In our series celebrating the amazing endeavors and immense contributions of EdReports educator reviewers, we chat with math educator, Dr. Myeisha Phillips. Myeisha talks about how independent information about the quality of instructional materials can support educators in making the best decisions for their communities and the ways aligned programs are so valuable to new teachers.

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Jess Barrow  00:07

Hi, I’m Jess Barrow and this is the EdVoices Podcast. Today I’m going to be talking talking with Dr. Myeisha Phillips. She is the Senior Director of School transformation at partnerships for LA schools, elementary math. And she has been a reviewer at EdReports for the past seven years, and we’re going to be speaking with her a little bit about her experience as a reviewer. Hi, Meyisha, thanks so much for joining us. I would love to hear what you have to hear a little bit more about your journey in education as we sort of dive into this conversation.

Dr. Myeisha Phillips  00:42

Absolutely. So I have been in education for over 20 years, I did start out as a teacher, I taught sixth and eighth grade math and science. I was a teacher for almost a decade. From there, I moved into the role of math coach, I’ve been coordinator, I’ve been institute director. And all of that has placed me very closely to math throughout the whole journey. I definitely love math, I love everything about math, I love the student thinking all of those things. Have, you know, brought me to my current role as Senior Director of School transformation for elementary math, where I get to work in a in a nonprofit that supports Los Angeles Unified Schools. So I do support 11 elementary schools, TK through sixth grade is my jam. And I love it.

Jess Barrow  01:47

That’s so awesome. And I’m sure you’re working with just a variety of schools, LA’s a big district. Definitely want to hear more about that as we talk through some different aspects of instructional materials and why they’re so important. But before we get there, I would love to hear a little bit more about what brought you to edreports as a reviewer, sort of When did you come to us? I know you’ve been a reviewer with us for a long time. How did that journey start? And yeah, what really brought you to into being a reviewer?

Dr. Myeisha Phillips 02:21

Yeah, when I started reviewing, I really was seeking out a different type of professional development for myself. For years, I had been growing and I had grown a lot by attending various national conferences, different types of Professional Development Institute’s whether it’d be a three day a week long. And I wanted something at this point in my life that sort of was ongoing and had more of an iterative process, and how I was developing myself. And so it allowed me to engage in professional development where there was more depth. And because of what I felt like I was yearning for at the time, that depth of growth and development is what I was looking for. And so with that, I initially learned about reports, when the schools that I was working with we were transitioning to Common Core State Standards, we have the opportunity to pilot a program within our elementary and middle schools, air reports was one of the resources that we utilize in order to understand the quality of the curriculum. And so when I learned of that, I then went on to look to see, you know, what sort of opportunities did this organization called EdReports offer and I, when I was looking at the website, I found that there were opportunities to be a reviewer. And so at the time, I was overseeing elementary math instruction, and school improvement. And so I did have a direct role in supporting the selection of new materials. And so this allowed me to get professional development and learn from a different lens by engaging with new curriculums that were coming about.

Jess Barrow  04:26

Yeah, that’s, that’s so interesting. So you were really at that transition moment. And because of your role, you knew that new instructional instructional materials were going to be needed for for your school, okay for your district. So you mentioned that you were really yearning for something that was more in depth and a deeper learning around the standards and instructional materials as a way to really give back to your district. Would you mind to reflect a little bit on so that’s what you were looking for? What are some different things you learned from the experience of reviewing math with EdReports?

Dr. Myeisha Phillips 05:05

So training to be a reviewer and the process of reviewing, it provides a very unique opportunity to be grounded in curriculum and instruction from the lens of the planning side, as well as always centering standards and assessment. And so essentially all of the components that you need to be thinking about in terms of providing quality instruction, the review process actually allows you to think deeply about all of those things, as you move through each of the indicators. And you really dig into the curriculum. And so the flow of the lessons, you’re constantly looking at that in an in depth way. And so it just really like broadens your lens around what you’re looking for, and how you’re looking for it. Something else that I just really appreciate it around being a reviewer was the flexibility. And how I was being developed, I was able to participate, kind of on my own schedule with deadlines that we had, it just had to be done by this particular time. And at the time, at that point in my life, when I started reviewing, I did have young kids. And I also wanted to be a mom, but I didn’t want to compromise the learning and growing that I was also seeking to do. And so this particular type of professional development, it provided me with this flexibility that I didn’t always previously feel like I had, in terms of thinking about professional development in a style of I had to be in a certain place at a certain time. And that caused me to like really appreciate feeling like I could do it both. And I didn’t have to compromise one or the other, I could actually handle both at the same time because of the flexibility that the process provides.

Jess Barrow  07:10

You know, as a mother of a three year old, I totally understand this. And as someone who’s always wanting to, yeah, you don’t want to give up the learning and the growing within your own career. And you’re also very devoted to your family. So it’s, it’s can often be a tough balance to strike. So I appreciate that, especially in that moment in time. That’s what you were really looking for. I know we haven’t chatted about this specifically before, but I’m curious, you mentioned sort of looking at the curriculum in depth, all the different components, were there ways in which you thought about instructional materials differently after you’re a reviewer than before you are a reviewer?

Dr. Myeisha Phillips 07:53

One of the things I think that it really allowed me to have attention to was better attention to detail. Because sometimes when you’re looking at a curriculum, because you’re not looking at it through particular lenses, there are things that you might not be thinking of, you might not even have considered before. But because of the structure of the indicators, and how you’re really going deep in all of these areas, and you’re like constantly going back to the curriculum, but each time you’re looking through a different lens, it actually allows you to see more, and ultimately appreciate more about the time that has been placed into the curriculum. And it also helps you to understand better ways to leverage use of curriculum, and not just necessarily if that particular curriculum because of course, you’re not using that curriculum. But just more generally, it helps you to appreciate, like what’s in the curriculum, what it entails, it also helps you to know like, what to look for and where you might look need to be looking for it in order to find it.

Jess Barrow  09:17

We’ve been chatting with a variety of reviewers and so many folks have talked about that about how much how they see curriculum in a new way. And they have a new appreciation for how hard it can be to develop. But it allows them to really have a better idea of what’s quality and what’s not through through this experience. Well, we’ve talked a little bit about sort of what you really gained from the experience and learned. I’m also curious about you know, this is a huge undertaking. You mentioned the number of hours. What are you most proud of in terms of your the contribution as a reviewer and the impact of the teams you’ve worked with as you look back on your time with EdReports?

Dr. Myeisha Phillips 10:06

Yeah, as I think about this, from my perspective of my work on reviews, I definitely take the role of a reviewer extremely seriously. Being a part of a group that is essentially doing quality control to provide very important information that can impact many lives, is something to really handle with care, to have had opportunities to support others to make informed decisions about the curriculum that they are putting in front of children is something that I’m very proud of. And so thinking about how being a reviewer has helped me in my own practice, as I think about my work in education, my work causes me to live across TK through sixth grade all the time. Over time, I’ve been part of K through two teams as a reviewer three through five teams as a reviewer, being the reviewer has really deepened my understanding of the expectations at each of those grade levels. As I think about the curriculum that we use having insights into all of these materials, I have a stronger lens in what is needed in curriculum, for good instruction, just more generally, not specifically tied to any curriculum, there is a baseline of quality, that the work of the reviews helps me to understand. And through this work, I’m able to more sharply assess where strengths are, as well as where gaps might lie. And to see how very quickly certain holes may need to be addressed, because I’m able to assess them more quickly. From an assessment standpoint, being a reviewer has also taught me more about the alignment of the standards to assessment, what does it mean for quality as it relates to assessment to an assessment that is aligned to a curriculum?

Jess Barrow  12:16

That’s something we don’t always talk about. And, you know, even though there, it’s so important, right, like how those assessments are informing you as a teacher or a coach or a principal, like how where students actually are and how you might need to address that within the materials themselves. Yeah, you know, I mean, it’s, I think one of the things I always love talking with you because you bring such a varied, like you said, your work, you live across T K through six all the time, you’re not in one specific area. So you’re seeing so many different aspects of what’s going on with math within a district within a school and wanting to support that and knowing how important materials aren’t our to that process. This is a little bit less about, you know, your experience as a reviewer, but I think it ties in to that and your role in education in the past. And now, you know, why? Why do you think it’s so important for teachers to have access to these high quality materials and support for using these materials?

Dr. Myeisha Phillips 13:26

So one of the things I always think about is like, there needs to be a baseline. And so if a teacher does no more than use the curriculum in front of them, if those materials are high quality, there is a certain baseline that we are ensuring that all students have access to, as I think about schools, more particularly that I serve. Sometimes there are increased numbers of new teachers that are coming into the spaces, some schools at certain points might have a certain level of turnover as all schools experience at certain points in time. And so having something to provide to a brand new teacher that gives them a strong base to start from allows you to have a strong confidence in knowing that the resource the resources teachers are using and what they are providing to students on a daily basis. From a new teacher perspective. They’re so so many things that new teachers are attempting to learn and juggle in their role as a new teacher. They’re learning management, they’re learning routines. They’re learning to teach the standards. They’re learning the demands of the assessment. They have the curriculum that essentially they have to learn as well. And so as we think about that, what I found in working with high quality curriculum is that it allows the building of some of those practices through the lens of the curriculum. As we think about high quality instructional materials, and professional development, and supporting the use of the materials, we think about how it is providing supports, and it is helping to guide the new teachers, just by working with a high quality curriculum. Sometimes teachers capacity is being built, because of the way they are delving into knowing and understanding the curriculum itself. Because it’s high quality, and the alignment it has to the standards, how it’s supporting, meeting the demands of the assessment, how the practice is in pedagogies, that are infused within the curriculum that it is encouraging teachers to utilize, because it’s written into the lesson plans. We’re building capacity when we have high quality curriculum in place.

Jess Barrow  16:05

Yeah, I mean, thanks for highlighting so many of those. I mean, I think one thing we haven’t talked about as much is exactly what you just said that the that the curriculum itself can be a resource to help teachers instruction and to help give them the space and the resources to be the best teacher, that they really can be. This is connected. But, you know, we you’ve highlighted so many ways that high quality instructional materials are vital to support teachers. We know that it isn’t just about, you know, choosing a quality program, but how programs are chosen the process that by which programs are chosen also matters to whether or not they’re used well in the classroom. So much of that is connected to teachers having a very strong role in the process, and you’ve worked at so many different levels, you’ve been a teacher, why do you think it’s so important for teachers to be involved in an materials adoption process?

Dr. Myeisha Phillips 17:10

The two things I think about is number one, buy in. And number two, teacher voice matters. And so as we think about teachers, teachers are the individuals that are experiencing what’s happening in the classroom. If teachers are a part of the selection process, they will be invested in working on and building their practice through the materials, it is important to ask questions, and have the crucial conversation about what is needed. As we think about our school in our district. What is the vision? What are we hoping to accomplish? And do these materials help us to do that collective decision making at the forefront? And if that is on the front end of the work, it impacts what happens on the back end. And so as we think about that, we really want to take care, and how we are gaining by in allowing that teacher voice to be a part of that collective decision making process along the way, because again, I’ll reiterate, if these things are done on the front end, it impacts their results on the back end.

Jess Barrow  18:27

Yeah and you know, I know you and I have talked before you’ve kind of seen both sides of that, right? You’ve seen a process happen where you didn’t necessarily have that value in and then your district changed the way that you were doing things because of sort of some of the consequences of that. Yeah, I should. I just want to say, first of all, thank you so much for all of your work the past seven years and everything you’ve done to contribute to having more information and knowledge in the field about math materials, it’s truly shaping so many districts beyond the ones that you’re directly working with. Is there anything I didn’t ask you about today that you would want the chance to express or talk about before we say until next time?

Dr. Myeisha Phillips 19:13

I guess the only thing that I would say is that definitely like high quality materials matter. They can serve as a baseline. And they can support a lot of the pieces that we are attempting to do in supporting and developing teachers when those pieces are embedded as a part of the curriculum. And it allows you to do those things at the same time. I’d also say in terms of the piece that was named at the end around teachers having voice and the process. I say it again, Brian impacts the back end. It’s super, super important that we Are we do really allow teachers to be a part of that. That would be the only thing that I’d add and reiterate.

Jess Barrow  20:08

Okay, well thank you so much. Always love talking to you and feel like I learned something every time. We hope that we’ll be chatting with you again soon.

Dr. Myeisha Phillips 20:19
Absolutely. Thank you so much for the opportunity