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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.” 


It’s a wrap: Oklahoma’s 2021 20 Under 2 Awards

Oklahoma’s 2021 20 Under 2 novice teaching awards celebrate 20 of Oklahoma’s most promising educators in their first or second year of teaching. In May we announced the 2021 honorees and this year we were delighted to shower teachers with a gift box to celebrate their excellence.

Teachers received a custom plaque that was produced at the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences library, along with a $250 gift certificate to Magic City Books thanks to the support of T.D. Williamson and Magic City Books. We shipped gift boxes to honorees across the state from Guymon in the panhandle to Grandfield in the southwest and Grove in the northeast, and many received special award presentations at their school. The Teaching and Leading Initiative’s executive director Jo Lein was also thrilled to deliver gift boxes to honorees in Tulsa and the surrounding area.

Accolades, appreciation, and congratulations also poured in on Facebook and Instagram where we profiled each of the honorees. Many of Oklahoma’s 20 Under 2 honorees were also featured in local press including: The Lawton Constitution, Ponca Post, Muskogee Phoenix, Cushing Citizen, Black Wall Street Times (second article here), Okmulgee Times, and The Seminole Producer.

Honoring Oklahoma’s talented new teachers is a highlight of our year and we can’t wait to celebrate again next year! Nominations for Oklahoma’s 2022 20 Under 2 novice teaching awards will open in January. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to stay up to date. We wish all Oklahoma teachers a restful and rejuvenating summer, and thank you for your dedication to Oklahoma students!

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Presenting the 2021 20 Under 2 Honorees!

Twenty of Oklahoma’s most talented novice teachers have been chosen as this year’s 2021 20 Under 2 honorees for the third annual 20 Under 2 Novice Teaching Awards. The 20 Under 2 Novice Teaching Awards hosted by the Teaching and Leading Initiative of Oklahoma, celebrate emerging teachers who are setting the pace for excellent teaching and make Oklahoma’s future look bright. 

Across the state, principals, veteran teachers, and district leaders submitted their top novice teachers for consideration. Each nomination was reviewed by a committee of education professionals and chosen through a multi-stage selection process. The 20 honorees were selected for outstanding classroom culture, for fostering academic success, and for their commitment to Oklahoma students and communities.

The 20 Under 2 Novice Teaching Awards were created to recognize the talent and dedication of Oklahoma’s newest teachers amidst a challenging landscape. In recent years, Oklahoma educators have grappled with limited resources, large class sizes, and low pay, and this year teachers faced a global pandemic along with new forms of distance learning. For educators just beginning their profession, these challenges are especially difficult. After five years, only about half of new teachers remain in the classroom and schools struggle to recruit high-quality teacher candidates. The 20 Under 2 awards acknowledges these difficulties, and honors new teachers’ whose emerging strengths and talents are needed now more than ever. 

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Thanks to the generous support of T.D. Williamson and Magic City Books, 20 Under 2 honorees will receive a $250 gift card to Magic City Books to build their classroom library. Honorees will also receive a gift box that includes a custom 20 Under 2 plaque, a Round Table membership from Magic City Books, a custom notebook and other goodies.   

“Celebrating this year’s 20 Under 2 honorees is a bright spot amidst an especially difficult year. Oklahoma’s 2021 honorees have not only persisted through the pandemic, but their tremendous skill, hard work, and dedication has distinguished them as some of our most promising educators,” said TLI Executive Director Dr. Joanna Lein. “It is critical that we continue to find ways to invest in our state’s teaching talent because our students deserve the most skillful and experienced educators.” 

The 2021 20 Under 2 Honorees are:

Abby Messick, Crooked Oak Public Schools

Addison Lambert, Sand Springs Public Schools

Alice L. Lee, Jennings Public Schools

Allison Kirkley, Muskogee Public Schools

Ashli Robinson, El Reno Public Schools

Blake Karr, Fort Gibson Public Schools

Caitlyn Spoonemore, Grandfield Public Schools

Christina Beverage, Oklahoma City Public Schools

Ellen Florek, Tulsa Public Schools

Emily Gonzalez, Mid-Del School District

Henry Mitchel Bibelheimer, Haskell Public Schools

Jarred Bush, Cushing Public Schools

Kaitlin Wright, Okmulgee Public Schools

Kaitlyn Hull, Lawton Public Schools

Katherine D. Downing, Grove Public Schools

Lauren Kelly, Varnum Public Schools

Leighton Loch, Ponca City Public Schools

Morgan Dragg, Norman Public Schools

Ray’Chel Wilson, KIPP Tulsa

Yesenia Vera , Guymon Public Schools

Click here for the press release and group photo. For additional information please contact Rebecca Fine at

Announcing 2021 20 Under 2 $250 Book Prize

On Thursday, May 13th, we will announce this year’s 20 Under 2 honorees! The Teaching and Leading Initiative of Oklahoma is excited to share that thanks to the generous support of T.D. Williamson and Magic City Books, this year’s honorees will receive a $250 gift card to Magic City Books to build their classroom library. 20 Under 2 award winners will also receive a gift box that includes a custom 20 Under 2 plaque, a Round Table membership from Magic City Books, a custom notebook and other goodies.

The 20 Under 2 Novice Teaching Awards celebrate emerging teachers who are setting the pace for excellent teaching and making Oklahoma’s future look bright. The awards were created to recognize the talent and dedication of Oklahoma’s newest teachers amidst a challenging landscape. In recent years, Oklahoma educators have grappled with limited resources, large class sizes, and low pay, and this year teachers faced a global pandemic along with new forms of distance learning. For educators just beginning their profession, these challenges are especially difficult. After five years, only about half of new teachers remain in the classroom and schools struggle to recruit high-quality teacher candidates. The 20 Under 2 awards acknowledges these difficulties, and honors new teachers’ whose emerging strengths and talents are needed now more than ever.

Watch for the full list of Oklahoma’s 2021 20 Under 2 honorees on May 13th, and tune in to social media to learn more about these 20 top educators in the weeks to come. Find us on Instagram and Facebook @tlioklahoma.

Think of it like self-care: Make time for your growth and development

School leaders often tell us that they don’t have time for coaching. With unrelenting schedules, taking time for your own growth and development can feel overwhelming or even frivolous in the face of daily to-dos. But research shows that great leadership doesn’t just happen. Leaders who reach their full potential effectively prioritize their time and make space for development. 

For some Tulsa-area leaders, applying for the TLI School Leadership Cohort is the first step in the process. Nicole Whiteside, a school principal and School Leadership Fellow says, “Take the time because it will pay off in the end. We have all these things on our plate as school leaders, but at some point we have to know what to prioritize.” 

TLI believes that coaching shouldn’t add more to an already full plate. Instead, TLI coaching sessions simultaneously teach new skills while tackling to-dos more efficiently.  Sometimes this looks like a “you talk, I’ll type” conversation where coaches help leaders organize their thoughts and draft the outline of a plan or schedule. 

Other times TLI coaching entails making an up-front investment to learn a new concept or skill in order to save time in the long run. One fellow learned how to cut her planning time in half, freeing up her schedule to invest in other parts of the school. In this way TLI coaching is an investment in your professional growth as a leader, but also in school-wide change and improvement.

Reflecting on her experience as a fellow, Principal Carolyn Statum said, “I don’t know what I did before TLI. How did I make it as a school leader without this feedback and pushing?” 

Most school leaders would never consider denying professional growth and feedback to their staff, but too often leaders overlook their own development. Joining the School Leader Cohort means making a commitment to your professional goals and pushing your leadership to its full potential. 

Listen to former fellows reflect on their time in the School Leader Cohort and how they made time for professional growth. 

Responding to Covid: 4 Ideas To Reimagine Education

Guest Post By Telannia Norfar

When I entered education 15 years ago, my goals were simple: Make sure students could count back change and get people to stop saying they were bad at math. Now, my goals are far loftier–even during the Covid19 pandemic. 

Like many teachers in Oklahoma, my mind raced when I learned that schools were moving to distance learning. But unlike many others, I wasn’t panicked about what to do or concerned about getting back to “normal”. Instead, my mind fluttered with big ideas and exciting possibilities. 
My response to Covid19’s changes to schooling reminded me of an episode of The View in which Whoopi Goldberg interviews Rahm Emmanuel, former Chicago Mayor and Chief of Staff for the Obama Administration. Goldberg reminds Emmanuel of a famous statement he made during the financial crisis and asked how it applies today. He said, “Never allow a good crisis to go to waste. It is the opportunity to do big things you never thought possible.”

I feel like Emmanuel’s words apply perfectly to the emergency state of our schools and our plan for learning this fall. This is our time to go big, Oklahoma. Here are a few of my suggestions for where to start. 

Go Big Idea 1

The Covid19 crisis has quickly demonstrated  how internet is a basic tool for learning. Let’s start our re-imagination by expanding free, high-speed internet to all families. Yes, I said no cost. The United States is home to a wealthy, billionaire class, so surely we have the money to provide no-cost internet to all K-12 students. 

In Oklahoma, experts suggest that many parts of the state have limited or no internet access. A recent task force estimates that nearly a third of Tulsa families do not have reliable home broadband. If we are going to be a democracy where we educate the public, then all children should have internet access no matter where they live.

Go Big Idea 2

With state testing suspended and colleges forgoing traditional entrance exams, it’s time to re-imagine how students best demonstrate learning. As schools return to some form of learning in the fall, I suggest a major shift towards learning portfolios. What about trading standardized testing for a portfolio defense at transitional grades such as 3rd, 5th, 8th and 12th? Digital portfolios can easily span the distance learning divide and online defenses can be recorded for teachers, parents, or communities in the defense.

Go Big Idea 3

The hurried shift to distance learning illuminated what many educators already knew: We don’t just educate children; we educate and support families. So why not include family services under the school roof? After all,  almost everyone knows where the nearest school is located. 

Let’s use this crisis as a time to reimagine family supports in our school buildings. Districts should consider adding clinics for both mental and physical health, employment services, and other human health services. Many schools are already working towards much-needed wraparound services. Schools can not fix all that our society needs but we can be a bigger part of the solution. 

Go Big Idea 4

Splitting subject areas is inefficient and ineffective–especially in the short amount of time students have online during distance learning. It’s time to move past factory model education and make subject integration the norm. It’s time for project-based learning to be a norm. Let’s move away from subject-area silos and towards work grounded in context and multiple content areas. Plus, project-based learning has the potential to transition seamlessly between in-person and distance-learning.  

About the author: Telannia Norfar is a math teacher at Northwest Classen High School where she has taught everything from Pre-Algebra to AP Calculus. She is a 2017 Teacher of the Year and Oklahoma Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She is co-author of Project-Based Learning in the Math Classroom. She desires to be known by how much she loved everyone around her. 

Top 6 Teacher Gifts for the Holiday Season

The Teaching & Leading Initiative (TLI) staff have compiled our favorite educator-centered gifts to make your holiday gift buying a little easier this year. Whether you need a gift for the teacher next door, the school principal, or your educator bestie, this list has you covered.

  1. If you’re looking for a practical gift to use in the classroom, we love this high-quality, magnetic red timer for student practice activities or transitions. It’s big enough for students to see the countdown from anywhere in the room, and the robust magnet will keep the timer in place without sliding. Or, if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, Executive Director Jo Lein swears by these quirky little cube timers.
  2. During the chilly winter season, a self-warming coffee mug can add a touch of comfort (and caffeine) to long days in the classroom. Chief of Staff Marissa King also suggests an electric water kettle for teachers who need to brew a quick cup of tea between classes.
  3. If you want to inject a bit of flair into your otherwise practical educator gifts, Director of Leader Programs Nina Fitzerman-Blue has a couple suggestions: Nab a pack of Gelly Roll pens for the teacher with a case of middle school nostalgia, or enliven classroom charts with multicolor bullet-tip Sharpies. The teacher on your holiday shopping list would probably get a kick out of these personalized pencils, too.
  4. Summer Professional Development Intern and PhD student Jennifer Burris loves public schools and local businesses. This easy-to-gift sweatshirt supports both! It also comes in multiple sizes so the whole family can display their school pride together.
  5. Manager of Teacher Development, Angie Cline, recommends Bath & Body Works Stress Relief Eucalyptus lotion because it’s so calming, even during the grueling months of indoor recess. This German-made lotion is another winter luxury that easily slips into a tote or desk drawer.
  6. The TLI office thrives on Google Calendar, but pen and paper are still so satisfying. We’re fans of the Moleskine notebook (easily customizable) or more intricate planner options from Minted. A good notebook demands a good writing tool. Le Pens offers a sleek fine-tip pen that won’t break the bank, but if you like to edit and erase on the fly, don’t discount these cult-favorite pencils from Blackwings.

Whatever you decide to give, remember the most important element: a heartfelt message to remind educators how important their work is to you and your communities. 

Did we miss one of your go-to educator gifts? Drop us a comment below or send us a message. We’d love to hear from you!

Planning for the Seven Elements of Change Management

Change is inevitable. Schools are constantly changing in response to student needs, new data, leader vision, district initiatives, and state mandates. While change itself may not be a choice, we choose how to manage it.

Successfully managing change isn’t about putting on a smile and adjusting your attitude– although that may not hurt either. Effective change management requires a thoughtful plan.

This change management graphic adapted from Knoster (2000) and Lippitt (1987) depicts the seven elements of change management for which leaders must plan. Effective change requires vision, buy-in, skills, incentives, resources, an action plan, and assessment.

Change may be possible without each of the seven elements, but it’s a lot harder. Consider a district initiative for new math curriculum. Without teacher buy-in, one element of change management, a school leader can purchase new resources and plan professional development. But missing teacher investment will likely result in a poor implementation, angry staff, and hours of extra time. A lack of teacher buy-in might point to larger issues too: Are teachers frustrated with a lack of planning time required for new curriculum? Do they need time or support to build new skills? Missing one change element may mean the change isn’t successful long-term or it may have high costs for teacher satisfaction and retention. A more successful option is to plan for each of the seven elements of change management so change can be rolled out with strategy and people in mind. 

We like to use the change management to pre-plan for change and to assess an in-progress or past change. 

Planning For Change

We suggest school leaders make a full, detailed plan for managing any major, adaptive change. Think through each element of change with a detailed timeline for getting things done. Watch out for these common errors: 

  • Forgetting Time: Even if few physical or monetary resources are required, some changes demands significant time from teachers or families. Use your plan for stakeholder buy-in to get more information and double-check your ideas to make sure you account for everyone’s time. 
  • Assuming Skill: Change requires more than a quick glance towards skill building. Consider a school that’s implementing a close reading strategy. Even teachers who already know how to guide students through analysis of text structure, word choice, grammar, and sentence-level meaning may not know what to cut or replace in their curriculum. The entire change could stall out if the reading strategy feels like just another thing instead of replacing a less-impactful strategy. 
  • Forgetting Process Assessment: Excellent change management assessments include both outcomes and processes. Process assessments like observation checklists, walkthrough data, and interim student achievement data help you celebrate small wins and evaluate effectiveness before you get to the big end-of-semester outcome data. 
  • Starting Too Big: Often, leaders want to quickly roll out a school-wide change when piloting the change in one grade or subject might be wiser. Narrow pilots allow school leaders to work out the kinks and get essential staff feedback to adapt the plan. 

Assessing Change 

The change management graphic is also a helpful reflection tool for analyzing in-process initiatives or past change. If a change never moved past the pilot stage or stalled out due to sheer frustration, analyze which of the seven elements are missing. 

Complex, school-wide change is hard but careful change management planning can increase effectiveness and reduce friction. We may not always get to choose when to change, but we can plan for managing it.

*This is the last of a 6-part series on school-based change management. Catch the series introduction here. Send us an email or leave a comment with thoughts!

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