The rewards of teacher collaboration

Students Ariana Taylor, left, and Marissa Martinez prep for their roles as lawyers for the defense in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Trial in Brandon Goodell’s U.S. history class. Courtesy photo

Three years ago, I established a teacher coaching program for the Santa Fe Public Schools through the Santa Fe Coalition for the Public Schools. I believed that the best way to support teachers was to be on the ground serving their needs in their classrooms. Teachers for Teachers is a small cadre of six retired veteran teachers. In their end-of-year evaluations, both teachers and coaches have remarked on how coaching enhanced their teaching and their students’ learning. This article is about the result of my collaboration at Capital High School with Brandon Goodall, a U.S. history teacher, in 2018-19.

Brandon asked me to help him put together projects he did not have time to develop. I was both thrilled and apprehensive about my first assignment, which I knew would be a challenge for his students and a risk for Brandon. I helped him organize seven days of preparation that culminated in his Modern U.S. History classes re-staging “The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Trial,” in which 146 workers died, mostly young immigrant women, many of whom jumped to their deaths from the top floors of their fire-trap factory in Greenwich Village, in 1911.

It was a lot to ask of standard 11th-grade U.S. history students: to work with primary sources from the trial records, prepare and play the roles of lawyers for the defense and prosecution and witnesses for both sides. I provided exercises in public speaking and invited retired University of New Mexico Constitutional Law Professor Ruth Kovnat to be the judge. Students not only learned about one of labor history’s most tragic events, they also learned about court processes and jury trials: Lawyers’ opening and closing statements, examination and cross-examination of witnesses, public speaking and essay writing. Not all the students were well-prepared, but they overwhelmingly agreed they would to do it again.

In the second semester, we overcame one of Brandon’s greatest educational hurdles, asking students to do a historical research project on a relevant topic of their choice. One of the most difficult aspects of the project is the lack of resources at the school library.

Lois reached out to the Santa Fe Public Library system, and we organized a field trip to the Southside Library for students to engage in historical research. We had another resounding success. We handed out nearly 90 library cards and checked out nearly 300 books. The research projects that students turned in were the best that I’ve seen in five years.

Although these were the highlights of our collaboration, Brandon felt that my continued presence had “a profound impact” on his third-period class, saying: “Lois’ high expectations encouraged students to go the extra mile. We were able to model academic discourse and debate in a way that demonstrated to students how to use evidence and reasoning to support a position or an argument. I know that my classroom, my pedagogy, and my curriculum are much better for having had Lois’ constant support and encouragement. I know that my students are much better for having had her high expectations and caring approach to education that has engendered in many a love for learning that I hope will last a lifetime.”

It has been a struggle to expand the capacity of our coaching program, to find retired teachers with the experience we need to serve whatever needs a teacher has. But I am hoping to do so. Coaching is a small intervention, in terms of scale, but a vital one for the enhancement of teaching and learning. If you are interested in joining our team, please contact me at: lois.rudnick@umb.edu

Lois Rudnick is a retired professor of American Studies from the University of Massachusetts Boston and a member of the Santa Fe Interfaith Coalition for Public Education. Brandon Goodell is a U.S. History teacher at Capital High School who received his National Board Certification last year.