TKY at SHS: Part 2, Passion & Innovation in Science
As Teach Kentucky matures as a program, we are beginning to see more clearly how our recruitment, retention and networked teacher support can have a positive impact, especially when there is a high concentration of TKY alumni and current participants at a single school. At Southern High School in JCPS, there are currently 11 TKY alumni and participants, including the head principal, director of instruction and nine of the school’s current teachers, all of whom are STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) educators.
This is the second installment in a series on TKY at SHS. In this series, we’ll hear directly from some TKY teachers and leaders at SHS. Below science teachers Brittany Hubert (2014 cohort), Jamie Oleka (2017 cohort) and Jessie Newhouse (2012 cohort) share their thoughts on Teach Kentucky, Southern High School and their passion projects.
How is the school year going?
Jessie: So far it’s good; we are designing new lessons around the NGSS [Next Generation Science Standards] and that is exciting and time-consuming work. But it is paying off in student engagement, so it’s worth it!
Jamie: This year has been smoother than last year. Last year was my first time teaching 9th grade science… It was challenging because in freshman science (integrated science) we teach physics and I am more comfortable with biology. Still it was helpful to work with a colleague Caleb Johnson because he used to teach this course and he was willing to share his resources. Likewise Kelsey Foshage (TKY 2015 cohort) at Doss is a big help. In Teach Kentucky we share a consensus on how to teach hands-on, rooted around investigations, rather than a traditional lecture style, and we help each other willingly, which is nice.
How has your prior experience impacted your current work?
Jessie: My experience working as a scientist in San Francisco very much impacts my work, because I look at the students’ experiences in the classroom as preparation for jobs later. I want to help them be successful with real skills.
Brittany: Having a degree in bio has been very helpful. Just having a control of the content is helpful because when you get into teaching, content knowledge can come second to pedagogy, but having that undergraduate degree in biology, I’m confident in my content knowledge.
Jamie: One piece that has impacted my current work is having graduated from Berea College. My own background helps me identify with students from low income backgrounds and helps me understand my students’ perspectives. At first glance my students may not perceive me as growing up from a low income background but that shared perspective allows me to have more empathy and understand the importance of an education and what is at stake for students.
In addition to a shared background, I appreciate having attended Berea College because it’s a liberal arts school, and research shows that teachers who study in a liberal arts program have more success in student achievement. This is because we don’t only focus on our subject, but rather we have a broader view of various subjects that allow us to integrate cross curricular concepts.
What’s it like to teach at Southern High School, with so many fellow TKY teachers and leaders?
Brittany: The administration here is extraordinary, and my coworkers are super supportive. I feel completely supported and challenged. Jessie and I are leading a small group of teachers with Best Practices, and we lead professional development for teachers during our monthly faculty meetings. Just last month we presented on questioning strategies.
Jessie: I think it is amazing. Our school needed a very direct and clear plan of action to be implemented to get some cobwebs dusted off. Now I think the National Board practices Dr. Grindon is leading are pushing us in the right direction with research based solutions that make sense for teachers.
Jamie: Because Dr. Grindon and Dr. Shearon come from TKY they are aligned on how they want to move the school forward, specifically in terms of teaching practices. The EPD [Embedded Professional Development] is organized and helpful and they’re on the same page; this spring they’ll be planning ahead for how we can move forward and improve each year.
Jessie: I think the TKY teachers at SHS have had a great impact, and in general I feel like we are all very motivated and have brought a culture of positivity to the school. In general, I feel like we are willing to try new things and share ideas with other members of the staff.
Jamie: TKY teachers here check up on one another and are there to give advice on how to support students. We ask each other, what do you try that I could try? TKY teachers have supported me in innovating and are willing to try more hands-on and PBL [Project-Based Learning] rather than rote memorization and lecturing.
How has your experience with TKY been so far?
Jamie: The network is invaluable. Both the TKY network and the program’s reputation within district allowed me to get a job more quickly, and the network of TKY teachers allows for collaboration and resource sharing within and between schools. It’s also super supportive; TKY teachers lean on each other in times of struggle.
Jessie: I have had a wonderful experience with TKY. I am still very close with a lot of the teachers from my cohort year, and I try to be as active as possible to keep in touch and interact with new cohorts of teachers.
What passion projects are you currently working on?
Brittany: I’ve been really inspired by STeLLA, or Science Teachers Learning from Lesson Analysis, a nationally recognized program for teacher professional learning. It’s improved my curriculum design and inspired me to pursue instructional leadership.
Jessie: This may sound silly, but we are making bath bombs in my Botany elective and we are getting to design everything from scratch. I love the idea of integrating science with product development and getting to collaborate with the arts department and marketing to do this. That is the fun of an elective, and of course we are talking about botanical extracts, dyes and fragrances along with it.
Jamie: In my classroom, I’ve sets goals each year to determine what’s going to be the vision for my classroom that year. This year I wanted to stretch self around PBL [Project-based Learning] and a culminating project at end of unit that’s hands-on but also standards-based and applies standards in real world situation. I designed a forces of motion unit that built up to egg drop challenge. Similarly in our first unit, students learned about energy types by constructing Rube Goldberg machines.
In the community, my passion project is that I’ve founded the Lean In Women of Color Louisville group, which is based off the book by Sheryl Sandberg, and the mission is to build community to empower women of color in Louisville.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Brittany: I’m interested in instructional leadership and curriculum design.
Jamie: I hope to be an administrator to widen my impact.
Jessie: I hope to be finished with my PhD program in curriculum and instruction from UofL and working with a curriculum design company if I’m not still in the classroom, which I’m open to, because I love teaching.