As another school year comes to close and every detail is wrapped up with the precision and passion uniquely characteristic of the school leader we sit down with today, we are grateful for the opportunity to take our conversation to New Orleans where Elisabeth LaMotte-Mitchell, Principal of Paul Habans of Crescent City Charter Schools, reflects on her leadership practice, its evolution over the years, and how she has grown into one of the nation’s most transformational school leaders.
LaMotte-Mitchell had extensive teaching and leadership experience prior to joining Crescent City Charter Schools in New Orleans. She began her career teaching at Friendship Charter Schools in the Anacostia neighborhood in Washington, D.C. There, LaMotte-Mitchell and her team achieved double-digit gains and received the prestigious EPIC award. She went on to teach in Chicago, IL, where her students increased 23 points in math and 18 points in reading on the NWEA. Elisabeth received a bachelor’s degree in political science from California Polytechnic State University.
As the Principal of Paul Habans Charter School, Lamotte-Mitchell is hyper focused on raising student performance while developing a warm and rigorous school environment. Lamotte-Mitchell is a seasoned leader with extraordinary results. She has improved her school’s letter grade from an F to a C within two years per the New Orleans letter grade accountability system. Her campus was ranked first in the city of New Orleans for raising student growth in 2018-2019. Those who work with Lamotte-Mitchell aren’t surprised by this accomplishment. For this leader, the focus is simple: every child can, without exception.
Time and time again we have seen that the most successful school leaders spend at least 75% of their time coaching and implementing instructional and cultural big rocks. Today, we’ll break down how Lamotte-Mitchell spends that time.
BRES: Can you give us an overview of how you spend your week? What are some of the instructional and culture big rocks you spend your week coaching and implementing?
ELM: As principal, time is in short supply. Here is what I’ve found useful.
Meetings are necessary but too many meetings will lead to ineffective leadership.
Weekly, I hold the following the meetings with my team:
- Tactical Directors Team Meeting: This is a 1-hour, logistical meeting focused on events, calendar items, etc.
- Strategic Directors Team Meeting: This is a big picture meeting during which we focus on tracking our priorities, working through coaching issues, or staffing needs.
- Instructional Team Walk Through. This touch point is for all coaches of all instructional staff, which is about 10 people. During a 1-hour time period, we go into 4 rooms a week. Individually, we decide on the action step we would coach on and then we step into the hallway, spar, and norm. This is how I teach coaches to develop highest leverage action step. We use the GBF guide from Relay as a model, but we also have our own coaching language. After 6 weeks, the focus and structure vary based on coaching needs. We may also incorporate video review when appropriate. Training coaches to get better is done in this manner. Not through individual meetings, but as a group.
- Grade Band Leadership Meetings: These meetings are comprised of the director, team leader, curriculum manager, and me for each grade band. Every 6 weeks we set a goal around student culture, instruction, parent involvement, or adult culture. We plan, we focus on the goal, and we improve.
- I don’t observe that many classes a week. I do the instructional walk through which is 4 rooms, and probably get to 4 other classes. But as principal, I have 117 staff members. As such, it’s my role to ensure that Directors and coaches are in rooms. I spend most of my time supporting them in their coaching through direct feedback and observation of their practice.
- Student Support Team Meetings: I alternate for behavior RTI and academic RTI weekly.
Next year, we have incorporated half day Fridays for students. During this time, we will have weekly data meetings and coaching meetings.
BRES: Is there anything you schedule monthly, quarterly, by semester, or annually that also factors into your 75% time?
ELM: Yes. Of course, the ebbs and flows of the year factor into this a lot. For example, I observe way more in the first 6 weeks of school and during mid and end of year evaluations.
I also spend time intellectually preparing for and conducting our Data Days, which are three times a year. I plan a 2-hour data presentation, a state of the school, for each of those and I typically lead middle school math data meetings on that day.
BRES: Can you talk us through your weekly cadence of data and planning meetings?
ELM: In 2017-2018, this was a major priority for us. We held individual teacher data meetings every other week, and individual coaching meetings every other week. This ensured that every teacher had a meeting with their coach every week.
We also hold content meetings during which teachers share resources and content.
In 2018-2019, I didn’t do a great job of holding my leaders as accountable for data and coaching and therefore it didn’t happen as consistently. For me, this was a lesson in the importance of consistency. Even as a seasoned leader, I learn every day from my mistakes and do my best to continuously adjust my practice to better support my team and ensure student achievement growth.
Therefore, in 2019-2020, we look forward to integrating the half day Friday in order to solve some of our time issues. Data meetings will happen then, as will content meetings.
BRES: Who leads these meetings and how do you prepare yourself or your junior leaders (members of your leadership team, APs, deans, coaches, etc.) for them?
ELM: I coach all these people to be coaches. I consider that my primary role. They video coaching sessions, we debrief about once a month, and they have action items to become better coaches. We collaboratively plan the meetings and we also do this work in instructional meetings weekly.
My Instructional team is comprised of the following people:
• Director of Curriculum and Instruction Pk-2 (coaches all PK-K teachers and 1-2 math teachers)
• Curriculum Manager Pk-2 (coaches all ELA teacher in 1-2)
• Director of Curriculum and Instruction 3-5 (coaches all ELA, Science, SS teachers in 3-5)
• Curriculum Manager 3-5 (coaches all math teachers on 3-5 )
• Director of Curriculum and Instruction 6-8 (coaches all math, Science, SS teachers in 6-8)
• Curriculum Manager 6-8 (coaches all ELA teachers on 6-8)
• Director of Enrichment (coaches enrichment)
• Director of Student Support (coaches interventionists)
• Dean of SPED (coaches sped self-contained teachers and paras)
BRES: When you consider data and planning meetings, what are your bottom lines for these meetings – i.e. what do you know you have to achieve in them?
- Standards deep dive – deepen our knowledge of the standard
- Alignment- is this assessment aligned?
- Trends- positive and growth areas
- Point of error/ Misconception identification
- Reteach plan (discourse, direct instruction, guided practice, etc..)
BRES: For the meetings your junior leaders lead, how do you monitor these?
ELM: We identify action steps and plan in Whetstone and they upload a video a week into Vimeo.
BRES: Will you walk us through what your coaching cycles look like? How do you prioritize who to coach, what structures do you use, and with what frequency do you coach teachers?
ELM: We use real time teacher coaching – for intensive intervention and we use a weekly observation and feedback cycle for most teachers. We use modeling and co-teaching as needed. The instructional team and I work together to identify the most effective coaching model given the need and growth areas.
BRES: As school leaders, we have to be fierce defenders of our time. What are some pitfalls you’ve encountered to spending 75% of your time on instructional management and what are some of your go-to tips for maintaining your planned schedule?
ELM: I work hard to ensure I am enough of a culture leader in the building. I do this by leading team meetings, leading morning messages in classes with bullying issues, etc. Being present for my teachers, students, and parents as a cultural leader is equally important to the instructional components.
It’s important for me to leverage my team. I work side by side with my operational team so that they have extreme clarity on their roles and thus can set up the day for my instructional staff in a way that ensures we are hyper focused on student achievement.
BRES: What are the systems that you use to plan your calendar?
ELM: I heavily depend on Google calendar. I keep it updated constantly and find it helpful to print it at the beginning of the week.
BRES: Is there anything else you want to share as others work to make this shift or maintain their 75% focus?
ELM: If you have a large school like me, you need a strong team of leaders and you must consider your primary role as leading that team. I have 8 directors, and the entire leadership team is 20 staff members as it consists of other teacher leaders and deans who aren’t directors but are involved in coaching or leading. As I’ve noted time and time again, you must leverage and lead your team with intentionality and clarity of vision.