Erika Dietz always wanted to be a teacher. In fact, there are photos of her as a child dressed up as a teacher for career day in kindergarten. However, unlike many of us who may stumble or take a new turn along the way, her plan never changed, and she worked incredibly hard pursuing a career in education. Now serving as a rockstar Assistant Principal at Distinctive College Prep - Harper Woods (DCP-HW), it's hard to believe her journey began back in a kindergarten classroom, with a completely different school.
Rewind back a few years, and Erika was actually a founding educator with the charter school that once occupied DCP-HW's building - Detroit Starr Academy. She spent five years building relationships with students, fellow educators and families - so she was understandably torn when the school had to close its doors. That being said, it almost felt like fate when she met the Distinctive Schools team at a career fair Starr organized for their educators. When she learned DCP-HW would soon occupy the old Starr building, and heard more about their mission, she quickly fell in love with what they stood for.
Speaking with the Distinctive team felt so natural. I felt connected to the DS mission of teaching to the whole student - and I loved their [teacher] model!
- Erika Dietz
Distinctive champions a very unique teacher model; their motto is: for teachers, by teachers, with teachers. Through this, they invest in their teachers and provide opportunities for teacher voice and leadership, where teachers are shown how valued they are. Educators are also presented with, and encouraged to take on, leadership roles and more responsibilities. Through professional development, coaching academies, and constant support, they create a ladder of effective leaders from recent graduates all the way through to their school directors.
One key element in this recipe for success is mentorship. Resident teachers are paired with mentor teachers to help navigate the waters of managing their own classroom for the first time. This is where Erika, as a veteran teacher, began her journey towards school leadership. In her role of 'new teacher ambassador,' she became that educator in her building who new teachers could come to with questions, challenges and more - the role is rooted in teachers supporting teachers. Plus, it was a lot of fun to teach them the ins and outs of the school. After a year filling those shoes, she was presented with the opportunity to move into the role of instructional coach.
Instructional coaches are teachers who aren’t necessarily assigned to a single classroom, but rather who work with other teachers to co-teach and support their growth. Erika spent two years in this role, helping teachers strengthen their skills in the classroom by providing best practices and support.
All of the coaches and mentors at Distinctive go through intense professional development, which cover topics like what coaching means, how to support teachers, and building relationships through authentic dialog. Both the positions and the support they receive creates a relationship between Distinctive leadership and their educators, further showing how deeply they value their educators.
Bringing her journey full circle, Erika officially stepped into school leadership this year, after DCP-HW had significant growth and decided to create an Assistant Principal position - but even now that she's stepped beyond a single classroom, her passion for the very mission that drew her to DCP-HW to begin with remains stronger than ever.
Teaching to the whole student and teaching to the whole culture is so important. Many of our students haven’t had the opportunity to be outside of the city limits or their neighborhood. As a teacher or leader in our school, we believe in providing those mirrors and window teaching opportunities. Reading books are the mirrors, which show text in which students can find themselves, their families, and their communities reflected and valued and window opportunities (field trips in person or virtual) that show students the world around them.
- Erika Dietz
More than ever, this pandemic has demonstrated that great educators are an invaluable resource - and as Michigan and much of the nation continues to face a significant teacher shortage, it is key that we invest in meaningful professional growth paths that attract and retain those educators - just like the one championed by Distinctive.