It was late June. Scholars had been out of our buildings for a little more than three weeks, and already, RePublic leaders had started preparing for the upcoming year. At campuses in Jackson and Nashville, work had begun on planning an intensive three week training for teachers. This would be the fourth summit for RePublic as a network and the sixth for our flagship schools. Our leaders, though, had no intention of resting on their previous summit laurels. They were hungry to do better--to be better--for staff, for our schools, and for our kids.
Only a few weeks later, teachers joined the fold. Taking refuge from the sweltering summer heat, hundreds of educators gathered at our campuses in TN and MS to start preparing for the year ahead. Summit had begun.
RePublic’s Teacher Summit is a three week long deep dive into what it takes to run an excellent school. A masterful piece of choreography, Teacher Summit operates like an intricate performance, with hundreds of moving parts--and people--working around the clock to prepare for the year. Teacher Summit seeks to reach every one of the more than 200 staff members at RePublic and develop them in a way that is appropriate to his or her unique needs.
This year, the focus of Teacher Summit fell into five major arenas: school design, classroom management, systems, lesson development, and culture of feedback.
The culture of feedback cultivated this year formed the bedrock of our training. Kindra Schaefer, literacy teacher at Liberty Collegiate Academy, attended her third RePublic Summit this year and felt a palpable change in the responsiveness of leadership to teachers’ needs: “I felt that summit was better equipped to quickly respond to feedback this year. We gave some feedback to our ELA content writers around some confusion regarding lesson plans, and they moved the schedule around in order to accommodate the feedback the very next day. That made me feel very heard and supported in lesson writing, which was my biggest concern going into summit.”
Another shift came as RePublic recognized a need to focus on more than just what teachers teach; we also need to cultivate the people doing the teaching. Knowing the incredibly tough job teachers face each year, Summit focused on building a community of support. Kevin Heffel, RePublic's Chief Academic Officer, was instrumental in planning and executing Summit. Heffel specifically noted, “We’ve done a better job paying attention to individual teachers, being more attuned to all staff, and being more comfortable in responding to a teacher who is having a bad day or someone who is having a great one. It’s been a great time to get together and build a team around a group of adults. We have been even more intentional about that this year and gave people space to do that”
New to RePublic Summit
Nowhere has the power of team been more powerful than with the new to RePublic staff. Summit sought to find authentic ways to welcome our newest team members to the fold. In addition to the three weeks of full network Summit, new to RePublic teachers spent two days together - honing their teaching skills and learning what it means to be a part of the RePublic team.
Dr. DeAundra Jenkins has been an educator for 24 years, and she joined the RePublic team this July to teach literacy at RePublic High School. Dr. Jenkins summed up her Summit experience in three words: intense, intentional, and motivating. She noted how she “saw all of the pieces come together, [with] the ultimate goal of being student centered and achieving academic success. Even the team building for the teachers, ultimately, is for student success. It was motivating, because even after 24 years, there were some new fresh approaches that I was excited to try.”
Gabe Marrero, a new to RePublic history teacher, felt a marked difference between his summit experience and other teacher trainings he’d been to: “Most professional development that I have experienced in the past has been very hands-off. I would sit in a conference room or classroom and listen to someone speak for hours on a subject that I did not necessarily care about. During my time here I have been able to practice everything that I am learning about in an environment that is all about seeing growth over time.”
Both Marrero and Jenkins touched on the impact of the culture of feedback at Summit. This culture was one of the explicit areas of focus for the summer, and new and returning teachers alike took notice. Dr. Jenkins explained: “Everything that we’ve been taught, we’ve had time to practice. It’s been my experience that a lot of times with professional development or teacher training, it sounds good and you’re excited, but then you get back to school and...you don’t use it at all. I liked the immediate opportunity to practice and the immediate grows and glows. It did develop that culture of feedback, which is good because I believe if you don’t get feedback, you’re not growing.”
Fired Up, Ready to Go
Rooted in a set of shared values and priorities, Summit set out to prepare hundreds of educators to teach thousands of children in Jackson and Nashville. The experience of Summit can be intense. The work of reimagining public education in the South is tough; there is no limit to the number of skills teachers could use to make our dream manifest. Finding the right things to focus on has been an endeavor years in the making. Looking back and learning from summers past and listening--really listening-- to what teachers say they need has made this the most successful teacher training to date. As our organization grows and as we move closer to the vision of an excellent education for all children, Summit will continue to grow and change.
For now, we’ll leave you with some thoughts from veteran Nashville Prep teacher, Allison Arth:
“Summit is a safe place. At times it can be scary and stressful, but RePublic planned every minute of Summit to be purposeful for everyone, but especially new teachers. Every system is learned, practiced, and perfected. Content teams meet every day for teachers to prepare and practice their first lessons and unit. The beginning of the year can be stressful, but Summit eases some of those worries by getting teachers prepared as possible for the real deal.”