Name: Rob Leichner, National Fellowship, Cohort 2, Lead Fellow for Cohort 3
State and City of Residence: Charlotte, NC
Job Description (grade level taught, position, title, etc.): Secondary Math PD and Curriculum Specialist for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (formerly, High School Math Teacher at West Mecklenburg High School for 12 years)
Why do you work in education? Originally, I began to work in education because the kids are just so much fun (and I'm a math dork!) Now that I'm not with those fun kids every day, I continue to work in education because I have a strong belief that the only way our country and society will grow is through education. Education is probably the only aspect of our society that touches every single person in our society, so it has the potential to have the largest effect on society. Academically, it must occur through developing critical thinking, adaptability, and the ability to relate and work with others. Socially, it must occur through developing an intrinsic motivation in our students to address inequity, because if members or groups in our society are marginalized and/or set up for failure, our whole society will suffer.
Tell us about something that you have done in education (either alone or working with a group) that you feel has made or will make a big difference for your community? (What was the problem you were addressing, and what were the outcomes? What do you see that is changing?) As a math dork, most of my larger impact has been in math curriculum, helping push the idea of conceptual math teaching, involving reading, writing, and discovery, throughout my school, district, and state. None of this has been done individually, as it has been carried out by the amazing risk-taking, open-minded, collaborative teachers of West Mecklenburg High School, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and North Carolina. I am extremely proud of the fact that the year I became department chair and trained teachers on collaboration, every math teacher at my school used group work regularly in their classes. Across the school, we learn concepts and have gotten away from the rote memorization of formulas and steps. As I have moved into district leadership, both as a teacher and in my current role, I have continued to help spread these ideas, and I love seeing my activities (with the same Comic Sans Bold 16 on top!) used across the district. At the state level, I had the opportunity to help review and write the unpacking document for our new state standards, loosely based on the Common Core, and I have continued to push higher-level thinking. I realize that I am a small piece of this movement, but it is a movement that is finally taking hold. I am very proud to be a part of it!
What’s your favorite part about being an Educator Voice Fellow? The relationships I formed with this amazing, diverse group of educators. (That might have been the easiest question on here!) I truly feel like I have friends, thought partners, and advisors whose beliefs and values I trust across the country. The best part is that not all these beliefs and values are the same, but I know that we all have our kids' best interests at heart. The conversations we have inspire me, challenge me, and make me a better person and educator.
If you could change just one thing about our current education system, what would it be? Education is filled with extremely nice, extremely caring people, which usually makes it an amazing field to be part of! However, because everyone is so nice and caring, we often avoid the tough conversations that need to happen with stakeholders - public officials, colleagues, and students. America Achieves is an amazing group, in that it brings together colleagues from all levels of education to have these conversations in a respectful, open forum. Outside America Achieves, in my experience, these conversations do not happen nearly enough, and it is holding us back. When educators become more open and honest with policy makers, students, and each other, and when educators, policy makers, and students become willing to receive controversial or opposite ideas and feedback, we will all get stronger. Until then, I don't see this cycle changing. We need more Sharif El-Mekki's, Joanna Schimizzi's, and Andrew Vega's in education! (And I personally need some of them in my personality!)
Anything else you’d like to share? Thank you, thank you, thank you for accepting me, my math dorky-ness, my views, my quirks, and my math pick-up lines. AA has given me so many valuable relationships, experiences, and professional growth opportunities I never could have dreamed of, and I hope that my work is helping to repay it in some way.
If a song played every time you walked into a room, what would that song be? My wife said "Yeah" by Usher, and my first instinct would be "I Love This Bar" by Toby Keith...but in reality, I have to go with Van Halen. (You can guess the song...it's not "Jump" or "Panama"!)
What’s your dream vacation? This spring, you can pick the place (Nashville, DC, Hawaii), with 150 or so of my closest educator friends!
What is one fun fact that most people don’t know about you? A lot of people know that I coached rugby for the past 12 years at West Meck, but I'm not sure that people know we won the state championship and were nationally ranked #19 about 6 years ago!
Who is your biggest inspiration? Every teacher and principal who work with and care about their kids every day. I didn't realize how busy I was the last 12 years and how truly exhausting the job is until this year, now that I'm in a support role for the district...it motivates me to do anything I can to make their jobs easier.
Prior to becoming the Secondary Math PD and Curriculum Specialist for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Robert Leichner was a Math teacher at West Mecklenburg High School. There, he and a colleague and started a network for emerging teacher leaders called Uncommon Planning, where educators, parents and students discuss what the Common Core looks like in their content areas. As math department chair, Robert spread ideas on promoting student discourse and providing professional development to teachers through formal sessions and informal advice. He was proud to observe several classes in the department where true discourse was occurring, and nearly all of the math teachers in his school had students collaborating in groups regularly. This experience added to his great confidence in the power of teacher. Among his honors, Robert was in the Founding Cohort of the National Academy for Advanced Teacher Education (NAATE) and has received National Board Certification. Robert also coached rugby and was North Carolina High School Rugby Coach of the Year in 2005 and 2009.