How To Teach 800 Middle Schoolers

PK-12 School Models

How To Teach 800 Middle Schoolers

What's possible when you keep the best teaching talent closest to the classroom

By Christina Quattrocchi     Mar 19, 2014

How To Teach 800 Middle Schoolers

Walk with Romain Bertrand through the halls of Ranson IB Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina and you’ll find kids swarming him with questions and comments about yesterday's lesson on Educreations. Stick with him for a quick detour as he walks into a teacher’s room for some quick coaching, and you’ll find him whispering into a walkie talkie. Take a peek at his Chromebook, and you’ll find loads of data from MasteryConnect, Socrative, or Compass Learning to find out which lessons work for his students and where to dive in deeper next week.

Bertrand isn’t like any teacher you had in middle school. He has more than 800 students on his roster, whose progress directly impact his evaluations. He’s also responsible for coaching six teachers to improve their practice. He looks at data regularly, runs a “genius bar,” and delights in continually refining the art of teaching--and he’s doing it all with the help of a little blended learning.

Bertrand’s role is part of a broader effort by Public Impact called Opportunity Culture, where teachers and administrators re-design teaching roles and work with the central office to make them a reality.

Typically, teachers who’ve mastered their craft have two choices: leave the classroom and become an administrator or coach, or stay and do the same thing, with the same number of students, and only incremental salary increases. Neither of those choices allow expert teachers to stay in the classroom and reach more students.

With the combination of blended learning, a newly reimagined role as a “Multi-Classroom Leader,” and a $20,000 salary increase, Bertrand shows us what’s possible when you keep master teachers as close to the kids as possible.

Bertrand’s Week

On Mondays, Bertrand coaches six sixth and seventh grade math teachers. His style takes different forms, depending on what teachers need. He might sit in the back of the room, take notes on a teacher’s lesson, and meet with them later to debrief. He also does real-time coaching. With an earpiece and walkie talkie he whispers directions to them as they are in the middle of their lessons, much like an NFL coach to his quarterback. Sometimes he’ll even jump in front of the class for a little co-teaching.

Having his finger on the pulse of what’s happening in each classroom lets Bertrands know what teachers are struggling with and the topics and activities kids find engaging. This helps him do a better job at designing curriculum and working directly with kids later on in the week. “In order to teach the kids what they need to know most, I have to know what the teachers are doing since I am responsible for driving it and giving resources to reach the kids,” says Bertrand.

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Bertrand will work directly with students, who rotate between receiving direct instruction from the teacher and working on computer programs like Compass Learning, Dreambox, Learnzillion, or Khan Academy. Every 20 minutes, Bertrand pulls aside eight to 10 students to tutor them on specific concepts or skills that neither the math teachers nor digital programs can address. He calls this time the “Math Genius Block.” “With rotation models, there is this danger that what happens online and in the classroom happens in two separate worlds. I try to connect the two,” says Bertrand.

Bertrand is able to work directly with 180 to 200 students per week. For the students he doesn’t reach, Bertrand develops custom online activities using Showme or Educreations to cover concepts that students need extra help with. For Roland's vantage on this experience, read "Reaching 800 Students With a Stylus and an IPad."

For students he calls “high flyers” who don’t always get enough attention, Bertrand creates weekly podcasts, presentations and activities to reach them. He assigns these students more work through Edmodo, asking them to share their solutions and giving feedback directly on the platform.

Bertrand spends Thursdays pouring over data with two blended learning teachers. These teachers spend half of their time directly teaching a class of their own and the other half planning content and supervising the computer lab.

The team starts with data points that come through Edmodo, Mastery Connect, and daily exit tickets through Socrative. Bertrand looks for common gaps in student learning and tracks progress on assessments every four to six weeks. The results determine how students are grouped and which skills need their own supplementary resources.

On Friday, Bertrand does a combination of co-teaching and coaching with other teachers, as well as pulling out one group of students for further instruction.

For Bertrand, the “dream for this program at Ranson and beyond is that it will spark a true revolution of the way we imagine growth avenues in the careers of teachers. If the best teachers out there want to come to our schools because we offer them a way to expand their impact, everyone will have won.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District was the first district to collaborate with Public Impact to help redesign teacher leadership roles at four of its schools. Ranson was one of them. Public Impact has also begun similar work in Metro-Nashville Public Schools and plans to announce two new school districts later this spring.

“We were so compelled by the research on how important great teachers are to student success, but when we ran the numbers we saw that rarely did students get a great teacher in every classroom. That’s why we are looking to expand their impact directly and indirectly,” explains Bryan Hassel, Co-Director of Public Impact.

Public Impact plans to continue working with districts and make all its work publicly available so that other districts can begin to reimagine the role that master teachers might have. Perhaps opportunities like these are what’s needed to offer new career ladders for teachers who want to magnify their impact on students without ever leaving the classroom.

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