Jacory Bernard and Nefertiti Singleton of Fulton County Schools talk about their experience working together on instructional planning for Parklane Elementary School's mathematics instruction.

Jacory Bernard and Nefertiti Singleton in Classroom Conversations

Jacory Bernard and Nefertiti Singleton of Fulton County Schools talk about their experience working together on instructional planning for Parklane Elementary School's mathematics instruction.



Ashley Mengwasser: Hello again. Thanks for stopping by. This is Classroom Conversations, the platform for Georgia's teachers. This podcast community is a place for educators to share and learn. I'm Ashley Mengwasser, your host. If you landed here by mistake, well, maybe tailor-made educator enrichment content is your cup of tea. Who knows? I once developed an odd habit of buying poetry books at airports for a while. It's a time I remember fondly. You found this series or this series found you. Who cares? Thanks to the combined resources and creativity of the Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Public Broadcasting, GPB. I'm sitting in the talk studio at GPB Studios in Atlanta, and I am not alone. I don't mean that existentially. I know that's true. I am physically joined by two guests, and I plan to introduce them in short order. But you guys, the planner in me has been filled with anticipation of this episode. My visionary mind will be listening with rapt attention. I may actually die and go to the type A personality section of heaven because we're about to wade into the crystal clear for miles waters known as instructional planning. Yeah, baby. Today's episode is about getting the most out of instructional planning. Instructional planning is really a goals thing. It's about planning both what students will learn and how they will learn it. My guests today are co-teachers who would describe their working relationship as big sis, little bro. In a nutshell, they're very close. From Parklane Elementary School in East Point, Georgia, in the Fulton County School District. I'm happy to have fourth grade math teacher, Jacory Bernard, and K through 5 math coach, Nefertiti Singleton. Welcome to the podcast, you guys.

Jacory Bernard: Thanks for having us.

Nefertiti Singleton: Thanks, Ashley.

Ashley Mengwasser: I saw you smiling and chuckling in there. Are you excited?

Jacory Bernard: I am.

Ashley Mengwasser: You ready to rumble?

Jacory Bernard: Yeah.

Nefertiti Singleton: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Me and my type A babies. Tell me about your roles at Parklane Elementary. You go first, Jacory.

Jacory Bernard: Well, I serve as a fourth-grade departmentalized math teacher. So I'm responsible for instruction of all of our fourth graders as it relates to math.

Ashley Mengwasser: And Nefertiti.

Nefertiti Singleton: Hi. I am the school improvement coach for math. I service grades K through 5.

Ashley Mengwasser: K through 5.

Nefertiti Singleton: All teachers.

Ashley Mengwasser: And he's in fourth. You guys are covering the full spectrum there of that elementary school. I'm sure you were relieved that we did a little bit of planning for this podcast episode. It's on theme as it should be. I just have to know, were both of you always the planning type or is that something you learned as part of the teacher job description? Jacory?

Jacory Bernard: To be very honest, I think my level of intention when it comes to planning grew tremendously under the mentorship of my coach, Nefertiti. I always had an intention of wanting to be a great planner, but it just never came to fruition, but she provided a lot of good structure that showed me how to be an effective planner. And I've been able to implement some things that have been successful.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. Okay. What about you, Nefertiti? Did you always think of yourself as a planner?

Nefertiti Singleton: Yes. I am a planner by nature. Not always a good thing, depending on what area you're talking about.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's what I was talking about. Exactly.

Nefertiti Singleton: But yes, when it comes to instruction, the structure and the knowhow has always been my drive. So I have to take that intentionally. So yes, planning is definitely something I keep on my radar.

Ashley Mengwasser: Someone said the words "clipboard personality" when we first spoke. Explain more.

Nefertiti Singleton: That would be me. I don't know if you guys ever done have ever done the different personality surveys that kind of tells you what type of person you are. I've done one before and it said that planners are people that are very driven and straightforward or need to know all the details. We're clipboard personalities.

Ashley Mengwasser: Personalities. Jacory, have you taken this personality test?

Jacory Bernard: I have not taken the personality test, but I'm slowly turning into one of those.

Ashley Mengwasser: All right. I should have brought a clipboard for this episode. And how do you guys address each other just between yourselves? You got some cool nicknames going on. Tell me about that.

Jacory Bernard: Well, I mean, in the building, I call her Singleton.

Ashley Mengwasser: Last name first, right?

Jacory Bernard: Yeah.

Nefertiti Singleton: And Bernard.

Ashley Mengwasser: And Bernard. You guys need jerseys, I think, with your names on it.

Jacory Bernard: Oh, that would be amazing.

Ashley Mengwasser: Really do that. Please do that. Do you remember the moment each of you decided to become an educator?

Jacory Bernard: Yeah. Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. Tell me about it.

Jacory Bernard: I think for me, it was transitioning during my undergraduate journey. I went into undergrad as a CTEMS major. It was cinema, television, and emerging media studies.

Ashley Mengwasser: My people.

Jacory Bernard: Yes, yes. And as much as I saw the joy I had for it, my passion just wasn't all the way there and I wanted to be intentional in what I pursued. So at the same time, I was a part of an afterschool program. And that was just my baby. I was in love with nurturing students and providing that enrichment after school and it made sense. And through student teaching, I fell in love with it, the students and just the community that schools create. It's a powerful environment.

Ashley Mengwasser: And a teacher was born. What about you, Nefertiti?

Nefertiti Singleton: Unlike Jacory, I did not know that I wanted to be a teacher. But my mom, hi mom, she did. She used to tell me from when I was very young that I would teach to my teddy bears and then I would teach my sister. She just kind of always knew. It was something that came to me a little bit later. In high school, I took a computer science class because I wanted to do computer science. That was until my best friend had to do all my work for me and it became very clear to me that that was not the track.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's why I failed out computers too.

Nefertiti Singleton: Yeah. As a student at the University of West Georgia, I just decided that teaching just felt right. I had some conversations with other friends that were going into education and that was my sweet spot and it really came out to be.

Ashley Mengwasser: Well, you are making it happen at Parklane Elementary school both of you together co-teaching. Your dynamic is wonderful. We're going to hear more about it shortly. Tell me each one fact about your elementary school. What's it like over there at Parklane?

Nefertiti Singleton: Parklane is a community school. It sits right in the middle of a neighborhood. It's small and quaint. Very family-oriented. And it's just an opportunity where people get to come and thrive in the way they feel best. I feel like all stakeholders have an opportunity to do what we need to do what's best for children.

Jacory Bernard: Also, the thing that inspires me the most about our school is the fact that nearly a 100% of our students are considered low SCC, socioeconomic status, but they're so courageous. They're so resilient. They're so brave and so bold. And as an educator, it empowers me and it inspires me to be my best teacher because they come to school every day with drive that you'd ask how or why considering some of the circumstance.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's powerful. I'd love to meet your kids sometime. They sound awesome.

Jacory Bernard: They'd love to meet you. I promise.

Ashley Mengwasser: I bet. Next time you have to bring them along. Well, my task masters, let's unite over something. I have five teacher tasks written down here before me and I want you to rank them from your most to least favorite just so I get a feel of what you like to do. You can write them down or type them up on your phones if that helps. And our educator listeners, you guys can self-evaluate on this too, but here are the five tasks and you're ranking them from most favorite to least. Ready? First is planning. Then we have instruction, grading, classroom management, and fifth, researching new teaching methods. Jacory, you first.

Jacory Bernard: Okay. So we're listing in order from?

Ashley Mengwasser: Most favorite to least.

Jacory Bernard: Okay. So I'm going to go with classroom management as most favorite. Then we're going to go to instruction. Methods? Researching?

Ashley Mengwasser: Researching new methods.

Jacory Bernard: Researching new methods, planning, and then grading.

Ashley Mengwasser: Grading last. I'm not shocked by that. Why is classroom management first for you?

Jacory Bernard: I think personally when we have opportunity to really empower and inspire students to love the place that they learn in, the process of learning becomes a lot easier. And over the course of my first year as an educator, that was my initial goal was to make sure that my students knew they had a safe space to learn in and that the space was made and created for them. And that took some time. It took some time to build that kind of environment, but it proved to be beneficial.

Ashley Mengwasser: Your turn, Nefertiti. Here are the five. Rank them. Planning, instruction, grading, classroom management, or researching new teaching methods.

Nefertiti Singleton: So, my first pick would be researching new methodology.

Ashley Mengwasser: Really?

Nefertiti Singleton: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay. Coach.

Jacory Bernard: Yeah. Yeah.

Nefertiti Singleton: I would want to say that, right?

Jacory Bernard: Oh yeah, yeah. Perfect. Perfect.

Ashley Mengwasser: I'm surprised by that, but I think I know what you're going to say next.

Nefertiti Singleton: Yes. So instruction is actually next and then planning then classroom management and then grading.

Ashley Mengwasser: Grading at the end. It is necessary, but it is probably not your favorite. I get that. Well, I want to hear more about your dynamic together in the classroom. How do you two build your working relationship as teacher and coach? Nef, you first.

Nefertiti Singleton: Jacory Bernard, I want to I guess say this because I'm going to get a little emotional, but as a coach, you always want to find people that are coachable because not everyone is. And having an opportunity to work with someone who is very coachable, who is very knowledgeable as well, just makes for a really nice relationship. The building the time and energy that we put into our work is just evident because he is so coachable. So having that dynamic has made us a great team.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's the foundation. Jacory, how did you build your working relationship with Nefertiti?

Jacory Bernard: I think circumstantially, we had an amazing opportunity that I don't think a lot of teachers get because I'm departmentalized and I'm the only fourth grade teacher who teaches math, I get to spend about three hours a week with her straight training and working and preparing. So, it's been an amazing opportunity to really learn some of the things that of course I didn't know from experience and just exposure, but then also to get to try them in an isolated space to see if they'll work, to see if I know and understand what I'm doing and to make those corrections in real time.

Ashley Mengwasser: I want to know how long you guys have been at it because Jacory is new. That's the point, right?

Jacory Bernard: So, this is year one. I just completed my first year and it was a great year. I've learned so much and I think that's been the best part of the process is not only being able to teach, but to learn through it and to be accountable for the things that I've learned.

Ashley Mengwasser: So, this is going to be year two for you.

Jacory Bernard: Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: All right. And what about you, Nef?

Nefertiti Singleton: I just completed year 20 of education. But my second year as a coach.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay. Got it.

Nefertiti Singleton: My second full year.

Ashley Mengwasser: Well Nef, would you take us through how your coaching process works to support the math teachers at Parklane Elementary?

Nefertiti Singleton: The coaching process is not a one size fit all. So you definitely have to build relationships first. You have to kind of get to know what each teacher needs and wants from you. Whatever that support looks like needs to look different, just like you would differentiate for your students. Once you know what that support looks like. Then you can kind of decide where you can be inserted or what they need from you. At that point, you're able to move forward with planning effectively having the opportunity to support them in the areas that they need so that it doesn't become something that you just give to everyone. So that piece is nice. Just being able to really understand skill and will from different teachers, making observations so that you can see maybe some of the things that they don't see and then be able to dig in so that you both win.

Ashley Mengwasser: And logistically, Jacory said he spends three hours a week with you. Do you spend that much time with every math teacher?

Nefertiti Singleton: I don't. We have PLCs at our school, which are Professional Learning Communities. Once a week we have 90 minutes to have some instructional planning and collaboration time. And I just happen to be one of the support staff for the fourth grade team, which just made it really a good opportunity to dig in deeper with Jacory because they were departmentalized. So him and I did have that-

Ashley Mengwasser: That extra block and time

Nefertiti Singleton: Extra time. Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Well, let's talk about in practice. How do you implement what you have planned in the classroom? And I want to hear as part of that, if you're always co-teaching together or trading off. Tell me about how it works in practice.

Jacory Bernard: So, I think a lot of times it comes, or it's birthed out of that PLC time, really honing in on the different strategies and methods of implementing new concepts and skills in a differentiated way. Literally, I remember countless times us being in what we call our mathletes room and me going up to the board and modeling before my coach, those different strategies and skills, and then being able to do it in the class in real time. We had an experiment that we did with a walkie talkie where she would be in the back of the classroom with a mic in and her walkie and I would be in the front teaching with a mic in as well, so that she could provide real time feedback, and I would kind of listen, take a brief pause and make a correction. But it's real time feedback and it allows me to address the things that may have been misconceptions or things that the students may have not gotten.

Ashley Mengwasser: I can see why that would be effective because you're addressing it in the moment when it's happening so it's easier for you to make a correction then when you notice the behavior or the change that you need to make. Very cool. Where'd you get that idea, Nef?

Nefertiti Singleton: I actually got it from another math coach that was doing it at her school. And we ran a meeting and she was speaking about it. And I was like, "I want to try that." But I knew that it could come off a little intrusive for some people. Because of Jacory and I's relationship, I just knew that he would probably be a great person to pilot it with and he was. We just kind of took it and ran with it and it worked really well.

Ashley Mengwasser: What sort of things might you say to Jacory through his walkie-talkie? Can you give us an example?

Nefertiti Singleton: Let's say if he was going over a math problem and there was a different term that could have been needed to maybe further explain what something meant or a different direction or another type of way to get the problem out. I could just say, "Well, instead of saying walk around, it could be perimeter." Or say whatever the thing is that we were talking about. It gave kind of emphasis on, "Well, say this too."

Ashley Mengwasser: The math terms.

Nefertiti Singleton: The math terms, the way to work something out.

Jacory Bernard: I remember one specifically in terms of teaching shapes during our geometry unit, you have the opportunity to teach the shapes based on their attributes. But sometimes I may have forgotten an attribute or one, and she might have said, "Don't forget it has parallel lines, parallel lines, perpendicular lines."

Ashley Mengwasser: There you go.

Jacory Bernard: Acute angles. So things like that.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love a cute angle. Yeah. Nefertiti, how do you keep the teacher Jacory in the room through instructional planning?

Nefertiti Singleton: I've told Jacory before. I've said that our relationship and him being a person that I've support is somewhat of an anomaly because I never really had to keep him in the room. And a coach would love that. Whoever is going to be the person they're working with the most, you want them to feel comfortable. You want them to feel like they have a safe space. And I feel like because we created that for each other, we always were very attentive and very intentional about what we wanted and what we needed in the moment. So I never had to figure out where he was or where things were going. Sometimes we would get off track and kind of have side conversations about things, but it would always still kind of circle back into the work.

Ashley Mengwasser: So, your answer is you don't feel like you had to keep him in the room.

Nefertiti Singleton: He was there. He was present.

Ashley Mengwasser: He was present. And once the planning is done, Jacory, with Nef here, if she's modeling a lesson, what is your role as teacher if she's doing the modeling?

Jacory Bernard: To really pay close attention and to take some kind of anecdotal notes just so that I can make sure that when I circle back, that I'm very cognizant and aware of the specific things that were done during that lesson so that I can implement it as well, but really just paying attention to not only her and how she delivers, but if it's in front of the students, how the students are responding.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right. You're looking for their real time feedback too. Just like you want hers.

Jacory Bernard: Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: So, you have a bit of a dance. You have some choreography going on. What kind of cues do you guys give each other? I'm just going to take us through an example. Let's say you've mapped out the curriculum, you know your plan for that day. You're teaching X. Where do you hand it off? What do you do?

Nefertiti Singleton: I think because we've worked so much together, we know just nonverbal cues and gestures. People tell me my eyes kind of tell everything so I could get wide eyed about something that is good or something I would like to interject or something I'd like to say. I've kind of been one of those kind of take over coaches. I'm working on it.

Jacory Bernard: Yeah. But I think to her point, it's been helpful. There have been times in which maybe there were certain pieces of feedback that I didn't quite understand in real time. And there are faces that I can make and she'll know and she in her conciseness will find a way to not intrusively, but come into the situation and kind of support to help make it make sense. Not only for the students, but for me sometimes. So that's been helpful. Those facial expressions help just like the students.

Ashley Mengwasser: To help you reach your teaching objective.

Jacory Bernard: Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: And I like thinking about the students. Let's transition to them. How do you plan for student engagement and for different types of learners?

Jacory Bernard: I think really, it's a foundational thing. First of all, it took some work from the beginning to actually learn my students. I understood that I could not provide a unique experience to my students if I didn't know their uniqueness, if I didn't know their struggles, if I didn't know their strengths. So it really was from the beginning, finding out who they were personally and their strengths and struggles as it related to the content. And from there, we were able to make differentiated groups based on strengths and weaknesses so that the instruction could support our students' individual needs and not just teach to a whole crowd of students.

Ashley Mengwasser: You created subgroups.

Jacory Bernard: Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: How do you plan for student engagement, Nefertiti?

Nefertiti Singleton: Because I'm not actively in the classroom like the teachers, because I'm going from class to class, I try to do some school wide things that kind of help with student engagement as well. For instance, this year numeracy, in fact, basic facts, fluency was a big push. So we did a program where all of the students got to participate and they know me. I've been the math lady, the cheerleader, the coach. So I get them kind of involved with other things from me, not being directly in the class with them, but being able to have platforms in which they can see me in with them doing the work. So it just helps for a good time for competition, engagement with everyone so that we can get some grade level competition going on, but it gives an opportunity for them to see it.

Ashley Mengwasser: So, you use competition as a means to engage your students while teaching them?

Jacory Bernard: All the time.

Ashley Mengwasser: Can you give me an example?

Jacory Bernard: So, for example, in class we use different software or online programs like quizzes to implement games and challenges. And oh my goodness.

Ashley Mengwasser: They love that.

Jacory Bernard: They love it. They love it. They melt. I love to see it. I really do because it makes learning come alive to them and I just watch them. And sometimes I laugh to myself because I'm like, they're having so much fun right there.

Ashley Mengwasser: They don't even know they're learning.

Jacory Bernard: They don't.

Ashley Mengwasser: They're just engaged.

Jacory Bernard: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Isn't that the goal of the best teachers it is just to carry them along with you? Well, this is going to be your favorite, Nef, because you said at the beginning that this is your favorite teacher task, but how do you stay current on effective research based mathematics teaching practices? You first, Nefertiti.

Nefertiti Singleton: I think it's very important as a coach or someone in support of other people that you know what you're doing, what you're talking about. I have taken pride in building my professional learning network so that I'm able to kind of stay in the know with current trends and education, not just math, but just around the bend so that we can understand how and what we do. If I don't know, I can't fully support my teachers. So I may go outside of the district and talk to other math support people. I attend conferences. I like to have just casual conversations with other coaches so that we can just stay abreast of what's really going on so that I can best support the people that need me.

Ashley Mengwasser: How do you stay abreast, Jacory?

Jacory Bernard: During my first-year readjusting to all that teaching really is.

Ashley Mengwasser: And it requires.

Jacory Bernard: Yes, and it requires. I have relied heavily upon my coach and she has provided me with so many different strategies and methods to deliver effective content. And it's been great. It's been really great.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love to hear that. In your expert opinions, what does it take to create a workable climate for all students, teachers, coach, administrators. What is your feedback?

Jacory Bernard: If I could say it in one word right now, I'm going to say compassion. It sounds so simplistic, but when we take the time to actually understand where our students are and where the staff and faculty in the building are at that current moment, it helps us to have a little bit more grace. It is very challenging in most schools and in most school environments when you're dealing with so many different personalities and so many different circumstances and situations. But I often remember that I myself go through things that can sometimes be discouraging and overwhelming. So if I can be empathetic with my students and my colleagues, that helps me to ensure that community is being created and it's a safe space.

Ashley Mengwasser: What about you, Nefertiti?

Nefertiti Singleton: I would say trust. Definitely trust. Trusting the process, trusting the people in the work with you, trusting the support. All stakeholders need an opportunity to feel like they can give trust or can be trusted. So when building relationships, that's the first thing. You kind of got to take down walls for people that may not feel so approachable or people that may not know or want to know. And sometimes that's not easy. So I think building the relationships and then establishing trust is definitely a part of it.

Ashley Mengwasser: For all the players, from the administrators down to the students, receiving the instruction. How do they take you being in the class when he's teaching? What do they think of it?

Nefertiti Singleton: I think they like it. I try to come in and do different things to get them kind of riled up and get them interested about math and learning particularly. But we also are very honest and open with each other. So if Jacory is out for whatever reason or any teacher in the building, we're there to support as coaches. So I don't want them to not know. So if somebody is out or something happened, then I'm going to insert myself and come in and I'm going to teach and we're going to keep the ball rolling because we don't have any time to waste.

Ashley Mengwasser: And to your point of trust, they've seen you, they know your methods, they trust you. You've been around.

Nefertiti Singleton: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's a really good approach. And let's enrich teachers toolboxes. Can each of you share one of your best practices for your role as coach and teacher that will help our teachers out there get the most out of their instructional planning?

Jacory Bernard: I think gamifying the instruction helps tremendously. When I think about how students entertain themselves or find fun outside of school, oftentimes it's through games. It's through that kind of entertainment. So being able to bring that into the classroom and make it a part of the learning, it's bridging the gap. So it's not this separate world of dimension, but kind of bringing them together so that it's effective and it's fun. I think what it does is it transforms the environment where sometimes used to having students sit behind desk or on a carpet and they pay attention and they do what they're asked to do. But when you kind of switch it up, it becomes a game. It becomes something fun. And that gives them some type of spontaneity. That was my goal this year to have spontaneity in the classroom. So that every day they came in, it was something different, another experience. They were looking like, what are you going to do today? What are we doing today? So it wasn't a daunting task of coming to school, but more so an exciting joy of something new.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right. Spontaneity, some might think that that's at odds with planning. There's this quote I love. I adore spontaneity as long as it's carefully planned. And that's what you're doing. You're carefully planning the excitement for them.

Jacory Bernard: Yeah. And that's the work we've done when you're very confident on the material and how to deliver it in different ways, then you can kind of bend it and twist it to make it make sense.

Nefertiti Singleton: He does well, and healthy competition doesn't mean that you're necessarily going against someone else. It can be you against you. Where we started, where we're ending, this is where we are now. So I like that because a lot of the competition comes off personalized so they don't have to feel like they're up against someone else.

Ashley Mengwasser: Exactly. What is one of your best practices as coach for instructional planning?

Nefertiti Singleton: Building safe practice. As a coach, as a teacher, having an opportunity to rehearse in front of someone because you get up in front of students, sometimes you think you have it together and it just may not be. Pieces may fall apart. There may be gaps. So just building in time for safe practice, whether it's with a coach, whether it's with another teammate, just having an opportunity to have a dress rehearsal, especially for something you don't know or haven't done yet.

Ashley Mengwasser: So, you actually do a walkthrough before you go and implement that part. That makes a lot of sense. I like it. Let's end with this, you two. What are you planning for in Jacory's classroom right now?

Nefertiti Singleton: Planning for I guess more of what we're doing now. More effective instruction, more planning, more opportunities to grow and learn with the students, with each other. Just opportunities to continue the learning, I think. Because there's no end. We don't reach a destination and say, "Okay, we've got it. It's done."

Ashley Mengwasser: It never ends.

Nefertiti Singleton: We just keep going. So that part is just nice to continue to think about what else can we do? What can we do different? What can we now put on and try on for size?

Ashley Mengwasser: That's right. Two for you. What are you planning for?

Jacory Bernard: It's been the same for a long time for me. My passion is in people. So having an environment where the kids actually want to be and it's comfortable. It's something they look forward to. If I can make that the reality for 100% of my kids, then the educating comes easy because they're sitting, pencils ready, eager, and excited to learn.

Ashley Mengwasser: Thank you, Nefertiti Singleton and Jacory Bernard.

Jacory Bernard: Of course.

Ashley Mengwasser: I appreciate you being here. May your plans prevail.

Jacory Bernard: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: And you told me Parklane Elementary has a core theme this year linking the right elements for success. And I would consider the two of you linked right elements.

Jacory Bernard: Thank you.

Nefertiti Singleton: Thanks.

Ashley Mengwasser: You go tell your principal that. I'm Ashley Mengwasser. It's always a pleasure planning and presenting these episodes for you. We'll end with our core theme on this podcast, you're a great teacher. Talk next week. Bye-bye. Funding for Classroom Conversations is made possible through the School Climate Transformation grant.