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SCSD Teachers Meet Their Goals Thanks to New Impact Coaches

This is a photo of SCSD Impact Coaches, standing in a line, smiling at the camera.In Molli Brown’s classroom at Delaware Primary, first graders complete a timed math fluency test – called a math sprint – three or four times a week.
When they finish, they run to the front of the room, grab a crayon, and shade in how many questions they got right on their personal goal tracker.
When they reach their math goal – which each student sets for himself or herself each month – they get to ring a special bell to celebrate their progress. The students who meet their goals are met with cheers – the ones who don’t are met with encouraging words.
“It’s so cute to see them boost each other up,” Ms. Brown shares.
For Ms. Brown, now in her 9th year of teaching and her 5th year of teaching in the SCSD, it’s also a surprise: to see first grade students setting their own goals and tracking their own achievements.
“I’d never have thought first graders could track their own goals,” Ms. Brown explained. “I wouldn’t have even said that about a 5th grader!”
Thanks to a new districtwide initiative, Ms. Brown and her students were able to reach this ambitious milestone thanks to the help of an Impact Coach.
The District’s team of 15 full-time Impact Coaches, consists of former teachers who are now working full time to help push into classrooms and help staff reach their personalized goals as teaching professionals.
“Our goal is to work one on one with teachers to help them identify a professional goal and help them achieve it,” Impact Coach Cynthia Thomas explained. “We also cultivate professional development opportunities based on needs that we see in the classroom.”
Impact Coaches – unlike some other mentoring programs – are not assigned for the entire school year. Rather, Coaches are partnered with a specific teacher to help them achieve a specific goal, however long that goal takes to achieve. Coaches and teachers are matched based on the teacher’s goal and the coach’s areas of expertise. 
For Ms. Brown, her goal was to help her students take ownership of their learning. She was paired with Impact Coach Kristen Duffy, who met with her several times to discuss her ambitions, and then visited her classroom to get an idea of the dynamic and how she could help Ms. Brown reach them. 
“As a tenured teacher, when someone says they’re giving you a coach, you think: I don’t need a coach! But I saw this as an opportunity to have someone help me move farther. I want to see what else I’m capable of. I may be a good teacher, but how can I be a great teacher? What else is out there to help me be great so I can do a better job of helping my kids?”
Ms. Brown noted that her Impact Coach has not only helped her meet her goal – and her students take ownership of their learning – she has also expanded her comfort zone when it comes to teaching.
“I’m seeing so much in my kids as a result of the changes we’ve made,” Ms. Brown shared. “I’m starting to think out of the box in other areas… I want to do more for my students in other areas as well – so now I’m thinking: where can I go farther for my students? How can I get them to a place where they can lead a center, or help teach a classmate a math skill? Where can they go from here? My kids have come so far and they are capable of so much!”
 This is a photo of three students huddled around a table, looking at a piece of paper.
Ms. Brown said that other teachers on her team – and her school’s administrative team – have observed the progress in her classroom and have even asked her to share her best practices with her colleagues.
William Wright has been a teacher in the SCSD for three years – the first of those as a long-term sub. While he had a Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) mentor his first full year of teaching, he said he was happy to take advantage of the offer for a more informal collaborator.
“When I was approached about the Impact Coach program, I thought: it’s another form of support and who doesn’t want more support!” he shared.
Mr. Wright, an 8th grade ELA teacher at Ed Smith, said his previous mentor had been a Science teacher. So while he had still gained valuable insight, it wasn’t tailored to his content area. By contrast, the Impact Coach he was paired with, Laurie Collins, had previously taught English at Henninger High School for close to 20 years!
“That helps a lot,” he explained. “It’s nice to work with someone familiar with the same content area. It’s especially nice that she taught at the high school level. One of my goals centers around being more intentional. I teach 8th grade, so my kids are getting ready to go to high school. I want to make sure they have the skills they need to be self-sufficient and successful in their high school classes, and Laurie gives me great feedback. She’ll tell me the skills that I’m building that are going to be helpful to the kids when they are in high school – which helps me make sure that what I’m doing is beneficial for them.”
Mr. Wright said it has also been refreshing that his Impact Coach has seemed more of a friendly colleague than a stereotypical coach.
“I like how it’s more informal with the Impact Coach,” he said. “I’m not required to send her my lesson plans – our meetings are more casual, which I think other teachers – especially newer teachers – would appreciate. Laurie reinforces that – she doesn’t make me feel like if I don’t do something, I’m going to be punished!”
The role of an impact coach truly varies from person to person, goal to goal. Kristen Duffy has worked in the SCSD for 12 years – first as a long-term sub, then as a teacher, then as a Multi Classroom Leader. Now as an Impact Coach, she said she has helped teachers by making copies, laminating things or setting up digital stations for new computers. It’s those little things, she said, that can sometimes have a big impact.

“Our goal as a district is to retain our teachers,” Ms. Duffy shared. “The way we can do that is to give them support. Support isn’t always evaluative. It’s asking: what do you need? What is something I can take off your plate to help with? We want to offer different levels of personalized support.”
Some of the overarching goals the Impact Coaches have helped teachers with this year are classroom management, small group instruction, student goal setting, student ownership and social emotional learning.  
“We’ve seen several teachers struggle with students’ social emotional learning,” Ms. Duffy explained. “We have students who haven’t been in school for a normal year in some time, and now they have to regulate their emotions.”
In one case, Ms. Duffy helped a self-contained classroom teacher implement a calming station for her students. She worked with the teacher to create a station that the students would feel comfortable in – ultimately creating a space where students could step into as a way to manage their emotions. She also worked with the teacher to help present this station to students, modeling scenarios where they might want to take advantage of a visit to the calming station.
For Impact Coach Cynthia Thomas, the primary challenge she has seen among the teachers she is working with has been student engagement.
“The number one objective for the teachers I’m working with is engagement – getting their students engaged in their learning,” Ms. Thomas shared. “We all want students to have fun with their learning!”
Ms. Thomas spoke of one teacher she worked with, who had realized that her students weren’t buying in. She was using effective strategies, Ms. Thomas said, but the students weren’t engaging. Together, they tried implementing more project-based learning, dissecting what the unit curriculum included and how project-based learning could be incorporated. Students were offered more personalized options, which the teacher could easily tweak to work with other content – and immediately, the students began to show excitement over the class and the projects they were working on.
“It’s nice when teachers have the opportunity to reflect on what they’re doing well and how they can take it up a notch,” Ms. Thomas said. “Whether they’re first year teachers or seasoned teachers, our goal as Impact Coaches is to help the teacher become re-energized about their craft. The greatest reward is having teachers realize their goal and then to see the residual effects of it – how it effects their students. The most gratifying thing is when a student leaves the classroom saying ‘this was fun… let’s do it again tomorrow!’ When teachers are excited about what they’re doing, it trickles down to the students and they’re excited to be in the classroom.”
Impact Coach Laurie Collins previously worked as an English teacher at Henninger High School for close to 20 years. She has enjoyed being able to support teachers in whatever way they see as the most helpful – from something as simple as providing a long-term planner to help a teacher track lessons and feel more prepared to providing emotional support and encouragement and more.
“When I was a teacher, coaching worked for me,” Ms. Collins shared. “My coaches and mentors who worked with me one on one helped me every single time. They gave me emotional support, because there were days I felt like crying and wanted to give up as a teacher. I am proud to be able to pay that forward now to other teachers. With everything going on now with COVID, I can’t imagine what has gone on in some of our classrooms. The great thing about being an Impact Coach is that it’s about collaborating – not so much coaching. It really is about us collaborating with teachers and helping one another. I’m learning from the teachers also! Some of the things I learn from teachers, I pass on to help other teachers I’m working with. In the end, it’s all about what we’re doing for our kids.”
As a group, the Impact Coaches have helped more than 191 teachers this year reach more than 270 goals! SCSD teachers interested in partnering with an Impact Coach to help reach their goals should complete this form to express their interest:
Anthony Q. Davis, Superintendent
725 Harrison Street
Syracuse, NY 13210
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