Robin Sneed, director of Blytheville High School New Tech, listens as educators from Arkadelphia revise their leadership structure during a panel discussion that was part of BHS’ “Take Me to Your Leader” New Tech Site Institute on Jan. 26 inside the school’s library. In addition to Sneed, the Institute was hosted by New Tech educators Michael Davis, Amanda Haynes, Virginia Andrews and Tyler Isbell.
By DAVID COOKE
Blytheville Schools PR Director
Blytheville High School has been noticed for a lot of positives lately, and one of the latest was the ability to host a Site Institute for the New Tech Network. Representatives from area New Tech schools such as Arkadelphia, Cross County and the Grad Academy in Memphis attended the workshop, which featured the expertise of BHS instructional leaders Michael Davis, Virginia Andrews, Tyler Isbell and Amanda Haynes and BHS New Tech director Robin Sneed. They also received coaching assistance from Anna Kinsella, New Tech Network senior director of School Coaching, from St. Louis who said that the learning experience was “truly fantastic.”
The original proposal for the Site Institute was created and submitted to the New Tech Network by Teryn Spears, former BHS New Tech director who had been encouraged by New Tech coach Julia McBride, who worked closely with the BHS New Tech teacher leaders during the 2015-2016 school year and recognized building teacher leader capacity as one of the strengths of BHS and New Tech schools. “It is quite an honor our proposed Site Visit was accepted by the New Tech Network,” said Sneed.
In the session "What's the role of teacher leaders in sustaining the New Tech transformation?", Sneed said that participants learned about BHS New Tech’s experiences in building teacher leaders, assessing their current approach to teacher leadership and building plans for future teacher leadership opportunities.
Sneed and her teachers designed the institute with New Tech’s Project Based Learning model in mind, including in the day’s work an “Entry Event”, a chance for participants to share ‘knows’ and ‘need to knows’ concerning teacher leadership, an end-product goal, both whole group workshops and optional mini-workshops, project work time and a chance to use the Critical Friends protocol to get feedback on their work. Participants even had access to a project briefcase and agenda in ECHO, the same online Learning Management System that all New Tech students use daily to submit assignments and access grades. BHS student ambassadors Hollis Abner and Kentrell Bobo greeted the guests and provided them a brief overview of the facilities, and then led them to the school’s library, the location of the Site Institute event.
Kinsella said later that “Ms. Sneed, Mr. Isbell, Ms. Andrews, Ms. Haynes and Mr. Davis did an incredible job showcasing the high school’s work to build capacity for teacher leadership. I have even heard from multiple of my coaches who work with the schools that attended who’ve shared that the Site Institute had an immediate impact. The leaders and teachers who attended were excited to bring their learning back to their own schools in how they think about supporting adult learning and leadership, and are already starting to implement their plans. I’m so happy that you opened your doors to let other schools learn what you are doing.”
“One of the most valuable workshops of the day was our panel discussion,” Sneed stated, “featuring BHS New Tech principal Bobby Ashley along with Haynes, Isbell, Andrews and Davis. Site Institute participants had many of their questions answered, and it was extremely valuable for participants to hear how Mr. Ashley empowers his teacher leaders to make decisions, by providing content area instructional teams adequate collaboration time and by maintaining an open door policy that enables the majority of the ideas for cultural improvement to come from teachers.”
"One of the focuses in the Blytheville district is to build capacity in teachers and allow them to step out using their expertise to lead others," said Curriculum director Sally Cooke. "BHS has been a great example of how successful this can be, and it is great that the New Tech Network noticed what is taking place and wanted them to share it with other New Tech Network schools."
"When teachers feel supported and know that they have a voice in the decisions that are made, they are happier and more successful as educators. We have worked hard in Blytheville to create a system in which everyone is a learner - students, teachers and administrators - and we provide a variety of professional learning opportunities throughout the district so our teachers can continue to develop new strengths each year. This in turn helps us to keep strong teachers in the district because they know that it is a great place to work."