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Stories from the Field

California Casualty Awardees Toni Poling: School Improvement Initiative

Great educators have great stories. This series gives a glimpse of the ideas, practices, and experiences of the recipients of the NEA Foundation’s California Casualty Awards for Teaching Excellence. Today, we’re sharing the words of Toni Poling, a language arts educator at Fairmont Senior High School in Fairmont, WV. 

I have served as my school’s site coordinator for High Schools that Work, the largest school improvement initiative for high school leaders in the country. Over the past five years, my school’s involvement in High Schools that Work has evolved to include the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) and the Mathematics Design Collaborative (MDC), programs that have changed the way we look at literacy and math instruction and their impact on student learning.

We initially started MDC with only two classroom teachers. Within three years, our entire math department was utilizing MDC and all our students were benefitting from the formative assessments and hands-on learning methods.

Starting one year after MDC, our LDC, while slower to gain momentum, has seen equal success! I held school-wide training sessions, observed module implementation, and provided constructive feedback on pedagogy and grading of writing assignments.

The resulting change to our school culture has been obvious. The teachers involved in these programs feel empowered to make curricular decisions, engage in collegial conversations, and provide authentic learning opportunities for their students. As teacher empowerment and leadership has grown, my role as coordinator has changed to one of facilitator, which I find to be the most obvious evidence of a working site model.

Meet more of the 2018 NEA Foundation awardees hereLearn more about the NEA Foundation’s Awards for Teaching Excellence criteria and nominations process.

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