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EL Education Teacher Potential Project: A Snapshot

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    Kari Horn Lehman & Meg Riordan, Ph.D.

This piece written by EL Education's Kari Horn Lehman and Meg Riordan was originally published on It highlights the coaching supports embedded in EL Education’s Teacher Potential Project. In this project, EL Education partners with districts across the country and engages selected schools in a rigorous one-year program centered on professional learning for elementary and middle-grade ELA teachers, with a deep focus on supporting novice teachers.

imessage, Thursday, 8:10PM (Rebecca) —“Got Molly to take the dive with a protocol with me in the room. She did great!”
The message is from Rebecca, Director of the Upper Academy at Galapagos Rockford Charter School in Rockford, IL. As the coach working with her school, I press play on the video attached, and here’s what I see:

The students in Molly’s sixth-grade class stand in pairs, back to back, notes in hand. “You need to think about which of the statements in your notes is most compelling and why,” she instructs. Heads tilt down and notecatchers are raised for review. A student toward the back of the classroom seems reluctant to engage. His partner stands nearby, hands clasped at her waist, waiting patiently. Molly approaches and has a five-second private conversation with the reticent student. It’s unclear in the video what she says, but in a moment, the student positions himself back-to-back with his partner. “Scholar whose birthday is earliest in the calendar year…,” Molly instructs, “face to face, share for one minute.” Each pair of students (even the ‘gently persuaded’ pair) faces one another and a cacophony erupts. I grin widely at the screen and reply to Rebecca:

imessage, Thursday, 8:14PM (Kari)—“Wow!! This is amazing. I’m so proud of both of you [for implementing the protocol to engage students and push their thinking!”]
This is as much a celebration of Rebecca as it is of Molly. Rebecca and I have worked together since August, she as the school leader, I as her school coach in EL Education’s i3-funded Teacher Potential Project. She has been present during each of my 19 visits to Galapagos since the start of the year. She participated in full-day institutes, brief check-in meetings, and joint Learning Walks (to visit classrooms and discuss data), all in an effort to align our coaching of her novice teachers. Molly is one of the novice teachers implementing EL Education’s ELA curriculum with her students as part of the project.

Teacher Potential Project 1

Molly had recently confessed to concerns about student behavior and engagement. She’d read the ELA lesson plans and knew they called for students to interact, but was wary of what might happen if she asked them to leave their seats and discuss text with one another. She resorted to a more traditional and “safe” approach of asking questions to individual students. As a result, Molly was doing most of the hard work and deep thinking during each lesson, and she knew her students could be more engaged.

Rebecca and I coordinated our support for Molly through a variety of strategies. We coached her on teacher presence and body language; Molly and I captured video in her classroom and collaboratively analyzed it; I modeled protocols in professional development sessions; I shared strategies and instructional videos to use with students.

And then it hit us: Molly was prepared. What she needed was our supportive encouragement to try out a strategy that might prove challenging! Rebecca asked Molly to implement a protocol in an upcoming lesson with her present in the classroom the entire time for support. It worked!

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Anchored in EL Education’s Common Core-aligned curriculum, an open-educational resource downloaded over 4 million times, teachers—particularly novice teachers in their first to third years—participate in blended supports, including on-site coaching, off-site institutes, online resources, and video-based coaching (as highlighted above) focused on building pedagogical knowledge and content knowledge.

EL Education’s goals for this work are to measurably increase the instructional effectiveness of novice teachers, the achievement of students of participating teachers (both on traditional state tests and in writing samples aligned to Common Core standards), and the retention of participating novice teachers. Mathematica Policy Research is conducting a rigorous evaluation of the Teacher Potential Project to measure its impact on teacher effectiveness and student achievement.

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The video Rebecca and Molly shared offers a glimpse into the focused partnership and collaborative coaching cycles established through the Teacher Potential Project. These on and off-site structures are part of a larger system of coaching supports offered to schools implementing EL Education’s program. While there is more for Molly to do and learn, we celebrate the growing confidence and skills of this first-year teacher. I fire off a message to Molly:

imessage, Thursday 8:21PM (Kari) – “I just saw an amazing video of you facilitating Back to Back, Face to Face with your scholars. You rocked it! You expected total participation and you got it. And the conversations were totally on-task. I hope you go to bed with a huge smile on your face tonight. So proud! And I know Rebecca was so proud!”

imessage, Thursday, 8:21PM (Molly) – “Aww, thanks! That definitely does put a smile on my face!!”

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The kind of growth observed in this snapshot is reflective of similar progress across the districts and schools partnered with EL Education’s Teacher Potential Project in the 2015–16 cohort. For the 2016–17 school year, we are in the process of recruiting additional district partners to participate and invite interested parties to find additional criteria and information here and to contact Program Director Christina Lesh at to become a partner and join in this innovative project!