Empowering teachers’ hearts and minds

By: Andrew Campanella

 

LISA Academy in Arkansas is listening to and honoring teachers’ voices.  

 

Each of us can think of a teacher who has profoundly impacted our education. That’s what teachers work so hard each year to do! In Arkansas, LISA Academy shows that great things happen when teachers’ voices receive the respect and support they deserve. 

LISA Academy is a system of high-performing, STEM-focused public charter schools. The Academy’s charter status gives teachers extra space to create their own curricula and experiment with bringing students new learning methods.

Krystle Hula, dean of students at LISA Academy’s Chenal location, has experienced this benefit as both a teacher and administrator.  

“Having been a teacher for seven years, I had a lot of leeway to be innovative in the way that I delivered instruction to students,” said Hula. “I was able to make it fun, engaging, and my administrators were excited to see it. I wasn’t just dictated to about how to engage kids in learning.”

Every summer, LISA’s teachers and staff discuss for the coming year. For instance, what portions of textbooks work best? Which projects are getting kids excited? What resources need to be added?

There’s a lot of teacher input. Their opinions are valued and important. They’re the ones doing it all. – Krystle Hula

Jessica Wright, principal at LISA Academy-Chenal, added, “The ability to move up to district-wide or administrative roles with that original teacher heart and focus on giving teachers the respect they deserve and autonomy they need— those things have a huge impact on our district.”

teachers at LISA Academy wear school choice scarves

When I asked Wright to share a favorite moment about going into LISA Academy each day, she didn’t have to think twice.  

“The team that we have and the way they work together to be positive and always be student-centered is my favorite part,” she said. 

But, a bit of her heart is still in the classroom.

“In the classroom, it was the students and diversity,” Wright said. “I grew up in an area of Arkansas that has little to no diversity.”

Being able to watch my students discuss different religions or cultural backgrounds as sixth graders was amazing to me. I never got that until college. By that time, people have walls up. When children do it, it’s a lot more curiosity-based and really powerful to see. – Jessica Wright

Suzanne Rogers, director of professional development and ELA coach at LISA, also has a story about student diversity that makes her smile.

Students at LISA Academy stand for an award ceremony“When I was a quiz ball coach for one of our campuses, it was time to go home and I asked kids to call their parents,” Rogers recalled. “Each one of the kids spoke on their cell phone in a different language. It made me chuckle. There were five kids, five different languages, and five different religions. That’s the microcosm. That’s the face of LISA. [We’re] helping people understand that’s also the face of the world.”

As Hula, Wright, and Rogers have each experienced, the rewards of teaching are great. But the workload is a big one too. Being intentional about honoring teachers’ hard work helps sustain and grow LISA’s dynamic learning environment.  

“When a teacher comes here, they’re committing to wearing many hats and many, many, many out of school hours,” said Wright. “The amount of buy in that you get from teachers that feel honored, respected, and that their voice matters is amazing. Those teachers have such a huge impact on the students and families that we serve every day.”

As Hula put it, teachers are the “ground soldiers” doing so much of the daily work of education. It’s beautiful to see schools, like LISA Academy, where leaders listen to teachers’ voices and let their passion for education grow!

 

5 Questions for Krystle Hula, Jessica Wright, and Suzanne Rogers, LISA Academy

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