Sarah Henchey is a National Board Certified 6th grade language arts teacher in Orange County, N.C. A seven-year veteran, she’s been a team leader, literacy interventionist and new-teacher mentor. A member of the Teacher Leaders Network, Sarah will serve in 2012-13 as a teacher in residence at the Center for Teaching Quality, where her duties will include work as a virtual community organizer for CTQ’s Implementing Common Core Standards project.
The term teacherpreneur has been championed by CTQ as a term representative of cutting-edge teacher leadership in the “new millennium.” The rationale for the term is discussed at length in the 2011 book Teaching 2030, co-authored by 12 teacher leaders and CTQ founder Barnett Berry. We asked Sarah about the idea of entrepreneurial teacher leadership and her early involvement in developing ideas for using the Common Core standards to deepen student learning.
1. Tell us something about your middle grades background and experience.
I’m a middle grades language arts teacher in the Orange County Schools, not far from from Chapel HIll, in North Carolina’s Research Triangle.
I actually didn’t set out to become a middle grades teacher. I intended to teach high school English but changed my mind after a middle school tutoring job during my sophomore year of college. I was drawn in by the middle school students I worked with – they were the perfect combination of joy and challenge.
When I began student teaching, I realized that, while my preparation program was thoughtful and strategic, I didn’t know enough about teaching my content to help my students be successful. So I returned to school for my master’s degree in literacy prior to beginning teaching.
Including my student teaching experience, I’ve been fortunate enough to teach all three middle school grades (6-8). I just wrapped up my third year in 6th grade at the same school, so I’ve had the benefit of watching my former students grow up to become 7th and 8th graders right before my eyes.
I love middle school because it’s such a time of adjustment and realization in our lives. Many people remember those days as being awkward and confusing years, but I think they’re exciting and full of potential. I enjoy being there to support, encourage, and inspire students during a crucial time in their young lives.
2. You’ve been involved with the Common Core State Standards movement longer than most teachers, through your work with a CTQ project. Tell us what you’ve been up to.
I’ve had the benefit of working closely over the past year on Common Core curriculum development and implementation within my state and district. This work includes collaborating with my content area to create essential learning outcomes and formative assessments, supporting CTQ’s Implementing Common Core Standards team, and participating in teacher-led staff development.
Theses opportunities have allowed me to delve into the standards, interpret the language, and visualize the impact on teaching and learning. They’ve left me encouraged and optimistic about the potential for authentic, higher-level curriculum for our students. I’m eager for discussions around the Common Core to continue so we can support each other, take small steps, and ensure a successful implementation. As I wrote in an Education Week post last spring, we’re really all in this together.
At my own school, one method my grade level has used to address Common Core State Standards is integrated units. We know that creating connected learning experiences is essential for supporting the cognitive needs of our middle school students. Through the literacy standards, Common Core provides perfect opportunities for integrating content and building, rather than recreating, learning links.
For example, last school year our grade experimented with interdisciplinary writing during the months of February and March. Students created a fictional character through their English Language Arts class. They then manipulated that role through content-specific writing assignments, following the RAFT writing development strategy. Student writing was expected to demonstrate understanding of content material and vocabulary for its assigned subject. However, these writings also became “seed” ideas for more extensive pieces in the English/language arts classroom.
This assignment created continuity among our core and elective classes, and it also addressed the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Literacy.
As we progress toward full Common Core implementation, it’s essential teachers collaborate. We must work through the standards together, have a voice in discussions with various stakeholders, and create resources that support our mutual success.
3. Year before last, you wrote a series of articles for Education Week Teacher, reflecting on your first year as a cooperating teacher, mentoring a teacher education major. Are you still working with student teachers?
I’ve just completed my second year of hosting a student teacher. This has been an intriguing and humbling experience. I’ve learned so much from stepping back, observing, and reflecting.
And I’ve also wondered what else we could to optimize this experience and improve the readiness and confidence of our future colleagues.
Teaching is intricate and challenging work. There’s also a level of unpredictability – we’ll never be able to prepare pre-service teachers for all of the scenarios they will encounter. But I’m hopeful that we can create opportunities for them to engage in authentic classroom experiences early and often. We can create meaningful connections between theory, policy, and practice to support their synthesis of what it means to teach.
Following my first year of hosting a student teacher, I considered recommendations I would make to pre-service programs to enhance the partnership they have with cooperating teachers. After this second year, I continue to see value in these suggestions and would like to make an additional request of cooperating teacher –reach out to the local university and offer your support. Help to create conditions you know will support your pre-service colleague and share these with other colleagues who are mentoring.
You’ve been involved in the work of the Center for Teaching Quality, so you’re familiar with their concept of the “teacherpreneur.” Can you tell us something about that?
The position of “teacherpreneur” was first coined in the CTQ book Teaching 2030. At its core, a teacherpreneur is a hybrid position where an individual remains active and grounded in the classroom while simultaneously having release time to engage in additional leadership roles within the school, district, or state.
Teacherpreneur positions offer great hope and promise as we look to transform our public school system into one that supports success for all of our students.
These positions can take many forms. For example, a teacher may be an active classroom teacher for half of their day while spending the other half mentoring early career teachers, partnering with local unions and organizations, or developing curriculum resources for their district.
This year, the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) is supporting six hybrid positions – four teacherpreneurs (partial release time) and two teachers-in-residence (full release). I’m honored to be serving as one of the teachers-in-residence for the 2012-2013 school year.
My first six weeks in this role have been full of learning! As part of my position, I’ll be facilitating teacher-developed resources and learning around the Common Core. In preparation for this work, I’ve spent time exploring policy, research, and resources and developing the understanding I’ll need to support teachers with whom I’m collaborating.
The flexibility of my schedule has been essential as I’ve connected with teachers on the West Coast, reached out to many school districts, and met with funders. This role also allows me to better serve the needs of teachers I’m collaborating with, thus enabling them to focus on crafting curriculum that meets the needs of their students.
When I return to my middle grades classroom next year, I’m confident that this experience will deepen my understanding and abilities as an educator. I’m already collecting ideas from the remarkable and thoughtful teachers I’m working with and developing a plan for sharing these strategies with my colleagues. I’m also using this opportunity as a chance to enhance my understanding of teacher leadership – how do we, as teachers, take an active role in advocating for the profession our students need and deserve?
Teacherpreneur and teacher-in-residence roles capitalize on the individual strengths and interests of teacher leaders by spreading them both within and beyond the classroom. I’m excited about the possibilities that lie ahead of me this year and look forward to seeing more of these roles as we move forward.
5. Where you imagine yourself in 20 years? Will you be a principal, a district leader, a college professor? In a second career?
I’ll be teaching kids and collaborating with my colleagues. That’s what I love.