Voices from the Classroom: Andrea Phillips

Andrea Phillips teaches third grade English language arts at Blythe-Bower Elementary.

The department’s Teacher Ambassador, Eva Boster, interviewed a Cleveland City teacher who is using her student relationships to instill a love of reading. Andrea Phillips teaches third grade English language arts at Blythe-Bower Elementary. Here Phillips talks about her “little red school house,” how vertical planning helps prepare her students, and how formative assessments give her unique data.

What motivates you to teach?

Watching my students learn and grow is my greatest inspiration. I have a passion for literature, and sharing that with students is particularly rewarding. There’s a great quote attributed to J.K. Rowling that says, “If you don’t love to read, you haven’t found the right book yet.”  I make it a personal goal to help my students find the right book.

What is your biggest challenge as a teacher?

I often refer to my classroom as the “little red school house” because there are so many different levels of readers under my roof. Knowing your students, academically and personally, goes a long way to helping students achieve catch-up growth. For me, it’s about relationships.

Your school places a big focus on vertical planning teams (for example, fourth grade math teachers plan with fifth and sixth grade math teachers). What does vertical planning look like for you, and how has it impacted your teaching?

Groups of teachers who are leaders in their grade levels in one of the content areas (such as ELA, math, science and social studies) meet together with specialty teachers who are also on our team (for example, the writing vertical team has a representative from each grade level team, special services, a specialty area, and the administrative team). Recently our group focused on motivating students to read, which we believe is important to achieving our literacy goals. The biggest impact for me is hearing the perspectives and ideas from different grade levels, veteran teachers, and those fresh out of university. Collaboration both vertically and in grade levels is highly valued at our school. It helps build a sense of community, both personally and professionally. It is very empowering; I work with an amazing group of people!

What is your school’s approach to formative assessments (checkpoints of student understanding throughout the year)?

Our district invested in an online assessment program and I have served on the development team. Teachers can create classroom-level tests and we develop district-level formative assessments for each nine weeks. The biggest draw for me is the data available. For example, you can see overall scores, the percentage of students who answered a question correctly, and my favorite, the most frequently chosen wrong answer. It has helped me find common misconceptions, underscore standards I need to review, and highlight students who are falling behind.

What advice do you have for teachers who are considering planning with their colleagues in grades below or above them?

We are lucky that our principal allows us to meet in lieu of the traditional faculty meeting.  Your time together is precious; stay focused on student outcomes. Set an agenda based on a shared goal or problem.  Make a plan and follow up with questions, ideas and resources that can be shared virtually. Don’t be afraid to share, but also listen more than you talk. We are all in this together!


If you would like to share your voice from the classroom, please email TNClassroomChronicles@gmail.com.

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We would love to listen!