August 16, 2023 | By Dr. Khalil Graham
I’m so excited to share the first edition of my monthly newsletter that I have named “Stories from the Stoop.” Growing up, I spent a lot of time hanging out with my beloved grandmother on her stoop, where she told stories, offered practical wisdom, told family history, and in many ways big and small, showed me how much she cared about me. That’s the point of this newsletter. Each month, I will use this newsletter to elevate our core values and celebrate the amazing people in our Kairos school community.
Fall may seem far away, but the NFL season is nearly upon us. It’s the preseason, which means coaches are preparing their team with a battery of drills for the grinding season ahead. But before the full team comes together, most teams host “rookie camps” as a way to orient all the new players to the unique culture and systems of the team.
At Kairos, we do something similar, only we call it “New Staff Academy” and, instead of discussing defensive schemes and conditioning programs, we discuss the mission and vision of Kairos Academies and our unique approach to teaching and learning.
Across all industries, the best organizations are intentional about creating opportunities for new employees to get comfortable before the real work begins. I first experienced a weeklong orientation for new staff as a Dean of Students at YES Prep Public Schools, an award-winning charter school network in Houston. On the first day, I discovered that an old high school football teammate was also at Yes Prep. We reconnected immediately and forged a bond that lasted the course of the entire school year, serving as each other’s support system, bouncing around ideas, and becoming those workplace confidantes that every educator needs to sustain the physical and emotional energy to be successful. As someone who played competitive football in both high school and college, I understood deeply the importance of having a teammate who always has your back.
I resolved to introduce a “rookie camp” to any school I led, and that’s exactly what I did this summer at Kairos. The goal of New Staff Academy is threefold:
Building Relationships: We strive for Kairos to be a trusting community, where teachers come to school every day highly motivated and connected to each other and to our mission. It’s really helpful when educators can begin forging relationships with each other before the frenzied pace of the school year begins. We are proud that based on survey results from last year, 87% of our staff agreed with the statement “people care about each other here” and 89% believe “my work has special meaning and is not just a job.”
Ensure a Strong Start: Time is one of the most precious resources in education. In order to meet our ambitious goals for our students, we don’t have the luxury of slowly easing our way into the school year. We want learning to begin immediately on day one, which requires a lot of careful planning over the summer months. Over half of the total sessions in the training were devoted to curriculum and instructional strategies to improve student achievement starting on day one.
Prioritize Student Success: A teacher is way more than a deliverer of academic content–they are coaches, mentors, and role models. Being able to forge positive, meaningful relationships with students is a skill that can be taught like anything else. We use the New Staff Academy to teach our teachers how to have high self-awareness and awareness of others in order to navigate the complex emotions inherent in working with young people. More than 95% of new staff surveyed after the orientation reported that the sessions effectively prepared them and helped build positive relationships with their team.
As I reflect on this year’s “rookie class” of Kairos Academies educators, I’m struck by how our diverse team is learning to work across lines of difference in order to enrich the lives of our students. Our teachers come from a wide range of backgrounds, but are united in their understanding of Kairos’ unique culture. Allow me to introduce three of them to you:
Jason Kennedy always thought he’d end up as a teacher. After all, in high school, he was president of his school’s chapter of the Future Teachers of America. But he wanted to have other life experiences first. So after college, he pursued jobs in marketing and restaurant management. The call to fulfill his destiny as a teacher came earlier than expected, which he attributed to not feeling fulfilled in business roles. He had a strong desire to serve as a role model for students from the same part of St. Louis where he grew up because he himself didn’t have a Black male teacher until middle school. He got a job as a TA in an elementary school and enrolled in an alternative certification program. His mentor told him about Kairos, and he’s been really impressed by our school’s emphasis on student agency and the concept of helping students fail productively. “I’m excited to grow as a teacher while my students grow as learners,” he said.
Janell Anthony has been an educator since 2016. She played college basketball and, upon graduating, returned to her high school alma mater to coach and substitute teach. She immediately fell in love with teaching and went back to school to get her Masters degree. After several years as a science teacher in a nearby St. Louis high school, she is thrilled to join the Kairos team as our high school biology teacher. In her previous job, she felt she was thrown into the classroom with little preparation. So far, she says she’s been really surprised by the quality of the professional development and impressed that she’s been hearing directly from network-level leaders and administrators.
Ariana Martineau comes to us after two years at another charter school. The school was not the right fit and she was prepared to leave the teaching profession entirely and give up on what she described as her “lifelong dream to be a career educator.” While browsing on LinkedIn for a new position, she was contacted by Principal Patel and agreed to have an initial informational interview and school tour. On the tour, she was so blown away by the positive culture she saw that she not only decided to come to Kairos, she recruited another teaching friend to join her! What surprised her most about New Staff Academy was our honesty and transparency about our data. She was grateful to get such a thorough overview of Kairos’ attendance, growth, and test scores.
These three teachers with three very different backgrounds are all united by a belief in a school that empowers students to direct their own lives and learning.
These are just three of the many stories I could share about our awesome educators. I can’t wait for our students to meet them and for our upcoming “season” to begin.