The Best of Us: A Year in 7 Episodes

Happy 2024, friends! We're delighted to present the top installments from The Best of Us, KickUp's podcast celebrating professional learning leaders across the country.

In these seven episodes, you'll find practical tips and insights from the people doing real boots-on-the-ground work of supporting teachers. From making instructional rounds collaborative to understanding the nitty-gritty of K-12 workforce development to real-life lessons from Japan and Chile's teacher models, each of these experts brings world-class nuance and understanding to the professional learning conversation.

It's a privilege to have these conversations, and we hope you enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed making them. Happy new year, and thank you for listening!

Getting Instructional Coaches to Think Like Scientists with Dr. Jim Knight

How has the role of the instructional coach changed in the last couple of years? What can we learn from thinking about the concept of task conflict vs. personal conflict? What can instructional coaches in the United States learn from coaches in other countries? How do we create an environment that promotes learning and not control? How do we change the dominant model of professional development from “change happens from the outside in” to “change happens from the inside out?”

We discuss these questions and more with founding senior partner of the Instructional Coaching Group and research associate at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning Dr. Jim Knight. Jim has spent more than two decades studying professional learning and instructional coaching. He has written or co-authored several books on the topic, including: Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction and Unmistakable Impact: A Partnership Approach for Dramatically Improving Instruction.

How to Build and Sustain an Impactful Instructional Coaching Program with Fairfax County Public Schools

How do you align strategy, activities and reporting for over 100 coaches across 89 schools? Where do principals fit into the success of a district-wide coaching program? How do you evaluate coaching’s impact year over year? What does a strong pipeline of instructional coach candidates look like? What are the pros and cons of instructional coaching as a pathway to district level leadership positions?

We discuss these questions and more with Michelle Lis, Coordinator, Instructional Coaching and Teacher Leadership at Fairfax County Public Schools. Michelle has 24 years experience in education as a teacher, Instructional Coach, Educational Specialist and Coordinator. She leads the FCPS Instructional Coaching program which includes 106 elementary and secondary instructional coaches.

Creating Sustainable Leadership Development Pipelines with David Pinder of D.C. Public Schools

In 2021, Chancellor of DC Public Schools Lewis Ferebee identified sustainable leadership pipelines as a critical challenge to the district’s operations. DCPS’s teacher-leaders, assistant principals, and principals were working hard, but needed significant extra coaching to execute that work and stay in the profession. That’s when Ferrebee decided to create an office of leadership development which would not only recruit the best educators to the district but also implement a defined career ladder that would provide educators with the experiences they needed to become effective leaders. Chancellor Ferrebee turned to Dr. David Pinder to be the Chief of Leadership Development. 

In this episode of The Best of Us, we spoke to Dr. David Pinder about the challenges he has faced, and progress he has made in carrying out his charge of ensuring that leaders are prepared at each stage of their career with the full complement of skills and capacities necessary to guarantee student and school success. He shared his thoughts on a wide range of topics including the levers for empowering teachers, how to create a culture of innovation, the importance of creating professional learning opportunities that are directly related to what teachers ask for, how retention has become the new recruitment at DCPS, and more.

Solving State-Wide Teacher Shortage with Paraprofessional-to-Teacher Pipelines with North Dakota Department of Public Instruction

Heading into fall 2022, nearly 7% of teaching positions in North Dakota were unfilled. Between attracting young talent and retaining career professionals, a teacher shortage crisis in a rural state can be particularly challenging — but North Dakota's Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) found a way.

In this episode of the Best of Us, we speak with Laurie Matzke, Assistant State Superintendent for the NDDPI. Laurie shares how her team found inspiration in the state’s first paraprofessional-to-teacher pipeline program, originally created prior to the pandemic, to build post-COVID solutions for special education and teacher shortages across the spectrum. We discuss the partnerships that have been critical to successfully expanding the program, what they’ve learned along the way, and how they’re measuring success.

Collaborative Instructional Rounds for Real-Time Classroom Growth, with Matt Griesinger

It’s inarguable that teachers are experts on what their students need. So how can school administrators leverage that expertise to make professional learning collaborative rather than top-down?

In this episode of The Best of Us, we speak with Matt Griesinger, Assistant Principal of Northwest Education Services Career Tech and author of the recent article “How Administrators Can Make Professional Learning More Collaborative.” 

Matt's approach to professional learning is grounded in teacher efficacy, collaboration, and actionable feedback. He walks us through: the nitty-gritty of the three-tiered peer learning process that transformed North Ed’s PD landscape, plus administrators’ role in giving educators a voice in their own learning, and practical strategies for collecting expertise already present in the school building. We also cover non-evaluative instructional rounds as a core part of school culture, and the possibilities that spring up when teachers learn from each other's classrooms.

S2/E4: Understanding Educators as a Workforce, with Dr. Tequilla Brownie

In this episode of The Best of Us, we talk with Dr. Tequilla Brownie, CEO of The New Teacher Project, about ways to understand and address the teacher shortage as a workforce issue.

Public school systems are usually among the top employers of any given town or city, yet it’s often expected for K-12 to solve its own workforce issues. Tequilla points out that teacher shortages have been an ongoing problem, and that solving them requires the kind of innovative solutions and assistance usually enjoyed by private employers.

She also explores boots-on-the-ground strategies working for Tennessee and Mississippi, why teacher workforce conversations focus on the wrong metrics, the importance of killing one’s sacred cows, and much more.

Principals or Peers: Who Should Evaluate Teachers?, with Drs. Alyson Lavigne & Tim Ford

In this episode of The Best of Us,we sit down with Dr. Alyson Lavigne and Dr. Tim Ford to cover the wide world of teacher evaluation. These two instructional leadership researchers share a wealth of knowledge about evaluation’s past, present and future, from questions of teacher motivation to the impact of Race to the Top and beyond.

Research shows that much of the past decade’s carrot-and-stick evaluation reforms didn't actually have much of an impact on teaching and learning outcomes. School leaders spend more time documenting performance than actually providing feedback to improve instruction. At the same time, teachers question both the validity and utility of their results.

So where do we go from here? Tim and Alyson take us through what’s working across the world from Chile to Japan, findings from their research around teacher motivation, practical ways to move beyond the checkbox, and much more.

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