extra preparation and planning for scholars who may need extra support grasping new concepts. Now that I have a deep understanding about Success Academy, I can better support my scholars as they move toward mastery.
I also know more about myself.
For example, as a student, I struggled with math. I never enjoyed it because the focus was on memorization. I was never pushed to think conceptually about numbers. On the first day of T School, we solved a number story, a brief story that poses a math problem. I had a very negative reaction. I jotted something on paper, and that was it. I was done. But as the days went on, as we learned how children solve number stories and practiced solving these problems, I evolved into a mathematician myself. I enjoyed discovering the different ways to find an answer, and I felt that the people around me were having the same experience. We were learning different strategies from one another and really enjoying math!
I had a similar experience learning about SA’s approach to literacy. During a read aloud lesson, we were asked to find the main idea of a passage called Talkative Turtle. It was so hard! The problem was, developing a strong main idea depended on closely reading the text. It turned out I wasn’t reading closely enough. The presenters led us to understand why our scholars would struggle. After seeing this passage through a scholar’s eyes, we explored different strategies to help our students identify the meaning in a text and support their response with evidence. Now, I find that I am approaching my personal reading with the goal of gaining a deeper understanding of the text.
T School taught me not only how to teach with more joy and rigor, but how to learn like a scholar. What an unexpected surprise!