Director of Teaching & Learning Miles Azzeh's Academic Spotlight: Liberty Usera
Our Lansing USD 469 teachers are incredible at engaging our students in fantastic learning opportunities to reach their full potential every day in our district. To highlight and bring recognition to this great work, Director of Teaching and Learning Miles Azzeh will be regularly shining a spotlight on a stand-out teacher through "academic spotlights."
This week's academic spotlight goes to a person who exemplifies what excellent teaching looks like - LHS English teacher Liberty Usera. I was fortunate enough to sit in on his English 10 class as they learned about answering and creating effective questions that fit into one of the following categories:
I noticed immediately how quickly the students shifted to focusing on the work at hand when the bell rang. Liberty started with a skill-based bellwork, and he calmly redirected some students who were off task. It is apparent they are held to high standards in his class:
"Encourage all learners; Educate all learners; Empower all learners. I believe highly effective teachers not only hold their students to high, yet attainable, standards but also themselves." Mr. Usera said.
I was very impressed with the activity he used to check for understanding of the bellwork given, and I recommend everyone reading this to learn more about it here: Plinkers
The activity involves students answering multiple choice questions (similar to state assessment and ACT questions) and holding up their Plinker cards for Mr. Usera to scan on his phone to check for accuracy. The scores are immediately displayed for students to see, and then Liberty went through each question to clarify misunderstandings. This is an easy and effective way to start every lesson, plus it gives the teacher a chance to "spiral" previous knowledge. Practices like these are the reason for quotes like these from students:
"I like his teaching style because it helps me keep my work on track, and I can feel I am learning well with it because it allows me to keep up with the class."
Mr. Usera moved on to the day's main lesson, but before he did so, he made sure to explain the objectives and to-do items of the day. Subtle and quick directives like that ensure a greater chance of a student understanding and retaining the content. The lesson was centered around deciphering the four types of questions above using Ray Bradbury's short story "The Pedestrian" and his famed novel Fahrenheit 451 as anchor texts. Teaching this skill can not only be difficult but sometimes a dull experience as well. However, Mr. Usera made sure that wasn't the case with his chosen activity.
After splitting the students into two groups, Mr. Usera went through the directions of the activity: one student from each team would rotate coming to the front of the room, pulling a sticky-note question about one of the aforementioned texts, and then racing the other student to stick ti to poster paper, not only for the correct story but in the designated question area. I was ecstatic to witness something we often only hear about in books and stories…100% engagement in a room full of sophomores. Way to go, Liberty!
While the activity played a role in the high engagement, Mr. Usera's high expectations and learning style are the vital variables in the equation, according to students:
"In Mr. Usera's class, I am better able to connect with what I am learning rather than just learning the "right answers" so I can move on; it helps me [to connect] understand what we are learning about. How I learn in that class is to pay attention, and I can then learn in his class."
This makes sense when listening to Liberty elaborate on how much he focuses on students having accountability and ownership of their learning in his class:
"Student accountability for completing skill-based assignments, with the expectation that students engage in learning and "recognize challenges as chances to grow and learn," stems from the student taking ownership of their learning, but that ownership is supported by teachers, parents, and administrators with data and proof of skills (proficiency) as the map for individualized learning."
I was so happy to visit Mr. Usera's class, especially after seeing his impressive scores on last year's state assessment. Nothing makes me happier than seeing engaged students being instructed so effectively to help them master the content. I'll conclude with one final quote from a student about Mr. Usera's teaching style and its effects:
"I think I am learning better from Mr. Usera's teaching style because it requires me to put in more effort since I have to be accountable for what I do or learn and not just "go with the flow"; I have to know what I am doing and how to get it done. I think I am learning pretty well; I know what I learned."
Great job, Mr. Usera! We're all lucky to have you.