In 2012, after 15 years of classroom experience and a year as an instructional coach, I became the multi-classroom leader (MCL) for science at Thomasboro Academy in Charlotte, N.C. I led a team of eight new and veteran teachers, co-teaching, coaching, modeling, co-planning, and leading student data analysis, while taking accountability for the science learning results of the team’s 300 students. Kenyatta Davenport was a second year teacher on my team.
After high school, Davenport worked at an after-school program, and later as a school teacher assistant and technology associate. With encouragement from colleagues, she got both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education.
In 2011, she began teaching at Thomasboro and now is an expanded-impact teacher, chosen because of her excellent student results to reach twice the number of students as a regular classroom teacher, with support from an extra teaching assistant. She was named her school’s Teacher of the Year in 2015.
But that came after a rough start.
We sat down recently to discuss her journey to teaching excellence, and my efforts to gain her trust and help her develop her teaching skills and science knowledge.
This conversation (and the accompanying video at the end of the article) has been edited and condensed.
Kenyatta Davenport: [When I got to Thomasboro] I thought, “Oh, Title I is Title I is Title I, they’re all the same type of children.” [No], there are levels to Title I. Title I at my former school is nothing compared to Title I at Thomasboro. My first year, the children that I had were very angry— they fought all the time. I had a class of 28, and I taught every subject. It was so emotionally rough, because I wasn’t prepared for that. This population comes to school thinking that ‘I’m not here to learn, I’m here to eat me some breakfast, get away from the chaos that’s at my house, and just chill out for a couple of hours.’
The second year, I got put on the action plan because I did not know ‘force in motion,’ and I was getting observed on a force of motion objective and I gave out the wrong information. The whole lesson was a total disaster.
Getting put on an action plan puts a teacher on notice: If you don’t improve, then you are monitored more and can eventually lose your job. It’s a difficult time for any teacher. For the two of us, it meant our brand-new MCL relationship had to develop fast, as her failure or success would also be mine.
Davenport: Every other week, we worked together. You came in, and we began to co-teach and work together, and you taught me so many different strategies. You really just taught me content, and I wouldn’t have it if it weren’t for you.
Bunn: And I think that’s a struggle that a lot of teachers have, because when you go to college, you come out with the basic understanding of all concept areas, but then the older students need more specific content. The teacher needs to know more than the basics. It wasn’t that you weren’t willing to learn it, it was just that your understanding of the content had to be deeper.
Davenport: I was able to get off my action plan, and that was a good thing. So the following year, things clicked for me, and no, it wasn’t an easy year, but I was all in, fully invested. I had a lot more foundation.
Bunn: So let’s go back to the first time you met me as that coach who was going to be coming into your room. I know now that you are very private, and you like your space. I began invading your space, as I was in there all of the time.
Davenport: I kind of felt like I didn’t have any control. Like you said, I’m very territorial; I like things my way, which is not always the best way.
Bunn: What were some things we had to work through?
Davenport: Oh, we had to develop a trust. I had to let down a lot of my preconceptions, a lot of my own issues, and just be willing to accept the help because I knew it was for the benefit of the kids. It was a lot of me growing in that year from having my own space to ‘it’s not my space, it belongs to the school, and I’m occupying the space.’ Being willing and open and inviting to let you in so that I can learn from you because, you know, once I got you, I got you.
Bunn: That’s right. In the beginning, you did give a little push back because you didn’t have that trust with me. We had basically just met, and I was new to this school. So can you think back to anything that I did that you can say, “OK, now I know that I can trust her?”
Davenport: You didn’t give up. And you listened a lot—you understood where I was coming from.
Bunn: And that following year you were the teacher of the year.
Davenport (smiling): Teacher of the year.
Bunn: So how did that make you feel?
Davenport: I’m validated, I guess, because I was ready to quit. I was ready to say, ‘nope, I’ll just go work at social services or something like that,’ and you pushed me. I felt like I had learned a lot. I felt like I grew a lot.
Bunn: And you keep growing. Like with force in motion, that was not your favorite subject.
Davenport: Not at all.
Bunn: And now it’s one of your highest skills for your students.
Bunn: And so what do you attribute that to?
Davenport And me learning, you showing me different strategies, different ways. You’ve given me so many resources; you pushed me, you just continuously push me to do better for myself so that I can in turn do better for the kids.
Bunn: What has been the most beneficial thing?
Davenport: The planning. You know, most teachers, we want our planning [to ourselves], but I have you, and your background is science and you know your content, and when we talk about the plans, we bounce ideas off each other.
Ms. Davenport describes the two most important components of my leadership. First came trust, which I built by being reliable—showing up consistently, cheerfully, and providing whatever I promised—and by listening, not just dictating changes. Second came professional learning, though co-teaching, modeling, and co-planning. I tailored my guidance to the ways Ms. Davenport preferred to receive it—for example, switching our planning days from Mondays, not her favorite day of the week!
What followed felt magical. I’ll never forget running, in my excitement, to tell her when I received the state testing scores for her class and saw the incredible learning growth her students made. And I know what I did for her, she can do for others.