FEATURED STAFF MEMBER
Q & A with Rebecca Shea, M.Ed., Senior Training Specialist
How long have you been working for MI and what is your current role?
I joined MI in September 2016 as a Senior Staff Developer working on the New York State Education Department (NYSED) Office of Special Education’s Professional Learning Center project. In that role, I supported both the professional development and technical assistance work of the 250+ special education coaches working with district and schools across the state in order to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. Currently, I am working on two projects--the New York State Safe and Supportive Schools Technical Assistance Center, and the New York State Religious and Independent Schools Professional Development Resource Center. These initiatives seek to support schools and districts across New York State to improve safety, school culture, and pedagogical practices.
Why did you get into this work? Was there a particular person or event that inspired you?
In my previous positions, I worked in schools and districts for over 20 years in the roles of teacher, instructional coach, and administrator. During this time, I saw firsthand the important work that all stakeholders contribute to supporting students academically, socially, and emotionally. In my work now, I am able to scale my support for districts and schools in order for evidence-based practices to have the greatest chance of successful implementation in order to yield the best results for students. Effective support is critical to success and I continually strive to provide both meaningful and research-based support to all stakeholders in my work with clients. I was lucky to have people believe in me and support me along my journey and I strive to do the same for others I support now.
How would you describe your approach to evaluation or TA/PD projects?
My approach to supporting clients is to first meet them where they are in their journey of learning and implementing change. Listening is the first step in understanding the needs of students, teachers, administrators, and parents. Second to listening is collaboration. Working as a team is critical to success. In my work, I seek ways to capitalize on the strengths of school teams and leverage them as we work through the barriers they encounter. I believe that in all schools there is amazing talent to leverage in order to build capacity as a school team. Finally, time is of the essence for school staff and leaders so I strive to provide learning opportunities and collaborative planning through synchronous online modalities, in addition to on-site support.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Each day I get to support schools and districts across New York State. The work in schools is both important and challenging. I am grateful for the opportunity to see firsthand the great work schools are doing in supporting students to thrive. I am honored to be part of their learning journey to support the implementation of initiatives and help them work through barriers to build capacity long term. Additionally, I work on amazing teams with talented people at MI and they are a daily driver to keeping me motivated and passionate about the important work we get to do in supporting schools.
Can you share with us an important lesson you’ve learned through your work?
Over the years I have learned so many valuable lessons but one of the most important lessons I have learned is to be flexible and support people where they are standing. All schools want the best for their students and each has different strengths to offer and challenges to face. My job is to help them recognize the good talent they already have inside their buildings and help them leverage that to address the barriers and move the needle for success for all stakeholders; from the bus driver to school and district leaders.
Of the books you’ve read in the past year, which made the biggest impression on you, and why?
Recently I read The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. This book spoke about the importance of surfacing and supporting the talent from within to reach your goals. Two key lessons I gained from this book were the power of local talent and the importance of cognitive diversity among key stakeholders. Often we look outside to solve our problems yet often there is hidden local talent. Building trusting relationships with your team members allows you to recognize and lift up that local talent. Second, when we approach solving problems it is important to have the right cognitive diversity at the table which calls for various stakeholders that can share an important vantage point of the problem you seek to solve. Too often we do not include key stakeholders that are directly connected to the problems we seek to solve, such as bus drivers, custodians, and front office staff. They see things we sometimes do not as teachers and leaders. Involving all the important voices at the table is critical to understanding the theory of the problem before taking action.
We all have “life goals” - things we’d like to accomplish someday. What is one of yours?
Currently, I am working on completing a doctoral degree in educational theory and practice. Right now that feels like a big life goal to me. In my time as a doctoral student, I have learned from so many esteemed scholars about ways to support schools and districts by putting people first and using the venue of research to hear the voices of all stakeholders. I am eager to continue my work in school improvement at MI to use the tools I have acquired to support students, staff, administrators, and parents through the process of making change work and sustain through effective implementation. My life goal in my work is to keep learning how to improve my craft to build the brightest future possible for students and all those that support them on their journey.