As a kid Crystal Johnston, El Paso ISD Active Learning Leader, can recall her experiences in her elementary classes with vivid detail. She would walk into her classes looking for clues about upcoming lessons, excited to explore the new challenge her teachers had in store for the month. Crystal’s teachers created themes each month that captivated her and her peers inspiring them to learn, collaborate, and push beyond the boundaries of the classroom, their communities and into society. After exploring engaging themes in class, under the leadership of her teachers, there would be a chance to present new found skills and products created by herself and her peers to live audiences, that often included the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) at her school, and her biggest fan, her mother.
“My mother would leave work early so we could attend the PTA meetings,” recalled Johnston. “She knew that if we didn’t get there early, the school would run out of seats.”
In front of a packed house, a young Johnston and her peers excited and inspired to share their thoughts, ideas, and creations to the people in their own community became the experts for all to see. The learning environment teachers created left a lasting impression on her role as an educator and Active Learning Leader (ALL) for El Paso ISD.
“When I was introduced to the El Paso ISD Active Learning Framework, I made a connection between the way I learned in elementary school versus the way I learned in my college classes,” Johnston said. “Even though more time has passed, I found it interesting that I can vividly recall events in my elementary education and I cannot recall [some] college courses.”
From Chilli cook-offs to festivals with student-led booths her experience in elementary has made her value her early education. She now leans on both her experiences in elementary and college to inspire teachers to create similar learning experiences for their students, through the El Paso ISD Active Learning Framework that was collaboratively designed by the community, the district and El Paso ISD partner engage2learn (e2L).
“This personal experience is one of the reasons why I believe the El Paso ISD Active Learning Framework will enhance the education of so many learners across the city,” expressed Johnston. “I believe students need to make connections and have meaningful experiences so they can retain the information and develop a love of learning.”
Johnston started her career in education as a substitute and an Early Childhood teacher. Later in her career, she taught at various grade levels and across all content areas from second grade to fourth grade and a myriad of experience with Gifted and Talented students. She currently serves in El Paso ISD as an Active Learning Leader.
As an ALL at H.R. Moye and Dowell Elementary in El Paso ISD, Johnston leverages her experience as a former teacher to help lead the educators she serves on both campuses. She has developed several helpful tools to help her lead, impact, and inspire teachers toward further growth. She created this Teacher Design Checklist to assist her in her thought process about how she coaches, and also how to track the units taking place on campus.
Johnston’s organizational skills have helped her by giving her more time to use every opportunity given to inspire teachers. She also uses the El Paso ISD Active Learning Framework to turn around all professional learning on her campuses. She can see the effects of her efforts with teachers through the students on the campuses she serves.
“The El Paso ISD Active Learning Framework has provided a way to differentiate learning that is rigorous and meaningful to students while promoting autonomy,” Johnston stated. “The students look forward to learning and take more ownership of the projects they create.”
While growing teachers and students as a coach, it is also important to point out her dedication to continued growth herself. Now in her second year of implementation as an ALL in El Paso ISD, she has been coached for several years by engage2learn.
“Coaching has had a significant impact on me as an ALL,” said Johnston. “I was very fortunate to transition into the ALL position the same year that my campus was selected to be part of the Diamond cohort. I was on a large learning curve as I was transitioning from a classroom teacher to a Mentor.” As Johnston transitioned from a teacher to mentor, she leaned on her e2L coach, Lauren Hurt-Ashwin, for support.
“Lauren gave me the guidance I needed and referred me to tools and resources to use to help me reach my goals and better serve my campus,” said Johnston.
Johnston also received guidance from e2L coaches, Tracey Wallace and Diana Branch, who visited her campuses monthly assisting other teachers on her campus. Due to coaching, Johnston’s perspective and her vision are broader. She clearly understands the mission and vision of the district.
“Coaching has helped me be more intentional with my goals as a leader,” Johnston stated. “It has helped me be more purposeful by integrating initiatives and collaborating with teachers to make connections. It helped me develop a stronger vision and put a plan in place for my long and short-term goals as a coach, as well as drafting the steps I need to take to grow myself and those around me.”
Coaching has totally transformed and inspired Johnston as a leader. Her clarity about the needs of students has inspired her to continue to educate her teachers about the opportunity they available through the district’s partnership with e2L as they continue to implement the El Paso ISD Active Learning Framework. She advocates for teachers and coaches to practice the 21st-century learning skills that they want the students to acquire and see where the learning takes them.
“I advise other coaches to take full advantage of the magnificent opportunity that our district has uniquely provided us,” expressed Johnston. “Locally, we are the only district that has personalized coaching to help us reach our goals. We are the only district that has an Active Learning Framework that explicitly organizes best practices to help teachers, ALLs, and administrators to grow.”
The journey that Crystal has embarked on is inspiring. As a native El Pasoan, born and raised blocks away from the schools she currently serves, it is easy to see why she pushes so hard. She knows the journey of the students and the impact educators have on because she is a product of the district. She is an educator with so much to give, because of her positive experience as an El Paso ISD student.
“Authentic learning opportunities [for kids], it is my purpose,” expressed Johnston.
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