Meet Michal-Anne Fox, Co-Principal at Explore Charter School
How did you discover Explore?
A former colleague of mine was working at Explore and I had been talking to him for some time. I was brought on as a Recruitment Manager at Explore and started by focusing on how to align that process with what we wanted to get out of teachers in the classroom. Then I moved into the Academic Director role at Explore Charter School.
From the beginning, there were so many things I loved about the network. I saw that Explore was a charter that was thinking thoughtfully about growth, and I was excited to be in a particular community in central Brooklyn with a group of folks who were thinking about how to best serve the needs of the community and its children.
How is Explore Schools different from other schools?
We give teachers the opportunity to practice lessons. As a teacher, I never had that experience. If I had, I would have been a much better teacher. In looking at a lesson objective, we work with teachers on finding the best way to explain a concept to a child. We ask ourselves, “Have I thought through how I want a student to be able to do this?” Doing this as a teacher and then as a leader has been transformative and it’s changed the way I look at a lesson objective and think about it. It’s changed how I explain and demonstrate to a teacher how to model for a child. The difference is in the amount of time we spend talking about instruction and how to make a lesson that’s been planned (but not executed) an even better one. I know that’s not happening at other schools and I believe it has positively impacted our student outcomes.
Tell me about your day-to-day at Explore:
A great day for me is one where I am spending the majority of my time observing instruction and talking to teachers about their lessons before and after they’ve taught them. That’s the best kind of day – sitting down with a teacher, talking about the choices they made during their lesson, and then practicing and revising the actions the teacher took. Through debriefing these choices, that teacher ultimately ends up with a much better lesson than earlier planned/executed. My ideal day would be spending most of my time doing that and getting a chance to watch lessons that we’ve already talked about because I love getting to watch kids learn!
What’s your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part is seeing the Aha! moment for a child when I have figured out the way to say something as clearly as possible so that the child understands it. It’s the same with watching teacher development. It’s an extended process but watching a teacher think through his or her lesson, teach/practice it several times and then realize it’s much, much better, is great. I love seeing their confidence grow and when they say things like, “I never thought about it in that way, and I can’t wait to teach this – it’s going to be so much more engaging!” That’s what I get most excited about.
What has been your biggest challenge?
School leaders often have to make serious and heavy decisions. There are so many situations where you need to look at all facets and nuances of a solution to ultimately decide whether it’s the best one. Things are rarely cut and dry. It’s about thinking carefully and critically about what’s important. You have to keep the big picture in mind, and you have to commit to your decisions. That’s been challenging at times.
What should future Explore Schools leaders know?
The hardest part of the work we do is that we still work in a school, where things come up that are out of our control. The best teachers have a really reasonable understanding of what’s in their control and are solutions-oriented when things pop up. There are always opportunities for things to not go as we planned, and there are a number of internal/external pressures that impact our kids’ ability to learn. We need solutions-oriented people who will hold kids to high expectations. Every day is a new day and challenges come up, so you learn that you have to be flexible.
Something that brightened your day this past year:
I was working very closely with a teacher and she was telling me about how her lesson planning practice had changed. She told me, “I thought about the teach-back work we did and as I was writing something, I stopped myself and said, there’s no way a kid will understand what I’m saying! I stopped what I was doing and tried again.” I know that her response was a direct result of the work we did on lesson planning together – it was impactful.
What is your most memorable experience from when you were in school?
In fourth grade, I had a lead role in a play about the trail of tears. It was the first time I had learned about such a horrible human rights atrocity, and it changed the way I think. It made me think that I would love to work in the field of social justice. I wanted to impact a group of people in a positive way.