Brancato, a member of the UFT’s Teachers Assigned Chapter, supports 24 teacher leaders — new positions created in the 2014 UFT-DOE contract — in 11 schools in Brooklyn’s District 14.
How did you come to take on this role?
I started out teaching English as a new language in elementary school and then social studies at International HS at Lafayette. As a grade team leader at International HS, I learned that you can lead from any seat. I had no interest in becoming an administrator, and I liked the idea of teachers being able to support each other and stay connected to the classroom and to students. So when the 2014 UFT-DOE contract created formal teacher leadership roles, I applied for one of those positions and was selected to be a teacher team leader. All my schools are now concentrated in the same district and I’ve been able to work closely with the superintendent to facilitate a teacher leadership community. The work is really successful when there’s a localized vision.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I visit each of my schools about every two to three weeks for the day to meet with each teacher leader one-on-one for individual coaching sessions. During sessions, we focus on the five areas of instructional leadership: the vision for the school, professional learning, shared leadership, data-driven instruction and school culture. I might be debriefing a classroom visit, troubleshooting challenging situations or helping to come up with an action plan for professional learning at the school level. Often my job is to model the processes teacher leaders might go through when coaching their colleagues.
How has your role evolved since the position was created?
A big part of the work at the beginning is taking stock of the needs of the school community and seeing where students and teachers need additional support. When I first come to a school, I do a lot of listening to get a sense of what their vision is. Three years ago, we were working on things like starting classroom inter-visitations and setting up professional learning committees. Now teacher leaders have grown into their roles and don’t need those logistics as much. We can dig more deeply into the impact of their work. Teacher leaders tend to wear a lot of hats in their schools, but they do best when they have a clear instructional focus for their work.
Are there common themes across schools in the type of coaching you do with teacher leaders?
One of our main philosophies is that teachers are placed in teacher leader positions because they are strong practitioners. We call our teacher leaders “lead learners” because they’re willing to be vulnerable, take risks and try new things with students and invite others into their classrooms. There’s professional learning that we bring to schools to make sure that teacher leaders have the chance to explore that reflective mindset and facilitate nonevaluative coaching.
How do you stay connected with other teacher team leaders?
There are 17 of us citywide, and we meet every Friday to continue our own professional learning, explore texts, design the professional learning that we bring to teachers and conduct our own inquiry projects. One big tenet of the program is that we learn the work by doing the work, so we will sometimes shadow each other in the field as well.
How have you adjusted to being out of the classroom?
There are definitely ups and downs. Since my first year as a teacher team leader, I’ve worked across the city in different schools and I’ve been exposed to a lot of different practices and different ways of supporting teachers and students. I like to help teachers cross-pollinate ideas, which can be as simple as telling them, “This is what’s happening in other schools, you should try this idea.” On the flip side, the main philosophy of the program is that teachers should be career educators. Things change so quickly that it’s challenging to have stepped out of the classroom. Often teachers reference a new curriculum that’s trendy or an acronym that wasn’t around when I was a teacher. My favorite part of my job is being in classrooms and seeing students. That’s what keeps me grounded.