Teacher Leader Spotlight: 'Never miss an opportunity to make a change'
Nadine Ebri's students are scoring among the top in the district thanks to the support of JPEF's Teacher Leadership Initiative.
Photo credit: Jerial Fennell, Duval County Public Schools
Nadine Ebri teaches Algebra I at Southside Middle School. This year, she was honored as one of the top five finalists for 2021 VyStar Duval County Teacher of the Year. As one of the district's top teachers, she has also been leading exceptional work in her classroom through JPEF's Teacher Leadership Initiative.
Through the Teacher Leadership Initiative, JPEF is supporting Ms. Ebri to lead a project to improve student outcomes in her class. The Teacher Leadership Initiative provides high-quality professional learning and coaching. Ms. Ebri is working with Caran Mullins, a Cindy Edelman Excellence in Teaching Fellow, and Michael Ham, a former top five finalist. Professional learning is led by Dr. Diane Yendol-Hoppey and Dr. Jamey Burns of the UNF College of Education and Human Services, who are facilitating learning sessions about inquiry, an approach that helps teachers ask questions about their practice that helps them lead to improvement. It's all part of JPEF's strategic work to pilot and scale best practices in schools and better retain top teachers through leadership opportunities.
In a short amount of time, the approach is yielding outstanding results for Ms. Ebri's students. Said Ms. Ebri: "My Algebra I students had the second-highest average out of all the middle schools in the district on PMA 3 [Progress Monitoring Assessment]. I can attribute all their success to this project. Thank you."
We asked Ms. Ebri a few questions about her work to find out what other teachers can learn from her example.
Why did you want to participate in the Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI)? This is an intense year for teachers...why take on this additional work?
In 2015, one of my professors at UNF told me never to miss an opportunity to make a change. Although this has been a cumbersome year, I saw the Teacher Leadership Initiative as a way to learn from professionals to ignite change.
How did you come up with your idea for your project?
School closures due to COVID-19 disrupted students’ education, causing them to lose months of instruction between March and August of last year.
During the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year, I noticed many students became unmotivated, depressed, and a few gave up. By December, I became increasingly drained and experienced teacher burnout.
Even before the pandemic, the added pressure of high-stakes testing caused instruction at Title I schools to become programmatic and regimented (Cummins, 2007). Many schools implement policies that highlight test preparation to raise test scores, which contradicts a large body of research on effective instruction (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008). When students don't have positive experiences in school, it can lead them to have a negative perception of school and decrease their motivation, which in turn widens the academic achievement gap.
With the pandemic, the situation could become even worse. One study predicted significant academic declines, especially in mathematics, due to school closures (Kuhfield & Tarasawa, 2020). These setbacks and continued high-stakes testing increase pressure for teachers to “catch up” using drill activities that decrease positive experiences for students and exacerbate opportunity gaps.
Instead of drilling students or emphasizing test preparation, my project aimed to decrease the opportunity gap in my Algebra I class by enhancing student experiences.
What has the Teacher Leadership Initiative helped you with the most?
The TLI Project helped me to change my pedagogical approach through a step-by-step inquiry process to enhance students’ academic experience.
When students returned from winter break, I asked them to take a 56-item survey. I retrieved this survey from a study I read over the break titled A Cross-National Study of Students’ Perceptions of Mathematics Classroom Environment, Attitudes Towards Mathematics, and Academic Self-Efficacy Among Middle School Students in Hong Kong and the USA.
After students completed the survey, we analyzed the results and discussed the lowest-rated areas. During our conversation, one student said, "Mrs. Ebri, to be honest with you, I hate the assessments and exit tickets. I be feeling confident after you teach, then I fail the exit ticket." (Note: Exit tickets are quick comprehension checks at the end of a lesson.)
To my surprise, her statement sparked a long conversation about the connection between testing and student confidence. I asked students to provide suggestions and used their input to guide my research and change process.
In January, I created rotating small groups to provide support while keeping students safe, decreased assessments and exit tickets, increased collaboration opportunities, and added elements of project-based learning.
After using research-based practices to change my teaching approach, students’ post-survey results showed an improved attitude toward math, enhanced positive perception of the learning environment, and an increased self-concept related to their math ability.
What results are you seeing with your students as a result of the work you're doing?
The changes implemented in my classroom caused me to see significant results between December and March.
By March, 88% of my students were proficient in all Algebra I standards compared to the 47% district average. My Algebra I class also had the second-highest average out of every school in the district.
The picture below shows the progress my students have made throughout the school year on the [Performance Monitoring Activities]. Notice that the most significant change occurred between December and February after I started my TLI project. This TLI project enhanced classroom experiences, restored my students’ love for math, increased their confidence, and caused my students at a Title I school to outscore many students at schools with more opportunities.
Watch: Inside Nadine Ebri's Classroom
Learn more about JPEF's Teacher Leadership Initiative here.
Barron, B., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2008). How can we teach for meaningful learning. Powerful learning: What we know about teaching for understanding, 1, 11-16.
Cummins, J. (2007). Pedagogies for the poor? Realigning reading instruction for low-income students with scientifically based reading research. Educational researcher, 36(9), 564-572.
Kuhfeld, M., Soland, J., Tarasawa, B., Johnson, A., Ruzek, E., & Liu, J. (2020). Projecting the potential impact of COVID-19 school closures on academic achievement. Educational Researcher, 49(8), 549-565.
Kuhfield, M., & Tarasawa, B. (2020). The COVID-19 Slide: What Summer Learning Loss Can Tell Us about the Potential Impact of School Closures on Student Academic Achievement. Brief. NWEA.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the achievement gap to the education debt: Understanding achievement in US schools. Educational researcher, 35(7), 3-12.