Small Group Soirée at Elkin

by Phylicia Epps

On a fall afternoon after a long day of teaching at Elkin Elementary in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, teachers were getting ready to participate in their weekly planning meeting. They knew that this session was focused on launching small group instruction. What they didn’t know was that they were minutes away from their first ever, Small Group Soiree! When teachers entered the room, to their surprise, they were greeted with mocktails, feather boas, decorations and enticing snacks. Instantly, smiles were formed, and spirits lifted as teachers settled into an afternoon of learning and collaboration.

Allyssa Walsh and Karen Josselyn are ELS at Lewis Elkin Elementary. Both Allyssa and Karen have been at Elkin for multiple years and have shared their palpable excitement around the school vision. However, like many schools in the School District of Philadelphia, this year has been particularly challenging as they work to navigate teacher shortages and the various impacts of the pandemic. In addition to this reality, the school and the broader Kensington community deal with unique challenges of being the epicenter of the city’s opioid crisis. Nevertheless, the leadership and teachers at Elkin are incredibly motivated to accelerate growth and change the narrative of the K-8 public school.


When thinking about how to address student need this year, Allyssa and Karen along with their leadership team, have had an intense focus on small group instruction. The team cites research highlighting that all students need exposure to grade level content, coupled with instruction at their level. Through strategic professional development on the Simple View of Reading, Elkin leaders have helped teachers to understand the value and potential of small group instruction to address student need. In addition, when investing teachers in this work, equity and social justice are at the forefront of the “why”. At Elkin, leaders have worked to support teachers with analyzing multiple data sources in efforts to design lessons that are targeted to student need.

The launch of the Small Group Soiree was an amazing opportunity for Elkin leaders to grow teacher content knowledge while inspiring joy within their school community. At a time in education that is layered with uncertainty and unprecedented challenges, this joyful and fun atmosphere helped to boost morale and reconnect teachers to their “why”.

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