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Meet TLI: Joanna Lein

What do you do at TLI? 

I am proud to serve as the Executive Director and Founder of TLI. I have a variety of hats from coaching teachers, coaching leaders, designing professional development, partnering with districts and other organizations, fundraising, managing our staff, and projecting forward on our overall strategy. 

How did your career path lead you to TLI? 

I started as a classroom teacher, as we all did. I found out early on that the adults in the building drive outcomes for kids. I joined the Teach For America staff and I got the coaching bug – I saw the impact that coaching teachers could have on students and adults. But each year, teachers were new, the work was hard, and it seemed like we weren’t making any progress so I joined Cleveland Public Schools as the Assistant Superintendent. As I looked around the education system, I saw a growing need to develop systems around new teachers and I felt compelled to do something about it. Hence, TLI was born. 

What is your favorite thing about doing this work? 

I love the one-on-one work. You get to know people and their motivations. You get to know classrooms and kids. While professional development can be effective, it sometimes feels distant from the work. There is nothing like being in a classroom. 

What do you hope for students in Oklahoma?

I hope that every single student has access to an excellent teacher. For this to be true, we must invest in developing teachers and principals (because people quit their bosses). We also need pathways that are accessible for anyone interested in joining the profession. 

What else should we know about you?

I am originally from the suburbs of Chicago and my family is still there. They are still confused why I am in Oklahoma but I am very happy with the life my family and I have built here. I am a proud mother of two. We spend a lot of time at parks and at lakes. I am also an avid backgammon player and rower. 

Meet TLI: Marissa King

What do you do at TLI? 

My official title is Chief of Staff but my colleagues would probably say I’m TLI’s jack of all trades. I happily split my time between coaching school leaders and managing behind-the-scenes operations at TLI. Every task from writing grants to observing classrooms is in service of the incredible teachers and leaders we work with and the inspiring students they serve. 

What brought you to TLI? 

I’ve spent the last decade and a half in education and in each role, I’ve learned that the work is always, always about people. If we want the best for students, we have to invest in the people around them.

TLI puts people at the center. We walk alongside school leaders to offer the individual support that leaders deserve. Our coaching is firm but warm. Every day, we have the pleasure of seeing how the investments in the adults in our school buildings positively impact students. 

What is your favorite thing about doing this work? 

I get to support incredible school leaders. It’s a privilege to see their progress every day. 

What do you hope for students in Oklahoma?

For all Oklahoma students, I hope for rigorous content, and the safe, inspiring schools they deserve. I want all students to have real choices about where and how to begin their college education or careers after high school.      

What else should we know about you?

On weekends, I’m probably  in the garden with my 3-year-old, trying a new recipe in the kitchen, finishing a quilting project, or tuning into an audio book. 

Meet TLI: Nina Fitzerman-Blue

What do you do at TLI? 

Work with school leaders! As the Director of Leadership Programs, I run our School Leader Cohort — a year-long fellowship that includes summer training, weekly one-on-one coaching, and opportunities for school leaders to collaborate, share with, and learn from each other. 

How did your career path lead you to TLI? 

I know from experience that leadership can be lonely. I’ve been a teacher, a teacher coach, a school leader, and a curriculum writer. After this time in schools craving more individual support than I ever actually got, I knew I wanted to provide support to school leaders. TLI allowed me to do exactly what I wanted to do — what I had actually wanted for myself — to give leaders the consistent, individual support they deserve. 

What is your favorite thing about doing this work? 

Getting to spend time with the hardest-working, most kind-hearted, smart, caring, inspiring leaders in Tulsa! 

What do you hope for students in Oklahoma?

For our Oklahoma students, I hope for rigorous content and excellent instruction. I want our students to be challenged, inspired, and met with the high expectations they deserve. 

What else should we know about you?

I am a Tulsa native, and happy to be back after more than a decade in the Northeast. Outside of TLI, I am hanging out with my family — Dan, my husband, and our two kids, Lucy and Nino. 

A Year in Review: Teacher and Leader Professional Development

TLI develops teachers and school leaders across multiple districts through short cycle coaching and professional training workshops. 
Often, trainings are offered as multi-day sessions or as a series of trainings over a number of weeks. Professional development sessions for teachers range from classroom management strategies and mindsets to developing strong lesson plans and instructional techniques.
TLI works with leaders to prioritize instructional leadership and build effective coaching skills. In Oklahoma, 75 percent of principals have five years of experience or less. Building instructional leadership capacity is imperative to reduce school leader turnover and foster quality classroom instruction. Click here to learn more about TLI’s professional trainings in our annual report

TLI really helped me narrow the focus on student skills and what students had to do to show mastery on standards.

Brandy Gildon-McCracken, Instructional coach

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Meet TLI: Rebecca Fine

What do you do at TLI? 

My official title is Manager of Teacher Development and Communications. In short, I coach teachers and lead professional development. I also handle communications for TLI including our social media, website, and external communications. 

How did your career path lead you to TLI? 

I began my career in education as a middle school teacher at Tulsa and Union Public Schools teaching science and reading. Eventually, I left the classroom to attend graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and pursue answers to questions about education that had been brewing during my time in the classroom. After graduating with my degree in education policy, I came back to Oklahoma and worked as an education policy analyst at the Oklahoma Policy Institute. During my time at OK Policy I was steeped in state level policy making and wrote about the impact those policies would have on students, teachers and families. While this advocacy work was fulfilling, I missed the classroom. I joined TLI so that I could support teachers across the state and continue to do work that addresses educational inequities in our state.   

What is your favorite thing about doing this work? 

Working with teachers! Being in the classroom brings me so much joy. I have the privilege of observing teachers every week and meeting with them one-on-one to reflect on their practice. It’s also really fun to get to know their students and witness the hard work teachers our into their classrooms. Teachers in Oklahoma deserve higher salaries, more resources, and smaller class sizes. Supporting teachers as a coach feels like one way I can help teachers get the support and development they deserve. 

What do you hope for students in Oklahoma?

I want all Oklahoma students to have access to an equitable education, and this means all students will have access to highly skilled teachers. I think this starts with teacher salaries that are commensurate with their hard work and talent. Teaching is incredibly difficult work that requires technical execution skills and hours of skillful planning. I want teachers to be paid enough so they don’t have to worry about providing for their own families, and so they don’t have to sacrifice their own well-being. Coupled with adequate professional development support, highly qualified teachers would lead Oklahoma students to better outcomes. I also hope that low-income students and students of color have teachers who are well prepared to meet their distinct needs.

What else should we know about you?

I am originally from upstate New York, but Oklahoma has become my home! I live with my fiancee (we’re getting hitched in June 2022!) Jesse, our dog Ollie, and cat Kodie. You can reliably find me either playing tennis, biking, running, or gardening when I’m not working. One of my favorite places in Oklahoma is the Tallgrass Prairie in Pawhuska, OK, and I squeal with delight every time I see bison. 

A Year in Review: School Leader Cohort

As part of its leadership development, each year TLI selects a group of promising leaders across multiple districts to take part in a year-long, fully-funded School Leader Cohort (SLC).
SLC begins in the summer with a leader institute and continues throughout the year with weekly one-on-one coaching and 6 off-site professional development days. This year due to Covid, SLC shifted to virtual coaching and modified off-site professional development.
SLC coaches use TLI’s Leader Competency Model to assess leaders quarterly and set developmental goals that they target during weekly coaching sessions. Click here to read more about the school leader cohort in our annual report. 

As an instructional leader TLI coaching helped identify content gaps for teachers and students, and where we were hitting the mark and not hitting the mark as a school.

Nicole West, Principal

Annual report 2020-21 (4)

Meet TLI: Samantha Aponte

What do you do at TLI? 

I serve as a Manager of Teacher Development with TLI. Much like every member on our team, we wear a lot of hats! In this capacity I design and facilitate professional development and coach teachers in various districts. We empower teachers to leverage their talents and prior experiences to create quality content, safe learning spaces, and address injustice in the classroom.

How did your career path lead you to TLI? 

I began my career in education in 2015 in Oklahoma City Public Schools teaching fifth grade ELA and absolutely fell in love with the content and kids.Soon after, I moved to Tulsa and continued teaching before transitioning to being a school leader. I developed an interest in adult education while working on my masters in Teaching, Learning, and Leadership from OSU. I leveraged my learning from my program to guide my instructional coaching as well as craft meaningful professional development. Through this, I was able to better see the impact it had on teachers and students alike. I was drawn to the work TLI was doing across the state and wanted to be a part of their mission to “develop highly capable educators so students have access to an equitable education.”

What is your favorite thing about doing this work? 

Connecting and collaborating with teachers! Meeting teachers (especially those new to the profession) from across the state. Hearing their unique perspectives, reflections, and experiences gives my work additional purpose and meaning. 

What do you hope for students in Oklahoma?

Students in every district, school, and grade should have access to grade-appropriate work, data driven instruction, a supportive network, and teachers with high expectations. This should be true for all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexuality, or any other part of their identity. My hope is that students across the state, especially our students of color, know that their voice and experiences matter, and they deserve to get a great education in a safe and welcoming learning space. For this to be true, I hope that their teachers receive the development, pay, and resources they need to ensure all students can achieve at high levels. 

What else should we know about you?

I am originally from Miami, FL, but have found a home in Oklahoma in the last 7 years with great friends and two happy pups. Outside of work I enjoy cooking and spend a lot of time hosting friends (virtually and in person). I find a lot of joy in bringing folks together! 

A Year in Review: Partner District

TLI develops 3 – 5 year partnerships with Oklahoma school districts to strengthen classroom instruction and develop instructional leadership capacity.

In a state where just over half of all teachers leave the profession in the first five years, Oklahoma schools are challenged with ensuring excellent instruction while supporting early career teacher growth.

TLI assesses district needs and develops long-term plans to implement sustained coaching support for teachers in order to improve academic outcomes for students. Year-long teacher coaching begins with a two-week summer Teacher Institute for new teachers.

In 2020-21 TLI completed the second year of a district partnership with Cushing Public Schools. Below is a snapshot of our work. Read the full annual report here

I can’t tell a story about teaching without telling people that the reason I think I am a good teacher is because of TLI coaching. I felt clueless when I started and my coach gave me baby steps to start with. By the end of the year, I had so much confidence in what I was doing and in the specific content areas I was teaching.

Brynn Danker, Pre-k teacher

Annual report 2020-21 (1)

TLI: A Year In Review

The Teaching and Leading Initiative of Oklahoma recently published its 2020-2021 annual report and we are taking the next few days to share highlights from our year.

While the pandemic brought distinct challenges, TLI stayed focused on improving student outcomes through teacher and leader coaching. We both expanded our work with school leaders and added an additional teacher coach to the team — all as we piloted virtual coaching.

TLI was able to surpass its 25% target growth goal for school leaders and its 70% mastery goal for teachers. Additionally, 90% of both teachers and school leaders will be returning to schools this upcoming year.

Below is a snapshot of TLI’s collective impact through both one-on-one coaching, and professional training for teachers and leaders, which includes multi-day workshops and short cycle coaching. Over the next few days we will spotlight these areas of work and highlight our efforts to expand educational opportunity across the state by improving the quality of teaching and leading in Oklahoma.

School leaders talk TLI coaching

Each year TLI partners with Oklahoma school leaders to develop their instructional leadership capacity through weekly one-on-one practice-based coaching. We serve school leaders through both our School Leader Cohort and our District Partnerships where coaches work with leaders to sharpen their instructional lens and strengthen instructional coaching at their schools. Coaches work with leaders to develop plans for school improvement and use TLI’s Leader Competency Model to set developmental goals. TLI coaches also use evidence from school observations to plan weekly sessions focused on narrow action steps that can be implemented immediately.

We sat down with school leaders and asked them to tell us about their experience working with TLI coaches. After coding interview transcripts, we  pulled out common themes to offer a holistic view of our work with school leaders. Here’s what schools leaders had to say.

TLI tailors to my needs

Perhaps the most common feedback we hear about TLI coaching from school leaders is that coaching support is uniquely tailored to individual needs and school contexts. Cushing Public Schools principal Nancy Dowell explained that rather than offer generic one-size-fits all coaching, TLI listens to her concerns and targets interventions based on the areas where she needs support. In this sense, coaching sessions offer incredibly practical and concrete interventions that school leaders can implement immediately. 

TLI coaching is aligned with our district goals 

School leaders also noted that TLI’s work was deeply aligned with districts goals and system-wide change. One school leader explained that his coach regularly communicates with his district supervisor to share information and “stay on the same page.” “That doesn’t always happen [with other professional support]. If it didn’t happen, I would be doing different things for my supervisor and for my coach. In this way, TLI coaching is specially tailored for our district and school needs.”

Principal Dowell also explained that TLI’s “willingness to work around their schedule is huge.” Similarly, Principal Nicole West explained, “One thing that sets TLI apart from other organizations is that it is very personable.” She described how her coach Nina Fitzerman-Blue makes herself widely available outside school hours to troubleshoot over the phone or give real-time feedback via email.  

TLI coaches care about me deeply 

School leaders universally describe the trusting and meaningful relationships they develop with TLI coaches. Jenks Public Schools Teaching and Learning Specialist Abbie Andrus talked about difficult feedback that coach Marissa King delivered in “such a kind and positive way.” She explained that Marissa signs her emails with the phrase “Cheering you on!” and that it perfectly encapsulates their coaching relationship. School leaders feel they can make mistakes and not be judged or made to feel less than. 

Nancy Dowell said that perhaps the most valuable part of her work with Jo Lein “is the honesty of the relationship. She always responds. She never makes it feel like it is an unreasonable question. It feels like a partnership.”

TLI offers feedback you can’t get anywhere else 

A common refrain from school leaders is that TLI offers feedback that they cannot get anywhere else. Abbie Andrus put it simply by saying, “It is (TLI) the one place I know I am going to get useful feedback from someone because that’s not something that always happens.” Principal Nicole West said, “The work is the most instructionally sound and beneficial work that I have done since I have been an administrator.” 

 

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