Welcome Rachel Modica-Russell!

We are absolutely thrilled to announce that the incredibly talented Rachel Modica-Russell has joined the Hendy Avenue Consulting team!

Rachel brings a wealth of experience and expertise to our organization, and we couldn’t be happier to have her on board.

We first met Rachel several years ago when she joined Hendy’s Chief Talent Officer Cohort as the talent leader at Explore Schools. Rachel immediately impressed us with her thoughtful leadership, easy relationship building, ability to truly listen and understand the perspectives of all stakeholders, focus on not just the “what” of change leadership but also the “how”, and her unwavering commitment to doing what’s best for kids.

We are so happy that Rachel has decided to bring her many talents to the Hendy team and our wonderful clients. She is already making our team smarter, stronger, and more fun – and having a positive impact on the school systems we serve.

Please help us to welcome Rachel!

Biography: Rachel Modica-Russell chose to join Hendy not only because she fervently believes in the team’s potential to impact the education sector through their research-based and thoughtful work in talent strategy, strategic planning, leadership development, and programmatic support; she herself has experienced the quality of partnership and depth of expertise present on the Hendy team as a past Chief Talent Officer (CTO) cohort member.

Prior to joining Hendy, Rachel spent five years as the Managing Director of Talent for Explore Schools, a network of eight public charter schools across Brooklyn serving students in K-8th grade. In her role, Rachel shepherded work across all talent functions at Explore Schools, and worked in lockstep with school and network-based leadership on recruitment, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging work, staff retention, and people development efforts for their 300+ community members. As Managing Director of Talent at Explore Schools, Rachel spearheaded exciting initiatives and programming such as a staff mentorship program, revising the organization’s approach to compensation, and building a career advancement policy and pathway protocol anchored in more equitable and transparent talent practices.

Rachel could not be any more excited to work alongside other members of the Hendy team to set adults up for success by way of developing smart, strategic people-focused infrastructure and initiatives to drive talent management and people development in schools.

Before working for Explore Schools as Managing Director of Talent, Rachel was a staff member at Uncommon Schools for over 5 years, first as a teacher, and closed out her time with them as Senior Associate Director of Recruitment where she led recruitment for both their Brooklyn and Troy-based regions. Returning to Explore Schools in 2018 was a full-circle moment for Rachel, as Explore is the very organization (Explore Schools) she began her career in education as a Teach for America Corps member and K-2 teacher.

Rachel received her master’s degree in early childhood education from Teacher U – Hunter College and holds undergraduate degrees in Spanish and Family and Human Services from the University of Oregon. After 14 years in Brooklyn, NY, Rachel and her wife and two children made the move back to Oregon to be closer to family. So far, so good :).

CAO Cohort Members

Announcing our 2022-2023 Chief Academic Officer Cohort

The Hendy team is proud to announce the talented academic leaders chosen to be a part of the 2022-2023 Chief Academic Officer Cohort:

  • Dr. Saskia Brown – Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy
  • Dr. Megan Frankiewicz – Vista College Prep
  • Ben Johnson – Ingenuity Prep
  • Jeremy Jones – Eagle College Prep
  • Crystal Lane – DREAM
  • Nate Lowry – Academies of Math and Science

The CAO Cohort is led by Erica Murphy and Jonathan McIntosh. Erica is a member of the Hendy team and former academic leader for Ascend and Jonathan is the current CAO of Prospect Schools and a member of our 2021-2022 CAO Cohort.

The Cohort is a place for leaders to learn, reflect, grow, and share. And to do so alongside other leaders who understand the unique challenges faced by academic leaders today. Over the course of 9 facilitated sessions, CAOs exchange resources, solve problems, and build relationships.

Our goals are for CAOs to:

  • Establish a vision of excellence for the CAO role and its components (e.g., vision setting, team building, instructional management, culture building, data analysis, reflection and action-planning). 
  • Establish relationships with CAOs nationally – participants become “thought partners” and confidantes for each other, during and post cohort. 
  • Share resources, perspectives, ideas, thoughts, approaches on all things related to the role.
  • Receive structured PD on innovative research and ideas.

We look forward to learning alongside these wonderful leader and can’t wait to kick off our first cohort session on September 22nd!

Stay Conversation

Stay Conversations in the 2021-2022 SY

Our team has talked before about the importance of Stay Conversations as a crucial tool for staff retention. In the past, Stay Conversations have been about getting teachers and school leaders to return for the following school year. This year is different. This year is not only about retention for next school year, but also retaining people through the current school year. The 2021-2022 school year has been unbelievably hard. Across the country, schools are understaffed. Those who remain are being asked to go above and beyond: covering for vacant positions and for teachers who are absent or quarantined, supporting students who have endured emotional trauma and had significant disruption in their learning, and working in challenging physical conditions while worrying about their own safety. We’ve already seen the “Great Resignation” and unfortunately, it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. 

Leaders will not be able to recruit their way to solving this crisis. Instead, leaders will need to focus on retaining the people they do have. One retention strategy is the Stay Conversation. These conversations typically occur before the December holidays as a way to affirm a leader’s desire for their staff to continue at the school the following year and preempt a holiday vacation job search. These conversations are recommended for staff in all roles including teachers, operations, and leadership.

Stay Conversations are a tried and true retention strategy that we encourage school leaders to continue during this unique year, but with a few important revisions to the approach and an updated conversation guide

  1. More Frequent Stay Conversations: Rather than just meeting once a year for a Stay Conversation, we recommend meeting 2-3 times this year (including just before the winter break) to ensure that staff are regularly hearing important messages and have a one-on-one opportunity to voice any concerns. This may sound like a lot of time, but a 10 minute conversation is much less time consuming than the time spent covering a vacancy.
  2. Detailed Tracking: People’s personal situations and needs have changed frequently and rapidly throughout the pandemic. With each conversation, make sure to add to your Talent Tracker additional details about each individual such as the teacher’s current school roles (official and unofficial), how they are being recognized for their work, their relevant personal circumstances, and their desired situation (long and short-term).
  3. Planning Possible Offers: Before the very first conversation, prepare 1) what policies you can put in place to support and recognize all staff and 2) what you may be able to offer to staff who have a special need. It’s important to plan these in advance so that there is equity in the arrangements that are made, not just being provided to the best negotiators. Note that these offerings can be monetary, recognition, or other things that are valued by the individual. 
    • Example All-Staff Policies: 
      • All staff may be asked to work up to one hour per week covering other classes. Any additional coverage over that hour will be compensated work at an hourly rate (accessing vacancy savings and ESSR funds). 
      • Lunch duty coverage includes a gift card/voucher to purchase meals.
      • Public recognition each week of staff who are taking on additional responsibilities. 
    • Example Individualized Plans (with rationale for who gets it): 
      • Late start-time so a parent can drop their child off at school.
  4. Communicate Impact: Clearly communicate the significant impact the person is having in the school. Ask staff directly to stay through the entire school year.
  5. Broader Strategy: Stay Conversations are powerful, but they are not enough on their own. Consider all the ways to ensure people feel valued, feel successful, are growing, and have flexibility to meet the demands of their lives.
  6. Set Yourself Up for Success: Consider the day, time, and environment that will set you, as the leader, up for success. You cannot pour from an empty cup so make sure you are in a good place yourself. One idea is to lead these conversations in the morning, before other distractions of the day. 

We’re providing this updated 2021-2022 Stay Conversation Guide (adapted from a tool developed at IDEA Public Schools) to support you in leading important conversations in this critical year. We hope it helps you to meaningfully connect with your team members and results in strong retention. Please share your feedback so we can continue to improve the tool for others. Y

Hendy Avenue: Fall 2021 Update

Dear friends and colleagues,

I hope this message finds you, your family, and your students doing well. Thank you for the incredible work you’re doing on behalf of kids.

A couple weeks ago I sent my oldest child off to first grade in the NYC public schools, twenty years after I began my career in education as a first grade teacher. The world looks really different for first graders today compared to the first graders of twenty years ago, but their fundamental needs have not changed – they need caring adults who believe in them and will support, challenge, and inspire them to be their very best. To all the folks who are doing that work every day, and to all the folks behind the scenes making it possible, thank you. Your unwavering commitment to students is more important than ever.

In this year’s annual update, I want to share with you the work the Hendy Avenue Consulting team has been doing to support teachers, school leaders, and system leaders to be their best for students; introduce you to our wonderful new team member, Keri Hubbard; and share the new ways in which our team is now able to support you to meet your goals. Please check out all our exciting updates below, take a peak at our recently updated website, and reach out about opportunities for partnership. We’d love to hear from you!

If you’re reading this update on our blog and want to get future updates directly to your inbox, please click here to subscribe.

All the best,

Hendy Avenue Annual Updates
Keri Hubbard Joined The Team!! We are so fortunate that Keri Hubbard joined our team in July 2021! Keri is an exceptional teacher and math coach, and leads some of the very best PD we’ve ever seen! Keri’s experience as a teacher and school leader at both Achievement First and KIPP Texas Public Schools combined with her leadership at Teaching Trust and Cadence Learning make her an ideal partner. She’s already helped our team get better and smarter, and is doing excellent work coaching teachers and leaders.

Celebrating Successes
The 2020-2021 school year brought unprecedented challenges to our schools. I’m proud to say that the Hendy team stood fast in our commitment to supporting our partners through it all, while ensuring every member of our team was able to be there for their families. A few big highlights to share from the year:

Partner Retention: Once again, 100% of our partners will continue to work with us and several have signed on for their third (or more) consecutive year partnering with us, including the Delaware Department of Education, KIPP Texas Public Schools, Chicago Public Schools, and Hebrew Public Schools.

Partner Satisfaction: On our annual survey, 100% of our partners said their experience working with Hendy was extremely or very positive and 100% of our clients said they are extremely or very likely to refer Hendy Avenue Consulting to others.

Growing Team: We’ve grown to a mighty team of five and added exceptional talent that has allowed us to expand our offerings.

Anti-Racism: We’re focusing on being a more anti-racist organization, taking steps to improve what we measure, who we work with, what we do, and how we grow as individuals and a team; we recently 
shared our reflections in the hopes of inspiring other organizations to take action.

Equity in Rubrics: We recognized our influence in teacher observation rubrics and examined, in partnership with DEI experts, how various rubrics help or hurt equity. We’re now planning a webinar to share what we’ve learned and how school systems can improve their own rubrics to center equity and inclusion. Mark your calendars for this webinar on December 8th at 3pm EST and reach out if you’d like more info.

Addressing Learning Gaps Cohorts: We met our client needs and created two Spring 2021 
Addressing Learning Gaps Cohorts where academic teams from seven high performing charter networks came together to identify their strategy to address academic learning gaps as a result of COVID. We supported them in reviewing their data, aligning their curriculum and pacing to the priority standards, and reviewing their talent structures to support their plans. Each team left with a theory of action and a concrete plan to address learning gaps as well as a training, communications and evaluation plan.

People First: Our team members maintained the flexibility and space we each needed to care for our families during this challenging time; we’ve double downed on being a people first organization and it continues to result in happier people and better outcomes

Talent, Academics, and Leadership Development…Oh My!
You already know Hendy as your go-to partner for talent strategy including development, evaluation, compensation, retention, and career pathways. With the addition of our newest team members, we’re now also leaders in academic strategy and leadership development. We’d love to discuss how we can support your work around: Using student data to set short and long-term academic strategy; coaching district leadership, school leaders, and/or teachers; leading professional development to set an instructional vision and support curricular implementation

Introducing Our Chief Academic Officer Cohort
We deeply believe in the power of people coming together to solve complex problems. Building off the successes of NYC Chief Talent Officer Cohort and two Addressing Learning Gaps Cohorts, we are now kicking off our first national Chief Academic Officer Cohort with an incredible group of CAOs from Ascend Learning, Breakthrough Public Schools, Coney Island Prep, DC Prep, Hebrew Public Schools, KIPP Colorado, and Prospect Schools. We are honored to learn alongside these leaders and look forward to sharing more about this group and our learnings throughout the year.

2021-2022 Client Projects

Addressing Learning Gaps Cohorts

The Challenge: The global pandemic has significantly impacted teaching and learning, leading to significant learning loss and increased inequities. There is a shared assumption that students, particularly those students who were already underserved, have fallen behind. The challenge is that (1) we don’t yet know how far behind they are, (2) we don’t fully understand the social and emotional needs of children who have experienced this unprecedented event, (3) some students may have benefitted from remote learning in ways that we don’t yet understand, and (4) we don’t yet know how to best meet their needs as we look to the upcoming school year. 

Theory of Action: In unprecedented times, we find the most value comes from connecting with others wrestling with similar challenges and working together to understand the problem, create a strategy, and to plan for action. We believe that by bringing together leaders from similar school networks and districts through a series of facilitated problem-solving, strategy, and planning sessions, we can significantly improve outcomes for students. 

Introducing the Addressing Learning Gaps Working Groups: In the Spring and Summer of 2021, Hendy Avenue Consulting is convening two small cohorts of charter school networks from across the country to come together over a series of five sessions to problem solve and action plan around the challenges of assessing and addressing learning gaps for the 2021-2022 school year. Through the cohort experience, each network is creating its own unique and actionable academic strategic plan.

Working Group Participants: We are so honored to have 9 incredible charter school networks, each with exceptional academics leaders, choosing to join our program. We started with a first cohort in March 2021 and given the demand, added a second cohort in April. Our wonderful cohort members coming from the following networks:

Impact: Our first cohort has just completed their 3rd session and our second cohort has just completed their 2nd session. In these sessions, Chief Academic Officers and their teams of 2-4 others, review research, learn from best practices, share ideas and receive feedback from leaders in other networks, and develop comprehensive plans for prioritized content, academic strategy, assessment, staffing, training, change management, communications, and more. The Hendy team is proud of our role in supporting the academic leaders who are ensuring that all children are successful in the years to come.

Collaborating to Examine Teacher Observation Rubrics for Equity

As an organization that strives to be anti-racist and to advance diversity, equity, inclusion and justice in our work, our Hendy team has taken a close look at our priorities and projects to determine how we can take steps to actively help create anti-racist schools. We believe that every organization should consider where they have influence and take strides to use their influence to proactively address racism, and teacher evaluation rubrics is ours.

As experts in teacher evaluation, and as an organization that frequently supports networks, districts and states to design and implement teacher evaluation rubrics, we identified rubrics as a place that we can advance equity with our clients. We know a lot about rubrics, both about how to write good rubrics, and how to implement rubrics to support teacher development and growth. And, we’ve been intentional about including language about inclusion and diversity in rubrics that we’ve helped to draft and implement. But we hadn’t yet taken an intentional look at rubrics to identify what in the language may be truly advancing equity in teaching and learning, and what might be hindering equity. We also knew that, as a team of four people who all identify as white, we have some critical blindspots in the work of examining tools with an anti-racist lens. 

So, before we set out to create a tool, host a workshop, or even publish this blog post, we decided to do the work of examining rubrics ourselves. We contracted with two trusted leaders in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in education, Carrie Ellis from Celestial Consulting and Ashley Griffin from Bowie State University and BEE Consulting, who themselves are women of color, and asked them to engage in this work with us. We also engaged Talia Shaull from Achievement First and Lisa Friscia from Democracy Prep, both members of Hendy’s Chief Talent Officer cohort, so we could have the perspective of practitioners in the field leading this work in their organizations. As a team we set out to examine the language of four teacher observation rubrics, two that are commonly used in districts and networks across the country, and two that are specific to networks we work closely with. Our intent was to identify specific examples of language, and overall trends in rubrics, that either supported or hindered efforts to advance equity and anti-racism.  We also wanted to test a potentially transferable process for examining rubrics with an anti-racism lens. 

We started the work by first affirming the role of rubrics in advancing equity and anti-racism in schools, and were honest about what rubrics can and can’t do. Then we examined the content of four rubrics to identify:

  1. Language or expectations in the rubric that values white dominant norms, values, and culture over those of other racial groups; 
  2. Language in the rubric that is supportive of equity (specific practices, mindset cues for teachers, etc.); and 
  3. Missed opportunities in the rubric to advance equity of instruction for students.

We organized and summarized the themes we saw in each rubric, and discussed those themes together to both align and clarify. In our discussion we surfaced several categories of content that might drive examination of other rubrics for bias and equity. 

In addition to categories of content, we also discussed structural features of rubrics, and how those features may or may not advance equity. Specifically, we discussed student-focused vs. teacher-focused rubrics, and the inclusion of DEI as a separate indicator vs. baked in throughout all indicators. 

Bringing together experts in different content areas to wrestle with a challenging question was engaging and frankly a lot of fun. We were able to push each other’s ideas, discuss what really matters, debate language and its impact, and learn and grow in the process. At the end of the day, our brains were tired, but we were energized by the ideas we created together and the possibility of sharing with others. We see a significant opportunity to improve rubrics and recognize that while doing so is insufficient for creating anti-racist schools, they do play a critical role in driving teacher practice and leaders’ coaching, and therefore must be improved. 

Our work helped us to develop guidance that might support others who wish to examine their own teacher observation rubric, and inspired us to engage others in this work. We look forward to sharing that guidance in a webinar later this spring. If you or your team would like to engage in this work, please reach out. We all have a role to play in advancing anti-racism in our schools, and teacher evaluation rubrics can be a great place to start or continue efforts to ensure equity for all students. 

Huge THANK YOU to Carrie, Ashley, Talia, and Lisa from all of the Hendy team! 

Team Spotlight: Meet Sarah Rosskamm

You’ve met Jessica, Erica, and Jeremy, and now it’s my turn to share! I founded Hendy Avenue Consulting almost 8 years ago and never imagined the amazing team and clients we have today. I’m excited to share with you a bit about how I started and what drives me in this work. It’s great to meet you!

Why did you choose to work in education? 

When I was in high school and college, I worked at the New York State Sheriff’s Camp, nestled in the Finger Lakes of Western NY. The sheriffs from each county in the state identified children who were high risk and invited them to attend the camp. Through swimming, boating, arts and crafts, and camp songs, these young people who had survived incredibly challenging life circumstances would slowly shed their armour and get to be kids – even if only for a week. I saw the power of this experience and chose to be a Human Services major to open my own camp one day. My junior year of college, however, I learned about Teach For America and decided to explore teaching as another way to create opportunities for kids. As a first grade teacher in San Jose, California, I was able to witness the magic of little ones first learning to read. I loved their giggles and enthusiasm for every new experience. Like my young students, I too am a first generation college kid and was well aware that the odds were already stacked against them. I knew that my students’ educational experiences were going to determine their life outcomes and I wanted to be a part of it. I committed then, 20 years ago, to education and have been pursuing ways to make schools better for kids ever since. 

What’s your favorite part of your job? 

My favorite part of my job is working with and learning from incredibly talented and committed people. The Hendy team is just the best and I’m so proud to call these people my friends and partners in this work. Likewise, our clients are all amazing people who are doing such amazing things for kids. I love getting to work closely with an organization to help them solve their problems. I also love convening people to work together to find innovative solutions. I really do have a great job and feel very lucky for the opportunity to do this work. 

What’s the problem in education you most want to solve? 

I want being an educator to be a valued and celebrated profession. As a young teacher, I witnessed phenomenal veteran teachers without a voice in school decisions not being treated as the professionals they are. It was such a missed opportunity for my school and it’s a missed opportunity for the education field as a whole. I believe that by elevating the profession and leveraging the expertise of educators, we’ll be able to better attract and retain teachers from all walks of life and greatly increase outcomes for children. 

At this particular moment, I’m also painfully aware of the disparity of Covid-era education. The achievement gaps were immense before Covid and are sure to expand given the broad range of school experiences children are having today. We need to quickly work to understand kids’ academic and emotional needs and create plans for targeted remediation. We need to take a holistic/society approach to ensuring that the kids who need the most are getting the most from our systems and our educators. 

What’s a favorite book or quote? 

I’ve always loved the quote from Lee Iococca, “In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest would have to settle for something less”. It’s such a simple idea that is widely held in many other countries, but one we still haven’t internalized in the U.S. Remote learning has given parents new insights into the incredible commitment and creativity of teachers. My hope is that the appreciation people feel for teachers today evolves into culture, policies, and practices that lead to the best of us in the classroom and the rest of us settling for less. 

What do you like to do outside of work? 

Outside of work, I love to spend time with my family and our friends. You can most often find us in Brooklyn playing sports and games, hanging out with friends in Prospect Park, or (pre-Covid) traveling to spend time with our extended family. Our five year old is patiently trying to teach me chess and our three year old performs an animated daily puppet show. Today we are excitedly awaiting a big snowstorm in NYC with sleds and hot cocoa at the ready!

Sarah, Mike, Max (5) and Eli (3) reaching the top of the “mountain” while hiking in Cleveland

Self-Care and Team-Care: Maintaining Well-Being, Energy, and Mental Health

This year is hard. Really, really hard. It’s been hard on you and it’s been hard on your team. And yet, because of the young lives at stake in our work, we must carry on. How we approach our commitment to our students will determine whether we are successful now and whether we can continue over the long haul. That’s why last month our Chief Talent Officer cohort reflected on our own self-care and on how we care for our teams. We’re sharing a few of the ideas that came from that session in the hopes that others will lead with self-care and team-care. 

  1. Defining Stress vs Burnout:. Stress is the brain and body’s response to challenges requiring an emotional, physical or mental response. Burnout is the feeling of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy. Too much stress can lead to burnout. We can’t eliminate stress from our lives, but we can work on how we respond to stress so we can avoid burnout.
  2. Self-Care: Self-care drives well-being which drives engagement. Self-care means really different things to different people, but is ultimately about prioritizing your individual needs.. The old saying of putting on your own oxygen mask first continues to ring true. First ensuring you have the necessary rest, healthy food, exercise, laughter, and emotional fulfillment will enable you to lead your team to do the same.
  3. Team Leadership Around Self-Care: A leader who models self-care in their own life and encourages it in others will have a healthier and happier team. While self-care truly is about the self, there are key actions a leader can take to improve the lives of their team and to reduce burnout. So what is it that a leader can control? Below are a few examples our cohort members are putting into action: 
  • What they model
    • Giving themselves time off from work with activities that fuel them to do the tough work AND explicitly sharing why they are taking time off
    • Planning ahead for something to look forward to and sharing plans with the team as a model to others (for example: a trip, an event, a home renovation, a competitive race, etc.) 
  • What they expect 
    • Creating and maintaining a clear culture of not working on the weekends 
    • Asking the team to share when their vacation days are planned to ensure team members are taking the time off they need and deserve
    • Identifying what can be dialed back, what work is truly essential work and what is not, or “what balls are glass and which are plastic?”
    • Identifying who can take on more to free up time for folks directly serving students; for example, ensuring the central office is taking as much work as possible off the plates of principals, school leaders are taking as much work as possible off the plates of teachers, etc.
    • Scheduling a weekly asynchronous day for students so the team can focus on planning and working with their teammates
    • Explicitly asking the team about their childcare situation and what they will need to be successful, and providing accommodations as are feasible
  • What norms/culture they create 
    • Celebrating effectiveness, even when the work is difficult. This is not about expecting perfection, or holding one staff person up at the expense of another – but about ensuring that staff feel effective in their jobs, especially when the work is more complex or demanding than in pre-pandemic times
    • Starting meetings with a “mood meter” to allow people to share feelings (and then asking if they want to shift or stay where they are) 
    • Implementing a sunshine committee to celebrate life events 
    • Hosting remote games nights and other social events with the team (and sometimes with their families) 
    • Creating optional Monday community space on Zoom to provide staff the opportunity to connect with others 
  • What they provide 
    • Early end of day on Fridays
    • Financial literacy webinars for staff
    • Food, care packages, gift cards, pop-in massages (pre-Covid)
    • Access to meditation apps such as Headspace
    • Having a doctor come to school/office for flu shots

What have you done to support your own self-care and to support your team in their self-care? What impact have you seen? 

Team Spotlight: Meet Jeremy Abarno

Today I’d like to introduce you to Hendy’s Jeremy Abarno. Jeremy is an exceptional teammate who joined us in 2019 and brings an incredible ability to really see people and help them meet their goals. He also truly loves to geek out on math instruction and loves a good number story! Jeremy is currently supporting both the Chicago Public Schools and Hebrew Public Schools. He is the leader of our Chief Talent Officer Cohort, bringing together transformational leaders from eight NYC charter school networks. I hope you enjoy learning a bit more about our awesome Jeremy Abarno.

Why did you choose to work in education? 
I actually decided that I wanted to teach in high school. At that time I lived in a small rural town in Oregon. My high school started a program called “cadet teaching” where I was able to observe and contribute to Ms. Blitzer’s kindergarten classroom by supporting individual students with phonics, counting and learning how to be friends. My attention quickly turned to Agustín, a bright and playful student who joined the class mid-year and spoke Spanish exclusively. There was no formal ESL program in the school and a volunteer translator would come in for a few hours once a week as there were no other bilingual staff in the school. As a result, Agustín and his siblings did not have meaningful access to the curriculum and it was on him to “figure it out”.  I worked with Agustín and his siblings occasionally and he made some important gains. I was appalled, it was unjust that a 17-year old was one of the only ways that Agustín and his family had meaningful access to the curriculum. Nobody had bad intentions but they had built a system that didn’t include kids like him. As I studied education and started my career in NYC public schools it became increasingly apparent that there were millions of kids across our country who didn’t have access and it was causing them harm. That sealed the deal and I have been in education for more than 20 years now. 

What’s your favorite part of your job? 
I believe deeply that intentional self development and growth leads to one being able to collaborate better. And those are, by far, my two favorite parts of the job. At Hendy Avenue, our job with educational partners is to collaborate, arm-in-arm, to help them solve problems, answer tough questions, build capacity and create systems and/or content. To be a good partner, I have to improve myself on a regular basis – I need to read, research, simplify complex things, improve facilitation and more. The cool thing about it is that the more I improve, the better I am at supporting our partners. It doesn’t stop there because our partners are school and systems leaders and the better they get, the more teachers and students benefit and thrive. Adopting this mindset of continuous improvement and collaborating with very talented leaders is just a virtuous cycle and it’s the kind of thing our schools need as they fight to end inequity. 

What’s the problem in education you most want to solve?
There is a vicious two-pronged problem that I think plagues education and while it’s not the only one, I think it is central. It is when pedagogy and professional development don’t match our beliefs about what kids are capable of. Too often, pedagogical approaches, often dictated by curricular resources we use or training resources we adopt, don’t actually match our beliefs about what kids need to thrive. For example, most schools, districts, and networks express that they believe that ALL kids have the potential to achieve at high levels with high expectations, the right support and effective teachers. These institutions often express that students should be problem solvers, critical thinkers and should have opportunities to apply 21st century skills in real ways. However, these same institutions select (or are mandated to use) curricula, pedagogical approaches and teacher training resources that are misaligned with their goals for kids. This is not only challenging for teachers because what we say we value isn’t mirrored in our actions but it is also damaging for kids because without this alignment they are less likely to develop those critical skills, competencies and mindsets. We need teacher training, pedagogy and curriculum that matches what KNOW our kids are capable of.

What’s a favorite book or quote?
That’s like picking a favorite child…I can’t do it but I do have one book, one article and one quote that have been really helpful in my thinking lately: 

  • Colson Whitehead’s “Underground Railroad” is a blistering novel that forces you to consider the darkest part of America’s history of racism and how it is playing out today. 
  • This quote from Stockdale has helped me be honest about the state of our country right now: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be
  • This article from Ronald Heifitz on Adaptive Leadership from HBR is proving mighty valuable right now when thinking about leading during what seems like a never-ending crisis. 

What do you like to do outside of work? 
I love family time. I have an amazing wife Eve, three amazing kids, Marlon, Lucia, and Vivian, and some amazing friends. We do a lot of things together: go to the beach, cook, break bread, cycle, feel feelings, cuddle, maraud (mainly my 6-year-old Vivian and with the best of intentions), and fight for racial equality and inclusion of people with disabilities. Whatever we are doing I get deep emotional fulfillment out of doing it together.

Team Spotlight: Meet Erica Murphy

  • Erica with her husband and daughters, Hadley (5) and Tessa (3).

Today we’re highlighting our newest member of the Hendy team, Erica Murphy, who joined us from Ascend Public Schools. Erica is currently supporting our long-term partner, KIPP Texas Public Schools, to effectively integrate and implement their Teacher Career Pathway across their four regions and also to develop a plan to improve new teacher retention and development. Erica was an outstanding teacher, principal, and academic leader who knows curriculum and instruction inside and out. She loves solving problems and helping both kids and adults to meet their potential. We’re thrilled to have this incredible educator bring her many skills and talents to the Hendy team. She’s already making a huge impact! Enjoy this interview with Erica!

Why did you choose to work in education?

When I was a little girl I loved to play school. I would organize my stuffed animals to be my “class” and I would teach them – for hours. As I got older and continued to “play school” with friends, I realized I had an ability to explain things to people in a way they really understood. In middle and high school, I would watch my peers ask a question in class when they were confused by something taught. I’d watch the response from the teacher and sometimes see that my friend was still confused, though the conversation moved on. I’d always find the person after class to attempt to clarify whatever the confusion was and I was generally pretty good at it. 

The “aha” moment my friends would have after I supported them was the most gratifying experience. It was like a puzzle to me – I loved being able to identify the specific point of confusion, and then help people make sense of what we were all struggling to learn.  As an educator now, I believe great teaching is doing just that – observing students to better understand what they know and what they don’t yet know and then designing tasks and questions to help get them get to understanding. I get a thrill out of that kind of student observation and creative problem solving.

What was your first year of teaching like?

My first year of teaching was – by far – the hardest professional year of my life. Before entering the classroom, I had dreams of fostering a strong classroom culture, connecting deeply with my students and their families, and bringing learning alive in the classroom in a rigorous and relatable way. Instead, I struggled. I struggled to establish a classroom focused on learning. I struggled to connect with my students. I struggled to make learning relevant and interesting to my students. It felt like I was sinking. 

My school didn’t have a robust coaching program, strong professional development opportunities, or a central curriculum and so, like many first year teachers, I was left to figure things out on my own. Every day, I felt like I couldn’t go back. I was exhausted – both emotionally and physically – but knew that I had to show up to try and do the best I could with my students. I was lucky to have another first year teacher next door who was struggling as much as I was. After school, she and I would (honestly) cry and then talk about what we could do differently the next day. We’d invent new routines, new morning meeting protocols, we’d change seating arrangements, revamp lessons to make them more engaging – anything to try and be better than the day before. 

Eventually, not through any great turning point or event, just by sheer hard work, will, slowly building relationships with my kids, and by constantly testing out and refining my practices I got better. I slowly learned to be clearer, more planned, more purposeful and more engaging. By February break of that first year I finally felt like I had some sense of what I should be doing. I started to swim. 

My advice to first year teachers – don’t give up, find a mentor or friend or colleague to work with, and be willing to iterate, iterate, iterate until you figure out a style and a set of practices that works for you. 

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Probably not surprisingly given my experience, my favorite part of my job is supporting and developing teachers! I don’t think everyone’s first year of teaching needs to be so hard and so lonely. With thoughtful, purposeful training, coaching and development, we can create practices that prepare our teachers for the classroom faster and more effectively.

As a principal, I devoted most of my time and my leadership team’s time to observing, coaching and supporting our newest teachers. We created opportunities for newer teachers to be observed more, coached more, and to teach less in their first months in the classroom. They had the opportunity to observe excellent teachers within our building and learn from the best. These teachers had the support of the school behind them while learning, and they and their students fared better for it.

In my role now, I get to work with districts to develop network-wide strategies to better develop and retain teachers. I am so excited at the prospect of creating systems and practices that allow every single teacher to be intentionally developed and eased into the profession in a way that is healthy for them and their students. 

What’s a favorite book or quote?

During my first year as a principal, I posted this quote on the white board above my desk. It helped me keep things in perspective and get ready for each new day. 

Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Outside of work, I love to read, run, and spend time with my two daughters.

Even when I’m exhausted, I’ll read at least one page before bed. I love to read anything – fiction, non-fiction, biographies, you name it! Some of my recent favorites include The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, and Moonglow by Michael Chabon. 

I run almost every day – it helps me clear my mind and decompress. I ran my first marathon during my first year of teaching – I think it was the only way I was able to make it through that incredibly demanding year. I love to run in Prospect Park and my oldest daughter sometimes runs with me these days!

I love doing just about anything with my two daughters – Hadley and Tessa. We paint, read, go to the park, play with brain flakes, go out for french fries, and make jewelry. Their energy and enthusiasm for things never ceases to make me smile.