Meet Our Team: Leah Pearson
In our new blog series, we will interview a member of the CT3 team about their background in education as well as the expertise that they each bring to their work with educators across the country.
Why did you want to become a teacher?
I started tutoring when I was 14 years old in a community-funded summer school that my mom and her friend founded in response to what was called the “summer of violence” in Northeast Denver where we lived in 1993. When I tutored elementary students in reading, I had a real awakening to my own privilege and to the reality that not all kids learn to read by third grade the way I had. It struck me as unfair, deeply impacted me and made me want to be an educator when I grew up.
Tell us about your background in education.
I spent my teenage summers as an intern in that summer school tutoring students who were behind grade level in literacy. After college, I lived in Ecuador and taught English for a year. When I returned home, I started teaching third grade on an “emergency license” because at the time, Denver Public Schools needed teachers who could instruct in Spanish for their Transitional Bilingual Program. I taught during the day and attended an alternative licensure program at night. After five years of teaching, I went to graduate school at Stanford because I was hungry to learn about the history and systems that made public education the way it is. After graduate school, I worked briefly as a clinical professor in a teacher education program that had a residency component and spent a number of years as a Teacher Effectiveness Coach in Denver Public Schools. In my role as a coach, I met Dr. Kristyn Klei Borrero and discovered No-Nonsense Nurturer. It struck me as the piece I was missing as a teacher and that so many of the teachers I coached were craving. I got trained to be a Real Time Teacher Coach and eventually was trained to train Real Time Teacher Coaches in Denver. Now I am an associate for CT3 and get to train coaches across the country and I love it.
What was your first teaching experience like? What did it teach you?
My first year of teaching I was learning trial by fire. I had high will but low skill and very little formal training. I was passionate and caring but I didn’t know how to effectively plan lessons nor did I know how to set up all the systems necessary to create a safe learning environment where students feel cared for and held to high expectations. I felt out of control and ineffective because I sensed that I was missing a lot of information on how to be an effective teacher. I was stressed. I started to run before school and go to yoga in the evenings so that I could gain a sense of effectiveness in my body since I didn’t feel it at work. It was very heartbreaking to me because I had a sense of low efficacy but I wanted to be great for my students and I knew what was at stake for them (all were from a traditionally disenfranchised community) if they didn’t receive a quality education.
This experience taught me to be passionate about teacher preparation and specifically Real Time Teacher Coaching. These models would have made all the difference for me as a teacher because they facilitate a rapid transformational shift to an effectively managed positive learning environment. Essentially, had I received this training, in a few short weeks I would have had tools and an empowered mindset and therefore have had less anxiety and more energy to focus on instructional planning.
Do you have any regrets from your first few years of teaching that you wish you could do over?
Yes! I would have held my students to higher expectations. I was a fun-loving teacher and I empathized with and loved my students but I didn’t have the empowered mindset and strategies to hold them to higher expectations. I hate to admit this but I sometimes let them opt out or complete work that wasn’t up to par. I would have advocated for myself harder and been honest with my school leaders that I needed more side by side help with planning and management (versus attending PD meetings) because my students and I deserved it. I was timid about asking for help.
What is your unique perspective when working with teachers, coaches, or principals?
I don’t ever want to take for granted or forget how painful teaching was for me when I knew I could be more effective for my students but didn’t have the in-the-moment coaching to improve my mindset and practice. I resonate with what psychiatrist Carl Jung called the archetype of the ‘Wounded Healer.’ The idea of this archetype has origins in a Greek myth. One day the centaur Chiron was wounded by an arrow from Hercules’ bow. He suffers greatly but he does not die. Instead, he turns his suffering from a wound into a gift and becomes a legendary healer. My perspective when working with coaches and teachers is to empower them with training that is relevant, efficient, in real-time and tailored to truly meet their needs. When educators have a sense of efficacy, students thrive and this creates a healing feedback loop.
What are you an ‘expert’ in besides the work of CT3?
I am a pretty good backyard farmer and gardener. We have a lot of veggies flourishing and six hens! I am also a certified yoga instructor and fluent in Spanish.
What, in your opinion, is the most important aspect of a school in order to best serve students?
A sense of collective efficacy and relevance in a school. By that I mean a team of educators united in the shared belief that every student deserves rigor and love by any means necessary, specifically making all learning (adult and student) culturally relevant to the learner. A skilled, empowered principal is essential but not enough. The factor that best serves students is an efficacious and culturally relevant teacher in every classroom. This leads to empowered students that are equipped to change the world and question the status quo.
What is your best advice for a first-year teacher?
Ask for help and don’t settle for anything less than what you need. Find allies. Don’t isolate. Demand side by side help from your leadership team and use every and any resource you can. If at all possible, get your hands on No-Nonsense Nurturer and Real Time Teacher Coaching!
If you could only tell educators ONE thing about No-Nonsense Nurturer, what would it be?
It is a different and sometimes vulnerable experience but so worth it! See it through and you will become empowered. After learning the strategies and adopting the No-Nonsense Nurturer mindset, you will be able to breathe and have the emotional and energetic bandwidth to teach and enjoy your students!
What’s been your proudest moment working with educators?
A few years ago, a first-year teacher in Northwest Denver told me that before we engaged in Real Time Teacher Coaching, he had pre-conceived notions about three boys in his class (believing them incapable and unwilling to learn). After coaching, he realized his beliefs about them were creating a self-fulfilling prophecy – they became what he believed. Once he implemented precise directions, positive narration, effective use of incentives and consequences and built relationships with them, he genuinely saw them as eager learners and superstars! Not only did this shift change the lives of these three students, but this teacher reported greater job satisfaction because he didn’t spend his days battling with these three students – he was freed of that negative energy. He is now a teacher leader at his school and mentors his colleagues in the craft of teaching! These kind of moments make me proud and keeps me passionate about the work I do.
Click here to read Leah’s perspective on how No-Nonsense Nurturer serves to meet the social needs of students.
To read more about No-Nonsense Nurturer and Real Time Teacher coaching, visit this page.