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Charles R. Drew Middle School tackles classroom challenges with coaching

If there’s one thing Monique Chatman learned in her first year as a technology coach at Charles R. Drew Middle School, it’s that you can lead teachers to water, but you can’t make them drink. Instead, you have to make them thirsty—thirsty for better, smarter ways to do their jobs, meet their goals, and create meaningful experiences for their students. In Monique’s view, that’s what the Dynamic Learning Project (DLP), which provides training and support for full-time coaches like her in underserved schools across the United States, is all about.

"I have learned so much about myself while participating in the DLP. I have learned the importance of building relationships with the teachers I plan to coach. It is difficult to coach someone who does not trust you. If you build a foundation of trust and respect, teachers are more likely to be transparent and open about their challenges."

Monique Chatman, DLP Coach, Charles R. Drew Middle School

To spark her colleagues’ thirst for technology-powered solutions, Monique starts by gaining a deep understanding of the unique challenges they face in the classroom and beyond. With 12 years of classroom teaching under her belt, including two at Charles R. Drew, she knows that today’s educators already juggle numerous responsibilities beyond teaching in the classroom, including everything from grading papers and writing lesson plans to completing paperwork and performing evaluations.

“Many teachers are excellent at managing these tasks but can’t bear the thought of adding one more project to their plate,” she explains. “That’s why I’m on a personal mission to make teachers feel like I’m here to support them, not to add to their workload.”

When Monique encourages teachers to try a new app, device, or educational gadget, she tailors her recommendations to their subject areas and responsibilities. For example, new math and science standards require students to create models that demonstrate their knowledge, so Monique steers her math colleagues toward robotics tool Hummingbird and invention kit Makey Makey. In another case, a time-stretched reading instructor described her struggle to listen to all 140 of her students read aloud. Monique helped her implement Fluency Tutor, which lets learners easily create recordings for teachers to assess later.

Two African American women are happy while talking

In addition to coaching teachers, Monique partnered with Charles R. Drew’s media specialist, Lane Kulovitz, to transform the school library into a modern makerspace, complete with a STEAM lab that they dubbed the Innovation Creation Station. Over the course of the year, students gathered there to design hurricane-proof buildings, construct Rube Goldberg machines, test prototypes of self-driving cars, turn water into a piano with Makey Makey, create a Breakout EDU game to teach people about agriculture, and animate historical figures using Hummingbird robotics kits. In May 2018, Monique and a group of Charles R. Drew students presented several of these projects at Talladega County’s annual Innovative Teaching and Learning Showcase, where educators from across the district come together to learn from one another and discover new ways to harness technology.

While most of her initiatives focus on Charles R. Drew’s faculty and student body, Monique has also embraced opportunities to share her expertise with the larger community. During a gathering of her fellow DLP coaches in June of 2018, she shared some of her greatest successes at Charles R. Drew and eagerly absorbed new ideas and best practices. More recently, she gave a talk about leadership at a Talladega County school district meeting. And finally, she’s written articles for the magazine Hometown Parent on several topics close to her heart, like how parents can use apps to help their children learn and strategies for improving parent-teacher communication.

An African American woman speaks holding a microphone in her hand

“I’ve shared my voice more this year than in all my 14 years in education combined,” Monique says. “I accept more opportunities that come my way because of the confidence I have gained through the DLP.”

Monique believes that her growing confidence will help her take her coaching role to new heights as she kicks off her second year at Charles R. Drew. Already, she’s working hard to build awareness among recent hires, educate parents about the DLP, secure additional devices and gadgets for her school, and introduce resources to help teachers sharpen their skills. And she’s looking forward to more technology, more transformation, and, of course, more thirst.

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