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Light Bulbs Going Off Everywhere

One coach breaks down the challenges of supporting teachers through change and implementation of a new curriculum

Some people make you feel safe and invite your trust.

That’s Michelle.

Her warmth is deep, washing out in waves of smile-filled conversation. After serving students and teaching math for 23 years, nearly all of it with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), thousands of learning experiences give her unmistakable joy and enthusiasm.

Michelle started coaching two years ago, right as CMS began implementing the new middle school math curriculum. The effort to support teachers amid a significant change wasn’t easy. “There was a friction at the beginning,” said Michelle. “Teachers wanted to keep doing things their way, which I get. But what matters most is the students.”

As a part of the change and implementation management, Michelle led a PLC to provide direct teacher support. But first, she needed to create an empathetic space to boost credibility and confidence.

“I worked hard to build trust and show teachers I was in it right alongside them.”

Michelle did a lot of pre-work, walking through the problems, digesting content, and investing a lot of planning time. Throughout that process, she received support and collaborated with NTC to build the PLC’s culture and content.

“I turned to Allison, my trusty lead from NTC, to figure out what to do first,” said Michelle. “We dug into the curriculum together. We decided what to focus on and had a dialogue about what we needed to do and why.” She felt empowered to coach and customize how to bring the curriculum to the teachers in the PLC.

Today, Michelle is proud to say that she’s not “running the PLC.” Instead, she’s artfully working on the edges to help the teachers lead the conversations and collaboration. One learning opportunity she introduced was breaking down units together in advance of in-classroom engagement. Teachers discussed the strategies and arcs of learning in the unit, working up to the assessment. Trust grew, and teachers had time to be vulnerable as they processed concepts. The PLC built a shared vision and strong teamwork, creating a space for creativity and problem-solving. Every week, with every unit, the PLC asks:

  • What are we teaching?
  • Why are we teaching it?
  • How are we going to teach it so it can reach every student?
Three girls wearing graduation hats
Light bulbs going off everywhere

The PLC is leaning into access and inclusion in the curriculum, knowing how different students are embracing (or not) the material. For instance, Michelle helped teachers coordinate and adapt lesson plans for English Language Learners and Exceptional Children. There’s a real sense that the PLC’s cooperative work is helping iterate on better designs for different students and classrooms.

“Now, our teachers are feeling confident in themselves,” said Michelle. “They know they can give information to students in ways they can access. And the benefit is that the students are learning and enjoying it.”

Michelle’s warmth brightens more. Over the last few months, her pop-ins to classrooms find assured teachers and highly engaged students. Students are motivated to teach the lesson to each other and call back connections to previous units. “They truly understand it and can explain it,” said Michelle. “You can see the light bulbs going off everywhere.”

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