Teachers as Leaders Kelley Curtiss


My inspiration in becoming a teacher leader came from my principal, Dr. Mozley. My first year teaching, J.W. was my Assistant Principal and I believe he saw something in me that I never did: the opportunity to be a leader in the school and in Gwinnett County. Under his leadership and through Teachers as Leaders, I have grown as an educator and been given confidence in the idea of being a teacher leader. Because of my experiences through TAL, I see the importance of teacher leaders in a school and the opportunity to share those leadership skills with other teachers to create more teacher leaders within our local schools and county.

Kelley Curtiss

I am a proud daughter of two Gwinnett County educators and a GCPS Brookwood High School graduate! Being part of Gwinnett County is all I've ever known, and I certainly want to do my part in making Gwinnett great! I saw the impact my parents were making in their schools and with their students, and I knew I wanted that same kind of gratification from my career. I knew when I applied to be a teacher in this county, standards and expectations of me as an educator would be high. I was ready to rise to the occasion with my first role in becoming a teacher leader working with the STEM initiative in the Duluth cluster. It all began at Duluth Middle where I was asked to pilot the STEM team in 6th grade where I would be collaborating with my teammates to integrate our curriculum and introduce students to the Engineering Design Process to solve real world problems. With this came excitement, but also fear knowing we would be under a microscope. Aside from the fear and anxiety of being successful with this task, my administration chose a group of teachers that were experienced teacher leaders themselves. From that moment, my teaching paradigm shifted. I knew it was expected of me to overcome my fears as a new, young teacher and really take charge of this moment. Because of the experiences I have had thus far, all that I learned from my teacher leader teammates, and my journey in Teachers as Leaders, I have been able to support other teachers who are ready to dive into the STEAM/PBL initiative as well at a local level and district level. It has also allowed me to take on a new role in my school as a Humanities Instructional Coach.

Table of Contents

Payne-Corley House Orientation Night

Monday, August 22, 2016

My first experience with Teachers as Leaders revolved around an introductory evening complete with dinner and conversations to meet the other Teacher Leaders we would be working with all year long. The room was set up beautifully, much like a reception, and we were introduced to our study group. It was very intimidating this first night to be surrounded by experienced, phenomenal teachers, but then I realized that I got to be one of them. It made me very proud to be part of this evening, to listen to Superintendent/CEO Mr. J. Alvin Wilbanks speak to us, meet Gwinnett County Board Members who support teacher leaders, and to listen to the inspirational words of my principal, Dr. Mozley. It was an exceptional evening and peaked my interest in beginning this journey, Teachers as Leaders.

The Dillard House Fall Retreat

September 23 - 24, 2016

Our weekend retreat at The Dillard House was full of fun, laughter, personal reflection, and the most amazing, delicious food! I was very nervous to perform our skit as part of the introductory process, but once we all got started, it became very comfortable. It was such a wonderful experience to see how creative and fun these teachers were, and it even introduced me to a new learning tool that I immediately began using in the classroom, Nearpod. As I was learning about these other teachers, I quickly realized that my teacher network was about to expand with colleagues I could talk with, share ideas with, and find support in outside of my own school. The sheer excitement these individuals possessed about students and best teaching practices truly inspired me. I received beautiful, thoughtful cards from teachers I knew and my study group leaders who had been through TAL before that brought tears to my eyes about how powerful and meaningful this experience was going to be. The amount of information I learned about myself that weekend and the overwhelming joy I felt to be a teacher in Gwinnett County made me realize that my principal intentionally put me in this position to be recognized as a Teacher Leader in my school.

From this experience, I enjoyed getting to know my Teachers as Leaders classmates, felt honored to be able to learn from Dr. Rutherford, and appreciated Dr. Barlow's presentation about the differences in being someone who "rents" their classroom versus "owns" their classroom, the difference in being a "classroom teacher" versus a "school teacher", and the ability to look up 11 degrees to notice the small changes in the world just by looking up. As I walk around my school and say "Good morning" to students I teach, taught or have never taught before, check to make sure these kids are safe and following rules and expectations of our school to enjoy the "Coleman Experience", and support students throughout all three years in my classroom, once they have left my classroom, and developing those relationships as a cheerleading coach makes me proud to recognize myself as a "school teacher".

Module 1: Developing Personal and Classroom direction

Overview: In developing a personal and classroom direction, it is important to begin with the end in mind. Dr. Rutherford shared that our mission is our compass "bearing, our general direction, even in uncertain times." "It is long-lasting and doesn't change from application to application." In hearing this, I connected it to my expectations and how they do not waver because I know where I want my students to end up at the end of the school year, and in their own lives. The vision is your destination, where you would like to end up, and how you will use your mission to fulfill your vision. Our core values are the pillars we stand on and use to shape our classroom culture and the space our students and teachers use to thrive. The "road signs" of life.

Reflection: After listening to Dr. Rutherford and comparing my school's mission and vision statement to that of our district and other successful companies, I felt empowered to shape my classroom in the way that I thought could fulfill my classroom mission statement of providing my students with a safe space, high expectations, the confidence to take risks and learn from failures, but do it all with kindness, respect, and compassion. I realized the importance of setting these expectations from day one and following through with structure, love, and consistency. When I think about my students and what they need from me as their teacher, I realize they need to know I am always here and will support them no matter what, and if I share with them my classroom mission and long-term vision, they will feel that safety and comfort and rise to those expectations I hold of them. In sharing with them my goals for myself and for them, their goals began to align with my expectations. Setting clear expectations and being consistent on follow through helped me achieve my classroom mission statement.

Action Step: On the other end of the spectrum, I have created a much healthier balance of my work life and personal life, and have found that at the end of the day, I am much happier and have the mental capacity to start each school day fresh and ready to fulfill my classroom mission. I have learned to say no to things I feel like I cannot achieve to the best of my ability and have embraced the time I have to spend with my family and those who mean the most to me.

Module 2: Identifying and Developing a Personal Leadership Style

Overview: "The foundational prerequisite for all leadership effectiveness is self knowledge. It seems that leaders who first take the time to understand themselves are better able to understand others and lead them effectively." Understanding your strengths and weaknesses and how they work with others' strengths and weaknesses can make a person much more successful in working with groups of teachers and creating a larger impact on students, classrooms, and schools.

Reflection: I have always considered myself someone who is very self-reflective and is very self-aware of my strengths and my weaknesses. The hardest part of identifying my personal leadership style was having my weaknesses printed in black and white in front of my face and having to own those weaknesses as much as I try to hide them. I have always been proud of my strengths and resonated with the ones that were identified per my DISC Assessment, but coming to terms with my weaknesses was a hard pill to swallow. My DISC Assessment said I was a high I and a high S, very low D. I knew I would never be high in the D category because I have never been a dominant individual. I do not like confrontation, I do not like being the sole leader, and I am very careful about what I say and how it might affect those around me. I felt very proud to be a high I and a high S because both of those categories placed me with adjectives I always described myself as: enthusiastic, gregarious, team-player, emotional, and trusting. Some of the descriptors of my personality that were harder to face were adjectives such as, impulsive, self-promoting, and complacent. I was also brought to the realization that high I's are excellent starters, but not excellent finishers, and as a high S, I am slow to embrace change as I am creature of habit. As I used the positive traits I possessed based on my assessment and connected them with how I have been in meetings in the past, I appreciated my leadership styles because I am still someone who likes to make decisions as a team that everyone is happy with, as long as it is good for the group and student achievement and engagement. I like to be friends with everyone I work with and know them on a personal level, which truly favors the Influence part of my personality.

Module 3: Culture, Climate, and Community

Overview: "Strong cultures alter and align the behavior of individuals."

Reflection: My dad was an elementary school principal, and all I would hear from his teachers was how much they loved being a teacher for Dr. Curtiss. I always knew my dad was a great man, and imagined him being a great principal, but when I asked his teachers what made working for him so enjoyable, they all responded with the school culture and climate. While teaching and learning was first priority, staff cohesiveness and fun was also important in keeping teachers happy. The students were proud to be Holt Champions and the teachers were proud to be a part of Margaret Winn Holt Elementary under his leadership. In listening to the importance of school climate and culture from Dr. Rutherford in producing highly functioning schools, I connected these conversations I had with those teachers to conversations I was having with my current colleagues and administrators. In sharing my notes from Dr. Rutherford with my admin team, teacher morale came back up, and students and teachers were able to finish out the semester strong.

Action Step: I began taking inventory of my classroom, identifying the "dead bushes" in my classroom, and thinking of rituals I could add culture shaping messages to. In doing so, my classroom culture began to align better with my classroom mission. I also began identifying characters in our cultural network, including the role I played, and thought about how I could maximize our time in collaborative plannings and meetings based on the key players we have in our group. Using the formula to help create change has helped me to appreciate the dissatisfaction of some, plus the resistance and push back in coming up with a solution to achieve a clear image of what we all want in the end.

Module 4: Designing and Leading Change

Overview: As teachers, we need to focus on our strengths instead of correcting our weaknesses. The Artisan Approach: CAPITLALIZE on your talents and MANAGE your non-talents.

Optimizers are those who speed up or slow down learning to deepen student learning and engagement.

Maximizers use those features that are less required but add the icing to the cake for student engagement and achievement.

Artisans master fundamentals, use optimizers efficiently while maximizers make your teaching more memorable.

Reflection: While I have always known to relate content to students' applicable world, I was reminded of how important making those connections for transfer and student engagement is. I finally labeled terms such as "locale memory", "personal relevance", and "connection" to understand the importance of restructuring my lessons. Finding ways to get the students creatively engaged to learn content standards is all about an "art" of the "artisan teacher". Relating my content to the students' world and creating the "A-ha!" moments help them learn the content better and remember it for future reference.

Action Step: In this same lesson, I realized that Dr. Rutherford always uses three examples to make a concept concrete. Typically he will use two academic examples for teachers to relate to and a personal example that we all can relate to. Because he did this with every new concept he taught, I started understanding the importance of providing my students with three examples of a concept so they can view multiple perspectives and learn the content from varying angles. In the classroom, I try to use a personal example, a content area example, and another content area example. By the third example, the kids tend to have that "A-Ha!" moment because they have made the connection they needed.

Module 5: Facilitating Learning I

Overview: The way a teacher presents the curriculum by way of visuals impacts student learning. What made more of an impact for me was the idea that students truly cannot multitask, and while we expect them to function at school attending to curriculum and learning from a screen, students can become overstimulated and not able to process the content we are delivering.

Reflection: This module impacted me the most as a classroom teacher and now as I move forward into this position of an instructional coach. This module spoke a lot about how our students' brains work and how much information they can actually process. In my undergraduate program, my initial degree was in Child and Family Development because I was interested in how societal and environmental factors shaped a child and their education. This module connected with what I learned back at UGA to help kids thrive in our world and the environment we should be placing them in. Even though our students are inundated with information and stimulation, what they are actually processing and accepting is much less than we expect and we must be aware of that as we are teaching. As long as students can make sense of the content to their personal world, learning can take place at higher levels.

Action Step: Because of this module, I have slowed down my content in my classroom and allowed the students to dig deeper to apply content to their natural world. I used to pack my students day full of lessons and different activities when I realized what is more important is that they are manipulating the curriculum in the way they can understand it best and we are going deeper with the content.

Module 6: Facilitating Learning II

Overview: There are three examples for understanding: 1. You have to make students decide they want to pay attention at the conscious level. 2. The brain has to check the information for discrepancies to see if the information they are given is helpful or harmful -- the brain automatically pay attention to what stands out. 3. Provide special treatment to the chunks of content that appeal to the emotional layer.

Reflection: As Dr. Rutherford speaks about what interests students to help them retain and transfer content, I think back to those 3 pieces to understanding. Inviting students to learn and take charge of their education starts with me and the enthusiasm I have for my content area and the lesson I have planned. When I lose interest, the kids lose interest. If I have enthusiasm, most feed off the energy I am provided. Allowing the students to ask questions, inquire about the topic, and understand how it applies to their world makes the most impact on student learning. This also ties into appealing to their emotional learning so they can see how their education has an overall impact on their current and future life.

Action Step: When creating my content, I think "What can I come up with that is student-centered and will give them the most bang for their buck?" Engaging my students in my curriculum is my number one priority because I want them to truly enjoy the learning process and find ways to make my content meaningful to them and their world. I have learned to shift my teaching and slow down at times where I can go deeper with the content to make those more meaningful connections instead of being worried about sticking to a rigid calendar and "covering" the material.

Module 7: Leading from the Classroom

Overview: Understanding the students we teach is often one of the most difficult challenges a teacher faces. The generation we teach today has a variety of learning styles, overstimulation, fear, and access to information with a click of a button. The students in our classroom are over exposed to news, social media, terrorism, and crime, which are factors I dealt with a lot less as a student. In understanding the kids we teach and appreciating the value their generation brings, instead of focusing on their short comings, can impact those student-teacher relationships and make learning engaging for our kids.

Reflection: The presentation from Dr. Tim Elmore resonated the most with me out of these modules. This was the meeting where I got tears in my eyes and was really forced to focus on the world in which my students live. The problems and social issues my students face on a daily basis are things I never had to think about or deal with as a middle schooler. My students are forced to grow up much faster than I ever did, missing out on their opportunity to have a childhood and live the carefree lifestyle I was familiar with. My students are exposed to much more adult content and adult issues that I ever was at 12 years old, and in a way, it is desensitized them to their surrounding world. Dr. Elmore said that student don't need adults to get information, which is completely true because they can often find the answer to what they want to know by simply using their smartphone or tablet. What really stuck with me was that I am the most important person in helping them interpret all of the information they are inundated with.

Action Step: After Dr. Elmore helped me see the positive of this current generation, I decided to capitalize on the iY Generation upsides: They are savvy, social, tech-friendly, family oriented, entrepreneurial, and aware of their influence. In focusing on these positives, I was able to transform some lessons where my students had guidelines to follow, standards to master, but the freedom to use their creativity and imagination to solve a problem. I also very much resonated with his visual concepts of being a teacher who plays chess and uses variety in teaching strategies to adhere to the multiple learning styles. I also want to continue to teach my students the timeless skills in a timely manner, such as hardwork, high expectations, and opportunities to learn from mistakes or failures. Lastly, I want my classroom to mirror that of a movie to provide my students with an experience rather than a meeting.

Entrance Leadership Essay

Community Service Project

Our study group decided to do our community service project serving the middle school students of Coleman Middle School. Coleman Middle hosts STEAM exhibitions for students to be able to present their work to community members and receive feedback. It is always a struggle finding enough adults to come and provide this experience for our students, and my study group so graciously decided to make a commitment to these kids and help with their path of educational success in learning how to present to adults and talk about their learning. They judged science fair projects, spoke to students who were presenting a Tiny House PBL project they designed using conservation strategies for environmental sustainability, as well as spoke to students who explained natural disasters around the world and created photo essays to explain the cause and effect using only pictures on an online portfolio database. Because our study group was there, our students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade were able to share content knowledge, engineering and design process skills, as well as explain their cross-curricular connections. The students had an opportunity to speak to adults other than their teachers and parents to show their content knowledge. Because of the feedback they received, their confidence soared and has motivated them to speak up more for future exhibitions. I was very pleased with my group's impression of the students of Coleman Middle and the work they were producing, and I feel like it helped them understand what we do here at Coleman Middle.

Area Board Meeting

I had never attended an area board meeting before, but on March 30, 2017, I had the pleasure of contributing to our meeting by presenting a teacher's perspective on what our cluster was doing well in front of the School Board Members, Superintendent/CEO J. Alvin Wilbanks, and the clusters of Duluth, Peachtree Ridge, North Gwinnett, and Norcross. It was especially interesting to hear about how all of the clusters were having success and what is happening in our schools, learning of the parent concerns, and most importantly, hearing the students' perspective of their GCPS education. The enthusiasm the kids had in their experience at every level, elementary, middle, and high, brought me to tears. It helped me understand that teachers really can make such a difference in students' lives and it is a profession I am proud to be a part of, and a county I am proud to be a part of. That motivation encourages me to continue making positive, impactful changes within my local school, but also within the county as a teacher leader. It encourages me to not let other teachers get bogged down by the stress of our daily jobs, but to celebrate what we do each and every day for the future of America. As educators, we all strive to create lifelong learners who will, one day, become productive members of society. Through teacher leadership, I can help motivate those other teachers and students to support this goal of ours and work with this up and coming generation.

Study Group

The purpose of the TAL study group is to take the opportunity and talk with other teacher leaders and reflect on our session experiences. I looked at this as more of a chore when I first learned about what they were, but once I got to experience my first study group, I realized this was less of a test and more of a conversation about how much we enjoyed our session and how we can apply our newly learned skills and information to our classrooms and schools. It is also very nice to know people who share your same passion for teaching and student learning. I always looked forward to our La Madeleine meetings to indulge in French Onion Soup, but also appreciated the conversations and camaraderie in Group G.

Exit Leadership Essay

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