South Carolina Whole Child Education Policy: A Preliminary Analysis

This policy overview provides a snapshot of where South Carolina is while also suggesting next steps that could propel the state toward a more comprehensive system of whole child education. The intention of the authors is that this analysis can assist leaders in designing shifts in policies and practices so schools can more effectively and efficiently operate as hubs of their communities and cross-agency partnerships that can fuel and sustain collective impact, and eventually the transformation of education.

This report provides key policy and interview highlights and includes 16 foundations to build upon, 21 gaps to fill, and 21 opportunities to leverage. Data were assembled from March to December 2021, drawing from over 200 document reviews and 45 interviews with South Carolina state-policy and education policy and business leaders as well as local educators and students

Click the image to read the full report.
Click the image to read the highlights and next steps.

Teacher Leadership and South Carolina’s Teaching Profession:
A Path Forward to Accelerate Student Learning in the Aftermath of the Pandemic

by Barnett Berry and Patrick Kelly

Hardly a day goes by without another headline on the challenges facing South Carolina’s teaching profession.

The state’s public schools are facing worsening teacher shortages. Now after almost two years of pandemic-induced disruptions in teaching and learning, a December 2021 news report  portrays South Carolina teachers exhausted by “unmanageable workloads” and demoralized by “lack of respect” from parents and policy leaders.

While the number of teacher vacancies is reported to be “dramatically rising,” our SC-TEACHER research has shown that policymakers and practitioners do not have access to the most accurate data.

While the number of teacher vacancies is reported to be “dramatically rising,” our SC-TEACHER research has shown that policymakers and practitioners do not have access to the most accurate data. This often leads to rehashed solutions for misdiagnosed problems facing the state’s teaching profession.

Unfortunately, the scope of the teacher shortage was growing before the pandemic began. As Patrick asserted in a 2019 blog, the house was on fire as teachers took home low salaries (with a state median of $49,000 at the time) and faced daily challenges resulting from the lack of professional autonomy.

Over the last decade or so, South Carolina’s political leaders and teacher groups have debated teachers and teaching. This includes a failed 2019 bill that addressed a wide range of policies from school governance issues to improving student job-training to raising starting teacher pay.  While the proposed legislation would have removed a few state-required standardized tests for students, it did not include a number of teacher concerns such as large class sizes.

Too often, proposals to address teacher shortages are just not grounded in the evidence on what matters most.

Too often, proposals to address teacher shortages are just not grounded in the evidence on what matters most. The modest salary increases, slight shifts in student testing, and recent proposals to guarantee 30 minutes of unencumbered time for elementary school teachers represent important policy steps to take. Yet they are not sufficient.

As Patrick pointed out poignantly, “simply put, the expectations and requirements for great teaching have changed, but the basic structure of the work day has not.” We could not agree more with Sen. Greg Hembree (R-Horry) and Chair of the Senate Education Committee, who told us recently, “It is time to stop nibbling around the edges” of school reform and the teaching profession.

The evidence is compelling, grounded in studies conducted locally, nationally, and globally. Recent research from SC-TEACHER reveal almost half of South Carolina’s teachers who left their schools in 2020-21 did not leave the profession. The research team, led by Tommy Hodges, found that teachers moved to another district primarily because they sought stronger administrative support.

Other research including this 2019 study by the Learning Policy Institute have shown that the right kind of working conditions — most notably time for teachers to learn from each other and opportunities to lead (while still teaching) — have the greatest impact on retention as well as school performance.

Now a new SC-TEACHER paper, written (by Barnett, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Tony Mackay) for the 2021 International Summit on the Teaching Profession, points to evidence on how teacher leadership has accelerated student learning in the midst of the pandemic. It also addresses how school systems across the globe develop and use teachers as leaders. Lessons from across the globe spell out how schools need to: (1) redesign teaching schedules and school structures; (2) rethink professional learning for the spread of teaching expertise; (3) create more space for innovations from teachers; and (4) reconsider how teaching expertise is recognized, utilized, and valued.

We can do this. A 2020 study from SC-TEACHER found that a significant percentage of our state’s teachers had discovered innovations in student assessments, project-based learning, and family engagement during the pandemic.

We can do this. A 2020 study from SC-TEACHER found that a significant percentage of our state’s teachers had discovered innovations in student assessments, project-based learning, and family engagement during the pandemic. They were ready for more leadership in the return to the new normal of schooling. We could:

  • Apply state-of-the-art technology and tools that save time not only to help teachers problem-solve instructional challenges but also to teach students across schools;
  • Use micro-credentials and other performance assessments to recognize and reward teachers for learning and leading in areas that have clear relevance to a teacher’s specific job duties and areas of expertise;
  • Reinvent the calendar (the school day and/or year) as teachers work on different contracts to create expanded and more personalized student learning as well as more opportunities for educators to lead;
  • Reduce teaching loads for some of the state’s top teachers (including over 6,000 who are National Board Certified) so they can lead without leaving the classrooms (e.g., teacherpreneurs); and
  • Rethink the teacher salary schedule to include opportunities for additional pay for increased responsibility, leadership roles, and expanded impact as well as a menu of financial and non-financial incentives to work in priority schools, subjects, and grade levels.

All of these proposed actions are already implemented somewhere in the U.S. and around the globe – and yes, even some in our state. Three school districts — Charleston, Fairfield, and Pickens — are collaborating with SC-TEACHER now to reimagine the education profession in South Carolina. With support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the UofSC team is working with district leaders, teachers, and principals to better understand how people, programs, and dollars can be reallocated to reimagine the education professions to accelerate deeper, more equitable learning for students in the aftermath of the pandemic.

More teachers could have time to lead if the many non-teaching educators taught students at least some of the time. Teachers could have more time to lead if our school systems drew on student teachers, paraprofessionals, and instructional coaches and specialists more strategically. We could accelerate student learning in the aftermath of the pandemic if we begin to think of teacher teams — moving beyond the “one teacher per one classroom” model of schooling. (See the ground-breaking work of Arizona State University’s Next Education Workforce.)

Now more than ever, it is time for teachers to lead the transformation of their professional learning and their profession — and for policy leaders to help them do so. The young people of South Carolina deserve no less.

Public schools everywhere are facing a future of rapid change, intensifying complexity, and growing uncertainty. Research advances in neuroscience and the developmental and learning sciences point to new forms of educator learning that require teachers to learn more from each other.

Now more than ever, it is time for teachers to lead the transformation of their professional learning and their profession — and for policy leaders to help them do so. The young people of South Carolina deserve no less.


Barnett Berry is a research professor at University of South Carolina and also serves as a senior research fellow for the Learning Policy Institute. In 2021, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards recognized him with the James A. Kelly Award for Advancing Accomplished Teaching. Patrick Kelly teaches high school social studies in Richland School District Two and serves as the Director of Government Affairs for the Palmetto State Teachers Association. He is also one of South Carolina’s 6000 National Board Certified Teachers and serves on the National Assessment Governing Board.


Teacher Leadership for Whole Child Education: A Global Perspective

This report describes how teacher leadership has created opportunities to rethink education so that it better meets the needs of students and the aspirations of communities. In it, the authors provide an evidence-based foundation for developing a teacher leadership framework by documenting (1) where and how teachers are leading to make a difference for whole child education, (2) growing evidence on the effects of collaboration on teacher efficacy and teaching effectiveness, and (3) teachers’ access to collaborative opportunities and leadership. The authors close with an approach for developing teacher leadership for the new normal of schooling that they believe must be less about individual teacher leadership and more about a system of leading teachers.


One More Time

by Alexis Kelly, Fifth Grade Teacher, H.E. Corley Elementary

There I am, nervously pacing around the room as students slowly filter in. It’s the first day of in-person learning for the year and I don’t know who is more worried – me or the kids? One by one they quietly find their seat and eat breakfast. I watch them scan the room looking for friends they haven't seen in months. I take a deep breath and run through my introduction in my head. 

As the day gets started, I lead students in the morning greeting. I break the ice and get them to laugh. Then, I look up and lock eyes with the principal and a bright-eyed, brown-haired boy I’ve never seen before. “We want to welcome your new student this morning!” the principal says as I stand frozen. A part of me shifts into auto-pilot. I shakily greet him, help him find a seat, and wish the principal a good day. I’m grateful to have a planning period in ten minutes because I can feel my first good cry seeping out of me. That was the first time I felt like I was in way over my head. 

I can feel my first good cry seeping out of me. That was the first time I felt like I was in way over my head.

 

As the year continued, more challenges presented themselves, from technology to ever-changing protocols to new students constantly joining my class from the virtual program. Each new student was incredibly behind. They were frustrated with school and tired of asking for help. It broke my heart to see them so defeated. And it made me angry. Angry that I was getting students who were so far behind, and that I was expected to magically catch them up. How was I, a first-year teacher, supposed to figure this out alone?” 

I spent so much time upset and angry at the situation that I changed the climate in my classroom. My once radiant room full of laughter and learning was now cold and stoic. I had students constantly asking if I was tired because I had stopped smiling. I had a short temper about things that, quite honestly, didn’t matter. There was a black cloud looming over me and my classroom, and every day I grew angrier about the impending storm. 

One day in math, we were focusing on multi-digit multiplication. There I was, a whole week into this content and ready to pull out my hair. I felt tired and irritated explaining the basics over and over. I was sitting at my small group table with my kids who needed an extra push. We had all worked tirelessly the past week to try and understand multi-digit multiplication, but it still hadn’t clicked. That day, I decided to try one more way of explaining the concept: “Imagine the numbers are cars, and they’re driving down a road. When they crash, you multiply them.” This analogy changed everything. 

In teaching, we thrive on the ah-ha moments. When I was stuck in my own storm cloud, I ignored a lot of those moments. But not this day. I watched them nail problem after problem and cheer for each other as they succeeded. Their lit-up faces were the sun peeking through the storm clouds, and I accepted the warmth, allowing it to bring me out of my slump. I started to believe in myself and my ability to do right by my students. I chose to change the tone I had set in my classroom. We smiled, we laughed, we cracked jokes, but most importantly, we started meaningful learning all over again. 

I started to believe in myself and my ability to do right by my students. I chose to change the tone I had set in my classroom.

I am embarrassed by the blinders I put up worrying about my feelings and ignoring what was sitting right in front of me – children who needed my help. I am grateful for the days I spent venting to my CarolinaTIP coach. Through those conversations, I started to unpack my feelings. She served as an unbiased listening ear who didn’t know my school or my students. She allowed me to speak without a filter and gave advice when I asked. She also helped me accept that I was the only problem in this situation that I could control. I set the climate in my classroom, and I was the only one who had the power to change it. 

Now, I think back to that bright-eyed, brown-haired boy who was probably just as scared as I was when he walked into the room. I think of how much he grew that year and how sad we all felt when he moved away. I also think of how, on our first day, I tried my greeting just one more time. And I remember when I felt I couldn’t explain multiplication any other way, I tried just one more time. 


Belief and Support: What First-Year Teachers Need

 by Yesenia Solis-Laboy, Second Grade Teacher, Lake Carolina Elementary

It was our open house two days before the start of school. I was excited and anxious about meeting my students and their parents for the first time. In just two short days, I was finally going to have my own classroom. I put the last touches on each desk, taping down the name tags when my principal walked in. I was surprised to see her because it was just a couple of minutes before the doors would open to families. 

“I don’t mean to alarm you,” she began, “but I did want to let you know that a parent requested to move her child to another classroom. She doesn’t want her son, James, in a first-year teacher’s class.” 

My heart sank. 

I was distraught and confused about why a parent didn’t want their child in my class without even getting to know me. The principal added, “I am not going to move him because I believe you will be a great teacher for him.” 

I thanked my principal for her honesty and quickly went to find Ms. Hunter and the other second grade teachers. I shared my feelings about this parent that had judged me prematurely. I was grateful to have someone that could understand where I was coming from. She reassured me that our principal was correct; I was more than capable of helping any student in my class. I was relieved that I had so much support from my colleagues, however, I was still nervous about meeting the parents. I quickly put myself together as I headed back to my classroom for the open house.

James’ mother had many questions for me. She asked about my teaching philosophy, how I planned to help struggling students in my classroom, forms of communication, and more. She also mentioned that she was an educator herself. This made me wonder even more why she wouldn’t want to give me a chance. 

She had been in my shoes. 

Her worries and concerns became clear when she mentioned that James was not a strong reader. Now, I understood her hesitation. A parent wants what is best for their child, especially when it comes to their education. His mother didn’t believe that a first-year teacher could be that person for him. A parent wants what is best for their child, especially when it comes to their education. His mother didn’t believe that a first-year teacher could be that person for him.

A parent wants what is best for their child, especially when it comes to their education. His mother didn’t believe that a first-year teacher could be that person for him.

I wanted to prove her wrong. I wanted her to know that I would do anything I could to help her child succeed in my classroom. 

I set out to understand James' reading struggles. I began to notice that he did not like independent reading. He would play with his book, fake read, or disrupt other students while they read. When I would sit next to him and ask him to read to me, he would stay very quiet and seemed worried that others could hear him. 

I sought help from my reading coach. I wanted to make sure I took all the necessary steps to support him. She felt that guided reading would be the most beneficial. It would allow me to sit in a small group setting and focus on his particular needs. I was, however, a bit unsure about how to do it. I met with the reading coach multiple times a week to create a plan to help James and all of my students succeed in reading. 

As the year went on, I leaned on my CarolinaTIP Coach, Mrs. Stewart. She was someone full of knowledge that I could rely on to help me with my classroom needs and emotional support. She showed me how to approach guided reading. Mrs. Stewart also made it clear that if I ever needed anything, I could call or message her at any time. She would regularly call and ask how I was doing. We would talk about anything and everything, even if it had nothing to do with school. I knew that I could count on her for anything.

As the year went on, I leaned on my CarolinaTIP Coach, Mrs. Stewart. She was someone full of knowledge that I could rely on to help me with my classroom needs and emotional support. 

I implemented guided reading, but James still did not progress. My school decided to train my reading coach and me in a new program that required us to work with 1-2 students for 30 minutes each day. We realized there was a missing link in helping students like James and hoped this would bridge that gap. 

When we first began, James was very nervous. We sat at my small group table, and I said to him, “Look around the room. Everyone has headphones on, and they will not be able to hear you reading. I am the only one that will be listening to you.” As soon as I said this, I could see the relief on his face. He needed reassurance that he was not going to be judged by his peers. 

I worked with him every single day. He opened up more and more. He became excited to read. Before, I would have to ask him multiple times to sit down with me, and now he was reminding me of when we were supposed to begin. He finally felt comfortable reading to me. He even started to open up about what he loved to do outside of school, like playing football. 

At the end of the year, I received an email from James’ mom saying, “I want to thank you for everything you have done for my child this year. You have helped my child more than I could have ever imagined.” When I read the email, I was relieved, excited, and overjoyed. I knew that I had worked very hard to make sure James succeeded. As a new teacher, I believe that I was more willing to seek out the help that I needed to support my students than others more secure in this profession. In the end, all the teachers at my school were trained in the program this past summer. We realized the importance of reaching all students at their level and implementing a program to help them succeed. 

CarolinaTIP has helped me realize that even though I was a first-year teacher, I knew what I was supposed to do in my own classroom. Though college prepared me to manage a room full of students, CarolinaTIP helped me feel confident in what I was doing. They heard my concerns, celebrated my achievements, and followed my highs and lows. They encouraged me to share my struggles and in return, helped me when I asked. All new teachers deserve the opportunity to show what they are capable of -- even in their first year. 

We just need others to believe in us. 

Though college prepared me to manage a room full of students, CarolinaTIP helped me feel confident in what I was doing.


Finding the Light

by Ashley Harmon, Science Teacher, Blythewood Middle School 

As the early sun begins to rise from the horizon, I turn my classroom key to a series of clicking sounds as the lock’s mechanisms shift. I step into my dark, silent room and begin my daily routine. Slowly, I walk around the room, turning on each light and lamp, and then walk to the board to write the day’s plan. As I do each of these tasks, I find peace in the stillness as I prepare for the day ahead. I begin to anticipate the learning, collaboration, and joy that I know will soon occupy this same silent space. Through these simple, mundane moments, I reflect on my current classes and the classes I’ve taught in the past. During these times, I remember my journey from an excited and slightly naïve first-year teacher into the kind of professional educator I aspired to become. 

Throughout my life, I have always wanted to be a teacher. I attended college and stretched myself to reach my goals. I wrote lesson plans with precise details for the highest level of engagement, created a thorough management plan to help all students learn, and was emboldened with a determined spirit to achieve great things in my first year of teaching. Before I realized it, I was at school for my first day, welcoming my first group of students into the classroom. 

The day was a blur of learning about new students, sharing about myself and science, and going through our first collaborative activity together. When the last student walked out the door that day, I realized that the day was successful, and I hoped it was a sign of how great the rest of the year would be. However, as the days started turning into weeks and the weeks turned into months, the reality of teaching began to slowly set in. What I thought was a great management plan disintegrated quicker than paper in water, and my lessons full of engagement fell short of anything spectacular. As I stared at the sunrise and sunset from my classroom, I realized that my aspirations of a perfect first year were now a distant dream, shattered in front of me. 

It was in one of my silent early morning car rides, driving from one interstate to the next, that I thought about the mess of my first year. How could I become a better teacher? How could I create a more cohesive and successful classroom environment? Would my students be better with a different teacher? I began drowning in feelings of isolation and hopelessness. I considered turning my classroom lights off and never walking back through the door that once held my big, bright dreams of teaching. 

How could I become a better teacher? How could I create a more cohesive and successful classroom environment? Would my students be better with a different teacher?

Fortunately, there were life preservers that kept me from getting to that point: the most important was my Carolina TIP coach. 

My coach supported me through the highs and mostly lows I experienced in my first year. She gave me encouragement when I was heartbroken, and she gave me moments of laughter when all I wanted to do was cry. She visited with me at school to offer in-class support, and she met with me every time I needed to vent. She helped me find the light and stay focused on it all of the time. 

Fortunately, there were life preservers that kept me from getting to that point: the most important was my Carolina TIP coach.

My coach helped me realize that my desire to get every single thing right was part of the problem. In my mind, if every single detail was not right, then everything was wrong. There is an old saying that teaching is messy, and it took time and reflection with my coach for me to embrace this truth. With their help, I was able to mitigate the problems that had arisen as I lost my direction. On one March afternoon, I began to recognize the results of my efforts. My principal came to observe me, and she left a note telling me that she saw improvement and enjoyed watching my lesson. When I had a free moment that day, I rushed to take a picture of the note to send to my CarolinaTIP coach. We celebrated this tiny win like it was the best thing I did that year. Though it was a small, short message, It was what I needed to realize that I could achieve my professional aspirations. 

As my first year began to wind down and I began boxing my supplies, I reflected and prepared for the next year. Over the summer, I took the first CarolinaTIP graduate course, which gave my reflections structure. On the first day of my second year, the familiar clicking noise and slow lighting of my room greeted me as an old friend. As each light turned on, I reminded myself that I was ready for all the challenges and successes I would face that year and every year to come in my teaching career.


Finding the Joy

by Anna Maria Gardiner, English Teacher, Spring Hill High School 

My first year teaching 

Soon beginning 

I eagerly anticipated what was to come. 

Hard not to crack a smile, thinking of 

How grand it would be. 

A decorated classroom bursting with color. 

Collaborative, Creative. 

Engaging lessons that would get students moving, 

Working together. 

Procedures and expectations set in place to keep the year 

Running smoothly. 

Greeting my students at the door with a smile. 

A smile they can see. 

A first-year teacher. I felt ready to conquer the world. 

Little did I know 

What the world had in store.


 Beginning my teaching career during a global pandemic altered every expectation I had for my first year in my own classroom. I knew that my purpose for teaching was deeply rooted within me–and I hope that it always will be–but as the first day of school approached, I quickly realized that how I would live out and achieve that purpose was shifting each and every day with the spread of COVID-19. 


A vision flipped upside down. 

Seats in rows 

D i s t a n c e d.

Unable to move desks into groups 

Greeting half of my students at the door with a smile

A smile they cannot see.

The other half joining from a Google Meet,

Black boxes staring back at me. 

Long nights converting methods and ideas I had learned and studied 

into digital platforms.

Hand sanitizer, soap, quarantines, nurse calls, questions, concerns, 

Fear.


One particular day, as I looked onto the computer screen at the masked faces of my students joining class on a Google Meet, my teacher-heart was hurting more than it had all school year. I wanted to be with them. I wanted things to be normal. I was tired. I was trying my hardest. And more than anything, I didn’t feel like myself. 

I felt as if the craziness of the world and the unpredictability of the virus – on top of the uncertainties and pressures of a first-year teacher – were starting to take a toll on my positivity, creativity, and drive. And on that particularly challenging day, feeling heavy with disappointment and worry, I realized that I had to do whatever I could to protect my love for this profession from the craziness, the loudness, and the never ending surprises of the pandemic.

I thought back to myself in high school, when I was the age of my students. I had been a TeacherCadet, and I soaked up every minute of that class, learning about the hard work, innovation, and compassion that it takes to be a teacher. I remembered how that class confirmed the desire I had always had to go into education and the excitement and confidence that the Teacher Cadet program instilled in me. I thought of the young me sitting in that class, understanding that teaching would be difficult but also believing that there could not be a more rewarding and important job. 

Reflecting on those memories, I felt a sense of gratitude that I truly had followed through and entered the teaching profession. I knew that the love I had for my students and for teaching was worth fighting for, and as I walked into school the next day, I had one mission in mind — a simple mission –but one that required commitment. 

Find the joy. 


The next day at school, 

I tried it out. 

What is my joy? 

Today, I woke up and made it to school. 

I’m here with my students. 

Mentally, physically, emotionally, 

I showed up. 

A small-sounding feat. 

But today, it’s enough. 

A tiny victory, a tiny joy. 

But today, I celebrate it. 

Time goes on. 

Day by day, 

Noticing the joy becomes easier and more natural. 

One day, my joy is a class with no quarantines. 

All being together in person seems small, 

But we celebrate. 

The next day, my joy is, 

“Ms. Gardiner, this is the first book I’ve read all the way through. I couldn’t put it down.” 

He and I celebrate. 

Joy is the shocked faces when the bell rings. 

“Class is already over? That flew by!” 

My joy one day: “I finally get it!” 

A lesson that worked. 

A quiet student who boldly spoke up. 

A department meeting full of laughs. 

Rachel’s writing conference, 

Quay’s job hunting updates, 

Tristen volunteering to be Romeo, 

Carly Mae’s creative presentation, 

Andrew’s subtle smile at the end of the class.

Finding the joy. 


“Finding the joy” changed the trajectory of my year. It rekindled my teacher’s heart and fueled mypassion for showing up each day with a positive outlook, a passion for my content, and a renewedenergy to serve my students as best I can. The funny thing about joy, though, is that it’s contagious. Ibegan to ask, “Can I help my students do the same?” 


Joy. 

It cannot be contained. When found by one, 

It grows, 

And grows, 

And grows. 

Until it is shouting to be shared with others. 


When my students’ major essays were due for their last unit, we spent a day celebrating each other’s work. As we went outside and made a circle in the grass, students traded papers and read each other’s writing. Then, we went around the circle and shared something brilliant that we noticed in someone else’s writing. I sat back and watched the proud faces of my students as someone else spoke of the beauty and growth that they saw. I watched them walk back into the classroom feeling proud of themselves for accomplishing such a feat even in the midst of quarantines, ever-changing schedules, and the weight of our current world. They were encouraged and motivated to continue pushing themselves to do better. They left the classroom that day celebrating the big and small victories. They saw themselves as true writers, as learners, as a family. They found joy. 


Summary of Results for the SC TEACHER Exit Survey from the 2020-21 Pilot Administration

The pilot administration of the SC Teacher Exit Survey (SC-TEACHER, 2021) from the 2020-21 academic year yielded insights directly from teachers in the state on key reasons for teacher turnover. The sample was limited to five school districts located in the Midlands region. Expanded data collection statewide would provide results that more fully represent the SC teaching population. It should also be noted that the results are comingled with the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click the image above to read the paper

Finding My Rhythm as a New Teacher

by Carson Coomes, Orchestra Director, Blythewood Middle School

As a fourth grader, I remember being shuffled down to my school’s auditorium one morning for a performance from the fifth grade strings class. I had no clue what to expect, but it captured my interest. I was captivated by the many instruments and decided then that I would pursue learning a stringed instrument.

That decision impacted the rest of my life.

Shortly thereafter I was preparing for my first orchestra class, praying I could play the cello and relenting when told to pick something smaller. “As long as it’s NOT the violin.” I had an incurable desire to be unique, which led to a viola being placed in my hands. Before orchestra classes began I remember sitting in the living room at home, staring at the instrument with wide eyes full of wonder and admiration.

Fast forward to my freshman year at the University of South Carolina. I decided to major in music education. My teachers have succeeded in inspiring me to complete the cycle they began: enter the classroom, instill a love of music and learning, build relationships, inspire the next generation, and repeat. As a new student at the university, I was able to be a part of the UofSC String Project, an organization that hosts students from across the Midlands in beginning orchestra classes, private lessons, and ensembles. First year undergraduates in the program begin as classroom assistants, then progress to having private studios as sophomores. As juniors and seniors, undergraduates maintain their private studios and teach second year and beginning orchestra classes. Not only was I able to get real life and real classroom experience, but I was also able to form relationships with students that still keep in touch!

When my senior year arrived, I could not believe that the time had come for me to enter into the classroom myself. I was nervous and anxious, despite knowing I had received high quality training for the seven semesters leading up to that point (the Imposter Syndrome symptoms were real). But I wasn’t just anxious; I was excited! I was eager to please, hanging onto every word and ounce of feedback my coaching teachers offered. I remember keeping a journal of their advice and reflections, and frantically taking notes during our debriefs following a lesson. My podium time and their advice helped boost my “bag of tricks,” and I began to find my own teaching style.

In the Fall of 2017, I put my teaching strategies to the test as a middle school Orchestra Director. It felt good to have my first real gig as an educator. I was staying in an area where I had connections and mentors. I was entering into a district that supported and promoted the arts. And I was coming into a school program that was well known. An added bonus – the other music teachers were brand new too, so we could start fresh and build our programs in a way that encouraged and promoted growth and collaboration. I remember waking up on my "first day of school," putting on my "first day of school" outfit, taking my "first day of school" photo, and getting to the building only to find that I was absolutely terrified. I had a plan, but having a plan and putting said plan into action are NOT the same. Even doing something as simple as going over my Orchestra Handbook felt daunting.

I had a plan, but having a plan and putting said plan into action are NOT the same. Even doing something as simple as going over my Orchestra Handbook felt daunting.

As you may have assumed, I survived my first day, and learned quickly that getting through the first year would be all about survival. I remember one afternoon in the fall, I was in my classroom working during a planning period when my phone rang. The person calling was Nicole Skeen, a representative of the Carolina Teacher Induction Program (CarolinaTIP). I had heard of this program before, but I was not in the business of saying yes to every opportunity that came my way during year one. “It’s all about survival. You can say no,” was my motto. I had overextended myself during my senior year in college and did not want to bring that stress upon myself again. But there was something in the way Nicole described the program that caught my interest, she spoke of CarolinaTIP with so much passion and the teaching profession with sincerity.

I caved and said “Yes!” And Nicole’s reaction? Absolute joy.

How could I say no to a program that so desperately wanted to aid my profession? How could I say no to a program that would benefit my students? How could I say no to someone who wanted nothing more than to help me become the best version of myself in the classroom? Exactly – I couldn’t.

How could I say no to someone who wanted nothing more than to help me become the best version of myself in the classroom? Exactly – I couldn’t.

To be candid, I was skeptical about the benefit this program would be to me at first. As a middle school orchestra director, I was leaning heavily on my colleagues and music mentors to help me with daily classroom instruction. Many general classroom instructional strategies don’t quite fit my teaching mode because of the fundamental differences between a music classroom and core content classrooms. But I quickly realized that CarolinaTIP was not just about refining my teaching skills. It was about building relationships and empowering me to build relationships with my students. Did we create classroom management plans? Yes. Did Nicole sit down with me personally to wrestle with how to better pace my sixth grade instruction? Absolutely. But CarolinaTIP did this in a way that made me feel valued in my profession. Their feedback and consideration was rooted in experience and above all else, their belief in the value of relationships.

I survived that entire first year in the classroom (and the following three)! Throughout every year there are tears and regrets, lessons learned, and tweaks made. But one thing remains the same — the importance of relationships. Something I like to tell my students is, “I’m on your team, no matter what.” I want my students to know that above all else, I support them and am invested in their goals, hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Do I want them to play their notes in measure 57 in tune? Yes. But even before the music making begins, I want them to know that I care.

So as the 2021 school year begins and I approach another year riddled with uncertainty, I can lean on the relationships I have with my mentors, colleagues, CarolinaTIP coaches, and my students. I look forward to making music in the classroom again, but more importantly, I look forward to continuing to get to know the familiar and new faces that enter the orchestra room this fall.


When does the magic happen?

by Carrie Trivedi                                                                                                                                                                Lead Behavior Specialist for Mix-EC: Multi Systems Inclusion Expansion in Early Childhood, University of South Carolina

Blue dress with white stripes. White cardigan. New sandals with sparkling jewels. I knew I couldn’t wear my normal everyday attire of jeans and flip flops. I was meeting the teachers and district personnel that I would be working with in my new position as a 4K Behavior Coach for School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties in Irmo, South Carolina. The district had launched implementation of the Pyramid Model with Dr. Kate Ascetta from the University of South Carolina as part of the Professional Development School District work. This led to the creation of a new position for a coach that would support classroom teachers as they began putting the Pyramid Model into practice in classrooms.  

This is where I enter the story.  

The teachers and district personnel were being trained on a tool used to measure the implementation of Pyramid Model practices in preschool classrooms. I was told that teachers had a year of Pyramid Model learning under their belt and the district was ready to hit the ground running. I was looking forward to rich conversations during the training about how the practices might take shape in their classrooms. I was also eager to help talk through any problem scenarios that may arise while planning.  

The training was taking place at the middle school I attended. Memories came flooding back as I walked from the front office toward the cafeteria to the elevator at the bottom floor. As a student, I didn’t even know the school had an elevator. The closer I got to the room, the more nervous I became. Just like the trainer, I would not know anyone in the room. I took a deep breath and walked in. I saw one familiar face, the trainer, my coach from the University of Florida, and immediately felt a sense of relief.  

As the training began, we went around the room and introduced ourselves. It was overwhelming trying to keep the names, faces, and schools together. When it was my turn to introduce myself, I thought everyone would look excited to meet me. After all, we were about to embark on an incredible journey, learning and growing together.

I did not receive the warm reception I anticipated. I was greeted with a mix of blank and angry stares. I would come to understand the reasons for this reception later in the school year.

As the morning progressed and the trainer unpacked the key practices that were part of the observation, the mood in the room was shifting. The jovial side conversations stopped. They were replaced with whispered comments, frowns, and confused looks. I scanned the room and realized that every table had fallen quiet and looked as though they were hearing this information for the first time. When we broke for lunch, the trainer and I left together. I looked across the table and asked, “Do you get the feeling that the teachers are acting like they do not know what the Pyramid Model is or what the TPOT is used for?” “You’ve got your work cut out for you,” was the trainer’s response.  This was the beginning of a hard year full of hurdles and roadblocks. One of the hardest days was when two teachers had a conversation about how stupid this was and claimed they would just keep doing whatever they wanted to do regardless of what that coach or the district says.

That coach was me. 

As the year progressed, I began to understand the source of the negative feelings. The message about the Pyramid Model and the coaching that we would be doing was announced to principals, who were then charged with disseminating that information to their 4K teachers.  Each school’s administrator heard the message differently and shared the message differently with teachers.  

We ended up with 12 teachers all thinking different things were going to happen, one coach thinking the teachers were much further down the road in their knowledge of the Pyramid Model, and a group of district personnel who were unaware that the lack of clarity and communication directly with teachers was causing the vision of Pyramid Model implementation to crack.

I knew my initial plan was not going to work. I needed to reevaluate everything. I felt the only way to “fix” things was to go back to the beginning and restart.  Restarts are not easy because usually the damage has already been done during the initial start. I was hoping that the damage was minimal.

I was wrong... again.

Teachers were frustrated that they were being 'evaluated' on their implementation of practices they felt they did not even know... I decided I needed to take the focus off of the observation tool and start focusing solely on the teaching practices that were important to the teachers to implement.

Teachers were frustrated that they were being 'evaluated' on their implementation of practices they felt they did not even know. Many attempts were made to emphasize that the observation tool was not an evaluation but an observation geared toward two things: guiding myself to know how to provide the best support to teachers in growth areas, and guiding professional development efforts in the district based on areas of improvement districtwide. But the only thing teachers saw was that there was a score at the end and anything less than perfection was not acceptable. The score was becoming the focus for everyone, when in reality the focus needed to be on teaching practices.  

I decided I needed to take the focus off of the observation tool and focus solely on the teaching practices that were important to teachers. In doing this, we started building relationships and talking more openly. The teachers began to see I was there to support their needs, not coming in to tell them what they needed to be doing instead. Teachers started identifying areas in their classroom where Pyramid Model practices might accelerate learning, and together, we worked toward implementation.  

During this time, teachers opened up. One group of teachers said they were led to believe this was strictly a parenting program and that my role was to help facilitate incorporating the parenting program into the overall 4K program. One group of teachers was told that I was coming to evaluate the children’s behavior and “fix” it. One teacher even said “I did not know you were coming to watch me. I thought you were here to watch the kids. I feel like I was lied to.” 

It all started to make sense. From the top, they believed that the message was delivered clearly about what was going to happen. In actuality it became a game of telephone, where one person whispers the phrase and the message shifts as it travels down the chain of listeners. Without fail, the message is always extremely different from the first person to the last.   

It became evident that in order for this process to work, we needed to start communicating directly with teachers. We needed to be as clear as possible about our ideas and the vision for implementation.

It became evident that in order for this process to work, we needed to start communicating directly with teachers. We needed to be as clear as possible about our ideas and the vision for implementation.

We asked for more teacher input and we consulted groups of teachers about ideas to get a feel for what they thought before introducing ideas to the whole group. I started highlighting the great things that were already happening in classrooms around Pyramid Model practices and giving weekly shoutouts to each teacher, which included their administrators, so they could see their hard work and celebrate together. We started having more meetings with administrators, openly sharing the information that teachers were hearing and discussing how it would look in the classroom when teachers were engaging in the teaching practices. It began to feel like a team effort, where everyone was finally on the same page, in the same chapter, in the same book.  

Then, it happened. A teacher ran up to me when I came to her classroom -- ecstatic! 

She had been working with students on the steps of problem solving using the solution kit to address common social problems. She read a scripted story with her class, introduced the solutions and what each would look like in action, and set up an area in her classroom where students could find materials when they needed them. This took about a month to put in place. We worked together to get the materials ready and I coached her through introducing the story and solutions, providing side by side support as she modeled for students.  

One of her students struggled with sharing toys with her classmates. She would regularly lash out when she wanted a toy that was not available. The day before I came, she wanted to play with some of the materials in the house area that were already being used by another child.  She stood in the house area for a moment, watching the other child. Instead of lashing out, screaming and ripping the toys away, she walked over to the problem solving steps. She looked intently at the pictures, then picked up the solution kit. She flipped through the pictures and stopped on one. She walked over to the teacher and showed her “Get A Timer.”  She said, “I want to play with those toys but someone is using them. Can we set a timer so I can have a turn?”

I was just as ecstatic as the classroom teacher. I was even more ecstatic when I got to see several of her students using the problem solving steps and solutions kit throughout the day.  They were doing it! And the teacher was noticing positive changes in her students as they became more proficient in using the language and solutions. She thanked me at the end of the day. But I reminded her she was responsible for the successful implementation and I was just there to support her along the journey.  

In the beginning, as teacher leaders and administrators, we were laying tracks without looking at where the train was going and the final destination. Now, we are moving along together with a shared understanding of the purpose of implementing Pyramid Model practices, which has led to an increase in teacher buy-in. 

Today, teachers are asking questions, seeking out support, and implementing the teaching practices on a more consistent basis. One teacher stopped someone from the district and said that she has been working to increase the positive descriptive feedback she gives her children during center time. She shared that student engagement has never been better.

When teachers buy in, that’s when the magic happens. 

 

This story is published as part of a storytelling retreat hosted by the Center for Educational Partnerships (CEP) housed in the University of South Carolina's College of Education. CEP partners nominated practicing educators, administrators, and system leaders to share their stories. The Center for Teaching Quality, a CEP partner, facilitated the retreat and provided editorial and publication support. Learn more about this work and read additional stories by following @CEP_UofSC and @teachingquality.