Megan Noren is considering all the different things she needs to do for the newest student in her Life Skills classroom at Orchard Elementary.
She needs to set appropriate yet engaging goals for him. She has to be sure he has proper support throughout his school day. She is learning his behaviors so she can know when he’s learning and when he’s struggling.
“It’s definitely challenging,” Mrs. Noren says.
And Renae Yecha, one of the district’s Classroom Support Teachers or CSTs, is there to help her with every step, collaborating on the best ways to track the student’s progress to considering new ways to help him reach his potential. That’s just one of the ways CSTs are partnering with teachers and other district staff to help everyone be successful in the classroom.
“We’re often called coaches but we’re really co-pilots,” Mrs. Yecha says. “I like the idea of a co-pilot because it’s teamwork.”
The district hired its first CSTs five years ago. The goal? Provide staff a collaborative, reflective and effective way to build on and refine their teaching so they can help all their students.
Staff or staff teams may participate in formal 4- to 6-week coaching cycles whenever they identify a student data point that they want to improve. That coaching includes everything from weekly brainstorming sessions to co-teaching. CSTs also make their weekly schedules accessible to staff so they can be sought out for informal support.
CSTs have years of successful classroom experience in their grade levels and content areas, with intensive training in coaching and adult learning strategies. Mrs. Yecha is trained in special education. Others are experienced in elementary or secondary education and the use of instructional technology. Hanford and Richland high schools, along with Leona Libby, Carmichael, and Chief Joseph middle schools, have their own dedicated CSTs available to their staffs.
“For years, we had mentor teachers and they were great but they had their own classrooms to take care of, too,” says Mrs. Yecha. “As a CST, I can focus fully on supporting teachers and their classroom’s needs.”
Principal Andre Hargunani at Libby says he’s seeing his staff regularly approaching Cheri Masters, their school’s CST, since she arrived in the spring of 2018. They ask for her input on lessons or her suggestion on how to help struggling students.
“What’s great is she’s open about being a learner, too, and I think that approach has really helped people know she’s working alongside us,” he says.
Mrs. Noren says she certainly sees Mrs. Yecha as a team player. After bouncing ideas off each other to develop a plan for the new student, Mrs. Yecha also helps Mrs. Noren’s students through some tasks so Mrs. Noren can prepare to lead her class through the rest of their day.
“I’m excited, this is going to be great,” she says.