Kala Carlson: A Confidence-Building Year
During the past school year, we've written several times about the Alabama Instructional Partners Pilot Program, initiated by the Alabama State Department of Education with professional development support from the Alabama Best Practices Center. The essential goal of the project, which will expand this fall, is to prepare teacher leaders for roles as school-based "instructional partners" who facilitate transformative professional learning among their peers.
We've invited participants in the first-year pilot to write about how the experience impacted their own professional growth. Our first story comes from Kala Carlson, who is the instructional coach for Attalla (City) Elementary, where she was reading coach prior to 2011-12.
A Confidence-Building Year for Me
by Kala Carlson
Almost one year ago, I was packing my car and heading to Children’s Harbor for the first-ever Alabama Instructional Partner retreat, where there would be only one person I knew a little and MANY people whom I had never met before.
I was given a book to read in advance, Unmistakable Impact by Jim Knight. As I opened this book and truly began the journey toward becoming an instructional partner, my first thought was about Mr. (Ray) Landers, our district superintendent at that time: “What has he gotten me into?!” The book was packed with wonderful information that at first was overwhelming for me to take in. I had just finished my first year as a reading coach at my school and the “stuff” in this book was introducing me to ideas and practices beyond anything I'd been a part of before.
As we entered Children’s Harbor and had our first meeting, I was sure that my having been asked to come must have been an error on someone’s part. These people knew so much more than I did, and I felt very intimidated. As the days went on, I began to see that there were others who were also feeling the shock of the new, and the learning got easier.
Even so, I will tell you that I left Children’s Harbor stressed and not knowing where to begin at my school. But I just kept plugging away at the book, reflecting and collaborating with one of my other IP friends and my principal, and it all began to make sense. The more I met with my IP colleagues, the more I learned and the more I wanted to grow professionally.
Earlier experiences helped me grow
My participation in other networks -- like ABPC's Powerful Conversations and our own Instructional Partners Learning Network online -- helped me gain a deeper understanding about new approaches to educational learning for teachers and schools. Did I always go back and do everything correctly in my own school? No, but I do know that we began to see a change in the way teachers were thinking -- the first step to making an impact in our classrooms.
Teachers began to see my role not as dictatorial or a "I know more than you" thing, but one where we were a team that relied on everyone collaborating and having an input in the professional learning. I discovered that we were most effective when we started small, focused on one thing, and learned to do it well. Then we took another step.
After a year of change and new thinking, our school is finding out how to work together and collaborate to decide our needs and achieve our goals. We've sharpened our focus and we're determining what will have the greatest direct impact on student achievement as we “GROW” together.
How much have I grown?
A LOT! Do I have a long way to go? YES! But one year later, I can get in my car this month and drive to Children’s Harbor for the final retreat of the Instructional Partners project's first year with a smile on my face. I know that I have indeed had a successful year and that the work we have done in our school, collaborating and sharing leadership, is likely to have an impact on the lives of teachers and students for many years to come.
I also know that the Instructional Partners training has impacted my own professional work in a positive way. Teachers are understanding the need for purposeful planning, identifying instructional targets, creating student-friendly objectives, aligning instruction with common core standards, and much more. But I think the most important understanding of all is this: we are a team, and a team must work together and have a common goal to meet.
Being an Instructional Partner has helped me grow tremendously as an educator and leader, but most of all has helped to gather teachers along side to grow and learn together.
Coming Friday: Alyson Carpenter, instructional partner at Columbia Elementary in Madison City Schools, shares her story.
For an in-depth overview of the Instructional Partners Pilot Program, see Cathy Gassenheimer's interview with the national group EdLeader21.
Tags: Instructional Partners,
A+ Education Partnership
P.O. Box 4433
Montgomery, AL 36103
Phone - 334-279-1886
Fax - 334-279-1543