In 2013, Kena Allison was awarded $25,000 from the Milken Family Foundation for her stellar performance as an educator.
At Thurgood Marshall Academy, the beginning of each school year starts with Teacher Academy, an intensive, two-week training that provides time for all teachers to collaborate among departments and grade levels for curriculum design and implementation. The Academy is in full swing, and new and seasoned teachers alike work together in professional learning circles that improve their work in the classroom.
In this Q&A, Thurgood Marshall Academy’s Head of School, Kena Allison, shares how Teacher Academy is a resource that helps teachers develop and prepare for the upcoming school year. She goes a step further, though, to shed light on how the program and other professional development opportunities for educators are influential tools in the success of our students.
- One may automatically assume that Teacher Academy is a resource that only teachers and faculty can benefit from. But please share how Teacher Academy ensures that our students succeed.
During Teacher Academy, teachers are given opportunities to learn new instructional strategies and revise curriculum materials. The only reason we do this is to better educate students. The underlying goal is to ensure that when students return to Thurgood Marshall Academy they will have a refreshed curriculum and learning plan to look forward to. It keeps their learning and classroom experience invigorating and challenging. Teacher Academy tasks educators to present refreshing ideas, share teacher peer-to-peer feedback, and create new concepts that are sure to keep our students on the course to academic success.
- What are some initiatives built into this year’s Teacher Academy that were developed to help teachers perform better in the classroom?
Bridget Abbas, Thurgood Marshall Academy’s new Director of Curriculum and Instruction, is leading a session on “close reading,” which will equip teachers with strategies that help students navigate difficult text. This training will directly translate into a classroom lesson that each teacher will develop and introduce to students within the first few weeks of school. Last year, approximately 75% of new students performed on a 7th grade academic level. Therefore, Thurgood Marshall Academy is compelled to design strategies that improve student performance and reading skills. The specific session on “close reading” gives teachers in all departments, not just English, the opportunity to learn the procedure and plan a lesson that reinforces what they learned.
- What can other schools learn from TMA’s Teacher Academy model?
TMA’s Teacher Academy model is a lot more complex than a simple, two-week training for every teacher in the building. Instead, the Academy, and the time that goes into it, is critical for sharing updates and changes, and providing adequate prep time before students arrive. More importantly, it gives us time for team-building and a platform to identify our strengths and areas in need of growth. Essentially, Teacher Academy is a reflection of the focus and value that TMA puts on planning, collaborating, and professional development.
- Tell us more about Professional Development opportunities and how they empower teachers throughout the year.
I’ve learned that teachers work with students because we want to be lifelong learners. It’s important to remember that different generations of students learn differently, become interested in new and trending topics, and are eager to explore learning in reformed and modern ways. Even the most effective lesson becomes tedious after five years. Therefore, educators, whether seasoned or new to the classroom, must be willing to learn and adapt their teaching styles to better engage students. As such, teachers who partake in professional development opportunities are only embracing their desire for personal growth. Professional development affords educators the space to think outside of the box and integrate new strategies, better understand new standards, or experiment with new technology. The learning process through professional development is igniting for educators and empowers them to return that energy to students.
- As the former Instructional Coach and now Head of School, what have you seen first-hand that inspires teachers to go beyond the call of duty?
Institutional support and collaboration among leadership and colleagues inspire teachers to go beyond the call of duty. All teachers work for students. But when the school does not support genuine efforts that teachers put forth for students, it’s possible for teacher passion and motivation to dwindle. Strong educators value frequent observations and feedback. They want the students to achieve and those around them to be on the same page to make that achievement a reality. TMA works to maintain that balance.
- How does TMA challenge teachers?
We are constantly asking, “how do we make that better?” and “why are students not improving with…?” Likewise, we are always conversing about what works and what doesn’t. Finally, the students and community challenge us. TMA is the go-to college school, but many students entering TMA are not on grade level—academically or socio-emotionally—when they arrive. As such, teachers face the challenge to close those gaps.
- What is your advice to new and returning teachers?
Remember that students are human beings who want relationships and are eager to learn from teachers who set high expectations. Don’t give up on them. Instead, make it your priority to support them when they struggle and want to give up.
- Now celebrating 15 years, tell us how this year at TMA may be different for teachers.
There is a lot of new leadership in the building—a new Executive Director, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and I’ve recently taken on the role as Head of School. Like all things new, change is good and I think that new leadership is a great thing. It will bring new answers and ideas for those ongoing questions and struggles our students face. Logistically, teachers will work with a new lesson plan template and may see minor changes in the evaluation system; however, the change that I think will be most valued from the new members of the TMA community is a new energy and the same steadfast commitment to our mission.