Teacher Spotlight: Michael Festo, Learning Expert Teacher

Every BASIS Independent School aims to bring together educators who are knowledgeable, driven, and believe that with the right support and encouragement, any child can excel. As part of our teacher profile series, we wanted to feature someone who exemplifies that approach. Mr. Festo is one of our fourth grade Learning Expert Teachers (LETs) at BASIS Independent Brooklyn. He leads students through what we call a “bridge year”–a time focused on growing student independence and building the skills to make connections organically.

Mr. Festo is in his third year teaching at BASIS Independent Brooklyn. He graduated from the University of Vermont’s elementary education program, and he has taught in classes ranging from Kindergarten to grade 5 in Connecticut, Vermont, and even New Zealand during his time abroad.

“I have never come across a school community so dedicated to the success of their students,” said Mr. Festo. “Year-round, the BASIS Independent Brooklyn faculty and staff are excited about what they are doing for and with their students. Seeing this attitude and spirit is what made me realize this was where I wanted to teach.”

We asked Mr. Festo some questions about his role as a Learning Expert Teacher, collaboration with Subject Expert Teachers, and distinct elements seen in the 4th grade year.

(The conversation below has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

You are a Learning Expert Teacher for fourth grade. Can you share with us how that role works in partnership with Subject Expert Teachers (SETs)?

The partnership between a Learning Expert Teacher (LET) and a Subject Expert Teacher (SET) is one of communication and collaboration. The LET stays with the class throughout the day, they know the students’ strengths and areas of improvement, their goals for the year, and what each student is going through on a given day. As an LET, I communicate these things to the students’ SETs. That way they know if someone’s having a bad day, if they need a break, or if they’re looking for some more words of encouragement. This communication ensures the students are receiving the support they need from all of their teachers.

The LET and SET often collaborate during lessons, giving the students more variety in their lessons, more opportunities to receive individualized support, and a stronger perspective on the lesson overall. The classroom can take many shapes including, two teachers at the front of the room sharing information, one teacher leading the lesson while the other circles the room providing support, whole class discussion being facilitated by both teachers, and much more. This allows freedom for teachers and students alike.

What are the direct benefits you have seen of having an SET as well as an LET in class?

Along with the many different lesson formats I mentioned above, the students have a much stronger support system for their social emotional growth. Because the LET is with the students the whole day, they know what problems have arisen over the course of the day, who had a rough time during math, who is exhausted because they couldn’t sleep the night before, etc. As an LET, I can communicate all of this to each SET right at the doors. Having this information before a lesson ever starts is invaluable to a teacher, it helps ensure the success and inclusion of all students.

The presence of two teachers in the classroom also greatly increases the amount of support and guidance that can be provided to students during a class period. Many teaching models can be used including whole and small group support or a mix between the two. The amount of flexibility and adaptability in the classroom is far greater.

Do you collaborate often with other LETs for Grade 4?

Absolutely. Throughout the year my fellow LETs and I collaborate on a variety of things including academic support, classroom/hallway expectations, field trips, 5th grade readiness, and much more. The LETs also meet with each SET at least once a week to discuss student progress, curriculum plans, and other topics to ensure we’re prepared to support our students.

How do you help prepare students for grade 5 and middle school in general? Grade 4 seems to be a year of great academic and personal growth.

There are a number of practices we use to help prepare our 4th graders for 5th grade and middle school. There is a lot to learn socially and academically, but executive functioning is also a crucial skill to develop in this year of school. We promote independence every day, but as the school year progresses we gradually give more responsibility to the students. Some of the strategies include practicing opening locks together as a class before using them on lockers, independently transitioning between classes, and numerous leadership positions within the classroom and school community.

As the LET, I take a step back as we near the end of the year; I let the students lead themselves, and give them the opportunity to advocate for themselves, first to their peers and SETs, then to me. Since there is no LET position in 5th grade, it is important for students to begin experiencing what that’s like while I’m still there to lend a hand.

Can you tell us about Academic Enrichment class that starts in 4th grade?

Academic Enrichment is a time at the end of each school day for the class to reflect on the school day, write down any forgotten assignments, and engage in Social Emotional Learning lessons. These activities and discussions teach students strategies to independently deal with problems, communicate their emotions, and develop self-management skills. Students also frequently have the chance to get a head start on their homework and receive individualized support from their LETs and SETs.

Any favorite memories from a previous school year?

Last year brought many new experiences, laughs, and interesting challenges. One of my favorite memories is seeing my class write, rehearse, and perform their own adaptation of “Robin Hood.” The class was involved in everything from costume and set design, to script writing, to stage lighting. They stepped up to the many challenges along the way to create an incredible performance that dazzled their families and other classes!

This post originally appeared on the BASIS Independent Brooklyn Eureka! blog.

For more information about careers with BASIS Independent Schools, visit our careers website.

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