Kids Aren’t the Only Ones Who Are Learning in Our School

As a new teacher and career changer, I owe so much to the coaching prowess of Mrs. Yvonne Savior. That’s right, even her name was Savior, and it was her guidance and support that helped me have the impact I sought with my students.

As educators, we know that we have a responsibility to always continue learning—about our students, about our colleagues and community, and about our practice.

Just as we push our students to develop their intrinsic motivation to learn, as professionals we should also be pushing ourselves to own what is in our locus of control, including our own brains, mindsets, and the development of our craft. We need support, but as educators, we can’t fully relinquish this. If we do, it is at our peril and the peril of our students’ achievement.

But that’s not to say that school and district leaders shouldn’t heavily invest in the development of our teachers and staff. That should be paramount.

At Mastery Charter Schools, one of our core organizational values is continuous improvement. For an educator, stagnation leads directly to the undermining of our students’ achievement—something we cannot afford.

Our community looks for educators who are not only reflective, but are the consummate professionals – potential teammates who are receptive to feedback but who also take ownership for their own development.

For us, this isn’t just rhetoric. Even our school year is longer than the traditional public schools, in part because we have built in ongoing professional development every Wednesday afternoon for our teachers to collaborate, plan and attend professional development.

It’s a huge investment. Some districts spend $18,000 per year on each of their teacher’s development. And unfortunately, a lot of that money is wasted. According to a 2015 report from TNTP called, “The Mirage,” districts are spending a “massive” amount on professional development that doesn’t actually help teachers improve. And in the end, it’s the students who lose.

But when it can move the needle of student achievement, then it’s worth every penny—and then some.

At Mastery, our professional development doesn’t just come into play once a week.

Coaching is a huge part of our support for teachers. Every new teacher receives a coach for at least nine weeks. It’s a non-negotiable.

As I learned with Mrs. Savior, the only real professional development is the type that consistently leads to improvement in practice and increased student achievement – coaching can have that impact.

We have found that actual practice works. Not just instructing a teacher on how to convey clear expectations, or how to check for students’ understanding. They need to actually practice exactly what will happen in the classroom. Videotaping, reflecting, and then practicing again.

Randomly sending a struggling teacher to visit an effective classroom doesn’t work by itself. But having a new or struggling teacher observe an experienced educator along with a coach, identifying beforehand the specific skill that’s desired, and then debriefing what the coach and coachee saw—that can lead to very positive outcomes.

And guess who’s working with administrators to do this critical coaching and support? Other teachers! See, that’s the key: not only are new teachers always learning and bettering their craft, so are their mentors; teacher leaders, who are also solidifying their own teaching and leadership practices and driving outcomes through coaching.

What could be a better model for encouraging our students to become lifelong learners themselves?


Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.



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