To be a Great Teacher, I Will Never Stop Learning


Brandon Johnson

I’ve spent the past four-years working in a high-need urban school in the nation’s capital. Despite the countless hours of practice, individualized coaching and a Master’s in Education, there is so much more I can learn to best support my students. I need to embrace new innovations, technologies and practices that can improve student outcomes.

Blended learning is a model that integrates technology with innovative instructional methods that I believe is essential to my effectiveness in the classroom and my growth in the profession.

I am currently working to evolve my own skill set to integrate this model effectively in my classroom as a CityBridge-NewSchools Education Innovation Fellow. This yearlong program, which I began in January, introduces teachers to promising innovations in blended and personalized learning. The purpose is to provide teachers with the professional development needed to effectively apply the principles of individualized, competency-based learning into the classroom.

Through the fellowship I’ve had the opportunity to visit schools around the country, expand my knowledge through workshops and seminars and design and pilot personalized learning initiatives in my own classroom. I’m learning not only about blended learning but am being given the tools to implement the model effectively.

My fellowship experience is already transforming my work. It has helped me better understand how to consciously use technology, freeing me up to spend time working one-on-one with students and collaborating with colleagues in-person and through online platforms.

I have been inspired to rethink how I teach and how my students learn. I reorganized my students’ workspace into three “learning stations”:

  • a personalized blended learning experience;
  • a collaborative student paced workstation where my students work on select grade level or remediated skills through a playlist of materials; and,
  • a small group setting where I work with my students one-on-one.

Using data effectively is a big part of my work. To inform my instruction, I track data on my students’ progress daily. I give those students struggling through lessons additional interventions during their group rotations. And, because my students work in groups, I have the ability to talk with each one individually about their progress more than ever before.

I’ve also reimagined my lessons to allow my students to learn at their own pace and express their understanding through different types of project-based experiences. While learning about fractions, for example, my students were able to interact with multiple online platforms such as LearnZillion, Zaption, Khan Academy and Curriculum Associates’ i-Ready. It’s these types of online information sharing systems that offer my students immeasurable opportunities to grow.

When I first shifted my classroom to this model I told my students, “Freedom requires trust, but with trust comes responsibility.” It took a few weeks for my class to become accustomed to self-regulation, but overtime they took ownership over their work and held themselves accountable for their learning. The knowledge I’m gaining in my fellowship is helping me make improvements to my teaching everyday. In a small group setting, I am able to hone in on each child’s strengths and weaknesses and be more intentional with each lesson. I feel empowered, a feeling I hope I’m instilling in my students.

At the same time I know that this experience alone and the changes I’ve made in the classroom are not what makes me a great teacher.

Four years ago I joined an innovative alternative certification program with a rigorous four-year training model – Urban Teacher Center. It prepared me to support my students’ learning and run my classroom with confidence, and taught me to constantly push myself to improve as an educator. Now in my final year of the program, I know for sure that my training has been essential to helping me become an effective and innovative teacher.

There’s always room to grow and improve as an educator, whether it’s through programs like my fellowship or other professional development opportunities. I encourage all teachers to join me in finding ways to continue their learning, and I also embolden those interested in teaching to take the time to find a program that will give them the skills and confidence they need to help all their future students achieve success. Don’t be afraid of innovation–embrace it.

For more, check out:

Brandon Johnson is a fifth Grade Math and Science Teacher at the Browne Education Campus in Washington D.C.


sangeeta sahu /

To be a Great Teacher, I Will Never Stop Learning