Dr. Eric Chagala and Meghan Ofer Invest in Teachers First

Chrissie Wywrot is a freelance writer and social media expert with focuses on LinkedIn profile development and blogging. She is also an advocate for The ChadTough Foundation which raises funds and awareness for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, or DIPG. Learn more about Chrissie and her business at chrissiewywrot.com.

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invest in teachers
Chagala (left) is the founder and principal of Vista Innovation and Design Academy while Ofer is the principal of Roxborough Intermediate.

Defining who we are is critical to educational, professional, and relational success, though that exercise isn’t always the easiest to perform. Have you ever tried it?

Try to summarize in a sentence or two what you’re best at, what you’re passionate about, what your top qualities are. It’s difficult! Now try to perform the same exercise, but direct it at another person you know well – your best friend, spouse, or child. All of the sudden, the exercise becomes much easier!

Our self-perception is skewed by our own assessments directed by culture, comparison with others, self-esteem, and self-image. Talking with another (objective) person often provides a glimpse into our strengths, weaknesses, passions, and goals. We get by with a little help from our friends, family, and colleagues.

This is also true of personalized learning. The term “personalized learning” is often defined incorrectly as being about technology, learning in a bubble, and moving away from teacher-guided education. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Just as with the exercise above, students would be lost without teacher guidance. Teachers must be present to nurture and facilitate learning – maybe more so with personalized learning than in a traditional student-teacher model.

Because teachers are so critical to personalized learning, it is also critical that we nurture and develop them toward being the best they can be. Dr. Eric Chagala, founder and principal of Vista Innovation and Design Academy, and Meghan Ofer, principal of Roxborough Intermediate, have each embraced this way of thinking.

The Concierge Continuum

Chagala’s way of meeting teachers where they’re at is through a theory he’s coined “The Concierge Continuum.” Recently, Chagala sat down with Ofer and Allison Zmuda to discuss how he was inspired toward that metaphor and how he uses it within his school.

“If you think about (being) in a fancy hotel and the concierge, that person’s job is to be there (for the guests),” he says. “When somebody wants show tickets, they come up and they help them find show tickets; and when somebody needs a dinner reservation, they come and help them with the dinner reservations.

“(The guest) may think that the dinner reservation that they want (is) Mexican food, but they are at a hotel in New Orleans and, really, I’m the concierge and so let’s guide you toward maybe creole food because, when you’re in New Orleans, you don’t eat Mexican food.”

Chagala goes on to explain that the concierge is there to meet each individual where they’re at and guide them toward solving the problem. When the individual approaches the concierge, he or she may not be asking for what is ultimately the best solution. It’s the job of the concierge to listen and then guide the patron in the right direction.

“(A teacher may be) stuck on design thinking and they may not know how to say that, but by being visible and being there and building relationships, you may see it,” said Chagala. “And you can guide them toward resources or coach them.”

Passion Projects

As it should be with personalized learning, Ofer has a completely different way of achieving the same goal. She is working with her teachers on passion projects: pinpointing an area that gets them excited and then working with them to build a way of teaching around it.

“We set goals at the end of this school year while everything is fresh,” she said. “As we’re talking about things, as we reflected upon their journey this year, we set some really specific goals with each teacher going into next year.

“I’m doing a teacher passion project of sorts and so teachers are going to be hooked up with each other based on what they’re passionate about. They’re really excited about because, as you expose them to different things within the vision and the model that we are for our school, they can take it in various different directions.”

Instead of grouping teachers by grade level, Ofer is grouping them by common passion. During the summer, teachers will work on personal developing within those passions.

“They’re more excited than ever about what that looks and what that means for their classrooms next year,” she said.

“I’ve got a group of teachers that they’re very much about their space – the space in their classrooms – so we’re opening the school next year with three classrooms that are completely empty – nothing on the walls – and the kids are designing the space and they’re really excited about that.”

Questions?

How would you evaluate each of these approaches? Would you implement either practice in your school?

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