PAUSD Superintendent's Newsletter Palo Alto Unified School District

Hidden Gems:

Elementary TOSAs

Joanne Conner working with teacher Christina Pottorff

One of PAUSD's greatest strengths is our ongoing commitment to the professional development of our teaching staff.  Did you know that we have five individuals working solely to support our elementary teachers?  These folks are our "TOSAs" (Teachers on Special Assignment), and they are some of the unseen heroes in our district, working to help classroom teachers solve problems, share best practices, and generally be the best teachers they can be for our students.  Kelly Bikle and Mathew Lindner are Literacy Coaches, Joanne Conner and Anna Kearney are Math Coaches, and Katie Kinnaman is both a Math and Science Coach.  All former classroom teachers, these individuals bring professional development and best practices directly to our elementary teachers, making a true difference in each and every child's experience of learning.

Says TOSA Joanne Conner, "I am amazed that teachers, in the craziness of their daily tasks and routines, continue to push themselves out of their comfort zone and try new things and take the time to reflect with me.  I love watching them see the immediate impact their learning has on their students' learning."

So what do TOSAs do, exactly?  They provide coaching support in literacy, math and science, with an emphasis on closing the achievement gap and differentiating instruction to meet the needs of a range of learners.  They design professional learning opportunities for our teachers, including training for new teachers.  They manage grants related to elementary math and science.  They support the smooth transition between elementary and middle school teachers in the areas of math and science.  They stay current with research and best practices.  In short, they make sure our teachers have the support, resources and guidance they need to effectively engage all learners.

Examples of some of the work our TOSAs do include full-day coaching with individual teachers on literacy and math; working with grade-level teams on assessment scoring and small group formation; modeling a read-aloud assessment gathering procedure with a fourth-grade teacher; modeling lessons using small-group instruction; helping a teacher with tech integration; meeting with a teacher and principal to discuss enrichment opportunities in math; demonstrating a number talk in an upper-grade classroom; and conducting observation and feedback cycles around small-group instruction in a third-grade classroom.

TOSA Katie Kinnaman stresses that sometimes teaching can be a lonely job.  Elementary teachers often simply don't have time to reach out to colleagues for best practices or to educate themselves on the latest research.  The work of our TOSAs means that no teacher has to go it alone.  "I try to do some of the 'behind-the-scenes' work for teachers -- like finding resources or researching best practices, but the teachers are really the ones who bring that to life for the students," Katie says.  "My job is to take that learning from one classroom or one school to another so that all our teachers and students can benefit."

Feedback from teachers is uniformly positive: 

"I tried math centers with the kids today and it was a HUGE SUCCESS!  Just wanted to say thank you for meeting with us to get the ball rolling…"

"The first time you came in I was able to observe how you did small groups.  It helped me see that I don't have to spend a super long time prepping materials for the groups.  It changed how I run small groups here."

"I think the most helpful thing was really just watching how you ran MARS practicing in the book.  It gave me a few ideas, but it also was nice to see that I was doing it similarly."

"When TOSAs come into my learning environment…I realize what a lucky group of teachers we are in this district!"

Although you might never see our TOSAs in action, all of our children benefit from the care, dedication and professionalism of this core group of teachers.


© 2013. Palo Alto Unified School District.




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