Category Archives: Professional Development

Summer Reading: Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain

I should be reading the new budget and writing about that, I know. That’s for another day.

Instead, I spent my Fourth of July family trip getting sunburned while reading Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, by Zaretta Hammond. A much better choice, as I walked away with far less frustration than a close read of the budget likely would have offered me.

I have to admit that I rarely look forward to my summer “work reading.” Typically, my reading is more of a skim, dipping in when something seems to connect to my work. This book, however, seemed to connect at every turn.

I read this book with a specific purpose: When I and the other thousand-or-so staff return for our August kickoff meetings, we’re taking the idea of culturally responsive practice to scale. Specifically, the district Teaching and Learning team is working to design a common experience for the adults in our system to open us to more frank and meaningful conversations about race, inequity, privilege, and what culturally responsive practice should look like.

The challenge I’m facing, and which this book helped me with, is the reality of being a white male teaching is a largely white (generally affluent) community, and in this context trying to find the right way to communicate with my fellow white teachers that culturally responsive teaching isn’t about using rap music to “connect with kids” or putting up posters of famous nonwhite scientists or changing John to Juan in a story problem and checking the “culturally responsive” box. Further, saying “but I’m not racist” and “I treat every student the same” isn’t an excuse for not learning about and adopting culturally responsive practices (and I think such statements constitute a neon sign pointing at someone who probably needs more than anyone else to read this book).

At the August kickoff, that common experience will help establish that as a district our focus for the 2017-18 school year will be on “seeing and serving every child.” Why? Simply put, the data over the last few years communicates it without question: We’re serving some kids exceptionally well, others well enough, and some not well at all. The dividing line is crystal clear and let’s just say the students on one side of the line are are more linguistically and culturally diverse than those on the other.

But our test scores are high and our graduation rates just fine!

That’s good, of course. However, my assistant superintendent shared with me the field-trip analogy: if we take 100 kids on a field trip and only return with 93% of them, that’s a problem. Yes, we can celebrate our successes, but we as responsible educators must make sure we do all we can for each child, not just most kids. Continue reading

Educators Rising: Start ‘Em While They’re Young

The Hyatt filled with teens from across the country. The smell of long bus rides, airplane food, and hot Cheetos permeated the lobby. But by the opening session, these students had transformed into professionally dressed young men and women in “conference mode.” Their excitement and energy was palpable in the North Ballroom. Last weekend was the convergence of young voices at the Educators Rising Annual Conference. This organization “cultivates highly skilled educators by guiding young people on a path to becoming accomplished teachers, beginning in high school and extending through college and into the profession.” What’s even more exciting than this mission is that 51% of the 30k members are students of color!

Basically, Educators Rising works with secondary teachers to identify black, brown, and white young people–as young as 13– who have potential as future educators. Through intentional programming at local and state levels​, these students will one day be well-prepared, highly effective classroom teachers. The annual conference offers outstanding keynotes, interactive workshops on cultural competency and teacher leadership, and competitions.

Competitions are fascinating and are divided into three categories:

  1. Teaching. Sub categories include planned instruction where students create a lesson, tape themselves teaching, then reflect with a judge (think National Boards) or impromptu teaching where a student is given a scenario (Mr. Hall started vomiting and you must take over his class immediately), a learning standard, and a box of materials. The subs must create an engaging lesson and deliver it in a short time (think Iron Chef but teaching).
  2. Career Explorations. Students competing in this category follow an administrator, a non-core classroom teacher, or a support staff member in a job shadow. They must conduct an interview, dig into all aspects of this career and then present their findings..
  3. Advocacy and Policy Development. Students can create a Ted Talk on an effective instructional strategy, present a policy brief on a researched issue, or give an impromptu speech on an education issue.

Are you kidding me!? I know grown adults who couldn’t handle these challenges.

This makes me hopeful.

Early in the opening session, Joshua Starr set the tone of the conference when he quoted Dr. King reminding us that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” Despite our political climate, the increase in police brutality, and the growing racial divide in this country, we must still have hope. Nate Bowling developed this theme with his talk that culminated in a challenge for everyone in the room (current or future educators): Embed, Disrupt, and Advocate.

Nods, tweets and follow up conversations indicated that these messages resonated with the crowd. This makes me hopeful.

While some adults complain about teens obsession with fidget spinners and Snapchat, I’m here to tell you that our young people are far better than we are. They are more creative. They are more compassionate. They are more understanding. They are more kind. They are more justice-minded.

I met two students who especially exemplified these qualities—Educators Rising National Student President, Cassey Hall from Mississippi and National Student Officer Tamir Harper from Philadelphia. Cassey shared her story of how her 9th grade English teacher recruited her into a new course centered on learning about teaching. As she heads off to college, she is certain she wants to be a 3rd grade Science teacher.

I struck up a conversation with Tamir on the way out of the convention center. Instantly I was struck by his charisma, his wisdom, and his passion for his school, his neighborhood, and his city. Besides running a session at the conference on reconstructing the educational system, this fall Tamir will co-teaching an African American history class at his high school. As Tamir shared his dreams to teach and later run for office, I kept think “is this young man really 17?!”

These are just two of the hundreds of students at #EducatorsRising17 that I know are bending their voices towards justice. In four to six years, they will be teaching our children. I cannot wait!

They make me hopeful.

Title II and “Failed” PD

Title II, which funds (among other things) opportunities for teacher leadership, learning, and professional development, is on the federal chopping block. One argument, supported by research, is that teacher professional development has little to no impact in student performance.

Despite half of my job being teacher professional development, it is hard for me to disagree. In fact, I concede that you cannot always draw a solid line between teacher PD and dramatic changes in student performance on the standardized tests that serve as the go-to barometer of “impact on student learning.”

There are many other lines I can draw, though. I can cite examples where PD around inquiry processes in science resulted in more student-centered lessons. I can cite examples where PD around trauma-informed practices resulted in students spending more time in the classroom and less time in the principal’s office. I can cite examples where PD around helping students track their own performance resulted in faster gains on classroom assessments. The keys to all of these solid lines: (1) The teacher was provided time and space to try new practices, even if success required a few attempts, (2) the teacher was provided access to peer-collaboration or peer-coaching to help support implementation, and (3) there wasn’t some sort of oppressive accountability system demanding immediate and unequivocal success.

I can see why Title II is an easy candidate for a cut. The impact is difficult to ascertain using the measures we have in place. I’m sure that people can also cite instances where Title II funds have been misused or misdirected. But if people are looking for solid lines of causality between X and increased student test scores, there is nothing yet that can produce a solid line, like the proverbial silver bullet’s path through the air.

Teaching and learning is a complex dynamic influenced by seemingly infinite factors. That is not an attempt to seek absolution from responsibility…rather it is a call to acknowledge the complexity of the system and the many ways we ought to monitor system reactions. If my learning about adolescent trauma means my student spends more time in my classroom learning, rather than in the office receiving discipline, is that not a positive change? If my students take greater ownership of their own progress and are more metacognitive about their learning processes, those immeasurable dispositions will serve them as well (if not better) than their ability to guess the right bubble on a test…is that not a positive change?

Every one of us has had to endure crappy PD that wasted our time, so let’s set that aside for a moment and imagine a world of better-designed, well-implemented, and relevant PD that meets a need in our practice (such PD would also need to be adequately funded in order to achieve those standards). Professional learning, in whatever form it might take, is the only way to spur professional practice toward improvement. If we don’t improve our professional practice, how can we expect improved results?

#ObserveMe II: We Need Perspective

Last August I discovered the #ObserveMe movement. Within a few days, several brave staff members took on the challenge at Lincoln High School. I wrote about this process in my post “Goals for a New School Year.” What I’ve learned the most from this experience (so far), is that others see my classroom very differently than I do and I need their perspective in order to grow professionally.

I like to think I have teacher hearing and eyes in the back of my head. But I know I miss things. Teachers are 1,500 or more tiny decisions each class period, trying to capitalize on each teachable moment and fix everything that is “wrong” in order to maximize the learning experience. I can simultaneously be thinking about how to redirect Mike, tell Josie to “sit like a scholar” and ask Gabe a question that prompts his reasoning. An outside perspective, shared through an #ObserveMe reflection form gives me a new point of view.

One of my goals this year states, “Consistently incorporates and values diverse multiple perspectives in the lesson and classroom discussions.” As I track who has/hasn’t spoken during a class period, I’m critically aware that Jonah has spoken 3x times already while Miriam hasn’t said a word. I sometimes finish a class period feeling guilty because although I told myself to bring in Marcus, I forgot to use cold calling—or any other tool in my tool bag—to bring him into the discussion. The feedback offered by outside observers provides snapshots of whether or not I’m actually meeting my professional goals. Here are the comments I received from four different observations of this particular goal.

  • Different ideas related to similar pieces of evidence.
  • Absolutely. Students were highly engaged in a discussion guided by the teacher regarding rhetoric. Students were able to provide varying perspectives that were acknowledged and validated.
  • Political cartoons relating to racial justice in the US. And political climate.
  • invites multiple students to contribute. Amplifies a comment from a para that provides insight into cultural traditions/insight.

The first comment tells me that I’m encouraging students to rationalize and explain their reasoning based on evidence. It also tells me that I’m trying to encourage students to see how the same piece of evidence can be used to support varying points of view. The second comment shows me that all the effort I’m making to help students feel safe to share opposing views is actually working. The third comment adds a new layer. It tells me that the observer noticed that I was including multiple perspectives in the texts we analyzed. Although I chose the cartoons intentionally, I hadn’t really thought about how choosing a text was helping me meet my #ObserveMe goal! The fourth piece of feedback reminded me that I am working to intentionally include my para educators (I have two) in the classroom as sources of knowledge and experience. Again, something I just do because it’s just what I do, right and natural to me but I’m learning–from conversations with my paraeducators– it is actually not that common. I know that I can be more intentional about using these women as resources to improves student learning. Are these reflections life changing? No. Do they help me see my practice in a new light and challenge me to be more intentional? Heck yes.

Early on I received feedback that I should use an online form in addition to my paper system. So I converted my observation chart into a MS form and added a QR code. Now half my data is in an easy-to-digest format online. If you are adept at using technology or want to grow in this way, I highly recommend providing an online survey option.

I personally feel that one of the greatest strength of this process is the openness and low-stakes nature of it. Since it’s non-evaluative I don’t care about how much feedback I get, how often I get it, or how it’s phrased. I’m not stressing about a pre/post observation conversations. I am not up late trying to craft a perfect lesson on my Graduate school lesson plan template that highlights my teaching strengths in 30 minutes. I can take or leave the advice I receive. Nobody cares–including me! For someone like me who struggles with a type-A personality and anxiety about living up to my students expectations, using #ObserveMe to improve my practice is perfect. And so far it’s a reminder that all the effort I’m putting into lesson design and instruction is working.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this kind of feedback loop works for everyone. When I asked my peers about their own results here are some of the replies:

  • Few people have given me feedback, but I’m still going to keep my sign up and see what happens the rest of the year.
  • I realize I need more consistent, on-going feedback from our instructional coach rather than drop-in feedback.
  • I love it. I hand a reflection sheet to anyone who walks in.

As you consider what to change or modify for second semester, I urge you to set up an #ObserveMe sign and recruit a couple other friends to try it with you. Not convinced yet?  Read Sherry Nesbitt’s impression or Nate Bowling’s experience and share your goals online with the #ObserveMe hashtag.

NBCT Policy Summit: Building a Professional Continuum

If you walk into a doctor’s office and learn that your physician is board certified, this designation communicates something to you…even if at first blush you aren’t sure what it means. In the field of medicine, board certification is voluntary, is assessed against established industry standards (based on specialty as well), and is an widely accepted indicator of professional capacity. From the American Board of Medical Specialties website:

When you choose a doctor who is Board Certified by one of the ABMS Member Boards, you can be confident he or she meets nationally recognized standards for education, knowledge, experience and skills to provide high quality care in a specific medical specialty. Board Certification goes above and beyond basic medical licensure.

Sounds much like National Board Certification for educators.

There is ample research indicating that teachers who have achieved National Board Certification produce enhanced student learning equivalent to between one and two additional months of instruction, particularly with students who are typically underserved.

Education funding in Washington is certainly in dire need of improvement, and one aspect of this involves compensating teachers in a way which (1) draws high quality candidates into the profession and (2) recognizes and values the research-supported professional growth that NBPTS certification represents.

As a result, dozens of National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) convened in SeaTac this last Saturday at the 2016 NBCT Policy Summit. These educators were called together by WEA, CSTP and OSPI in order to do what Washington Ed legend Jeannie Harmon says is the best way to change education for the better: Get our best and brightest educators together, tell them the problem to be solved, then get out of their way.

Currently, teacher salaries are funded separately from the incentive program aimed at fostering NBPTS certified teachers: Our base salary allocation model (SAM) includes increases in compensation aligned with advanced degrees and acquisition of clock hours for learning, and but does not include NBPTS certification…which of the three (degrees, seat time, or NBPTS certification) is the one with the greatest body of research supporting an increased impact on student learning. The current incentives include a yearly bonus for being an NBCT, plus an additional bonus if you are an NBCT working in a “challenging school,” both of which are funded outside our SAM. The result? The funding is tenuous, and the incentive toward and recognition of NBPTS certification is likewise ever on the chopping block.

The recommendations will be presented in full soon (as of this writing it’s been barely 24 hours since the end of the summit), but on the policy issue related to NBPTS certification, the recommendation was loud, clear, and simple: Just as a Masters degree and a Doctorate represent lanes of professional growth on our salary schedule, so should National Board Certification. Parallel to this recommendation were a variety of policy recommendations around revenue generation for the state (in order to fully fund education and meet the legal requirements of the McCleary ruling). There was also significant talk about developing and compensating new and varied career paths for teachers who don’t aspire toward being a program director or principal, particularly since there is recent evidence of the positive impact of teacher leadership.

Hidden within all this is a quiet evolution of what the professional continuum for teachers might look like. In medicine the pursuit of board certification, while still voluntary, is much more integrated into the vision of how a professional physician learns, performs, and refines their craft over their career. National Board Certification is heavily studied and has proven to be a form of professional advancement that has a positive impact on students. It only makes sense that this step be codified into our compensation schedule alongside the other (still voluntary) professional steps such as advanced degrees.

Professional Development—The Long View

I’ve reached the point in my career where people have started to ask me, “And when are you going to retire, Jan?” After all, a lot of my friends and contemporaries have quit teaching. What am I still doing here?

I see the shiny new teachers, just out of the box, full of energy and enthusiasm. I must look so old to them. (“But wait! Inside I am still shiny!”) They are up to date on all the latest instructional strategies and educational jargon. They are ready to take on the world. (“Me too! I still want to take on the world!”)

I remember my initial certification program at San Jose State in the (gulp) 1970s and my earliest professional development classes. My career began in the days of Assertive Discipline and Madeline Hunter. I can’t begin to recount all the different permutations of trainings I have been through since then to improve my teaching skills and classroom management. Just in the last few years it’s included extensive GLAD training and PBIS training.

From my perspective here’s what I can say about all of them. They were all introduced with great fanfare as a sweeping solution for the whole school or district. They all had positive aspects. They were all eventually superseded by the Next Big Thing.

Here’s my take-away. I eagerly adopt the best of each program and incorporate it into my practice. (Notice, I carefully make professional decisions about what works best in my particular classroom culture.)  I am totally willing to work with the school or the district on whatever system they adopt for as long as they want to use it. And then I wait. Because I know the Next Big Thing is bound to come along eventually.

In the meantime, if I find a better Next Big Thing, I promote it to my admin.

Does that make me jaded? I don’t think so. I continue to learn from each new training, I keep adding to my tool kit, and I keep looking for even better new options.

Meanwhile, I synthesize what I’ve learned from multiple trainings over the years. For instance, GLAD wants to have the walls “dripping with language.” But I learned early in my career that having a lot of visual clutter on the walls badly distracts ADD/ADHD kids. It makes it hard for them to focus. So, for example, instead of keeping my Cognitive Content Dictionary on huge swathes of butcher paper on the walls, I write the information on the white board and erase it when I’m done. Meanwhile, I require my students to copy all the day’s dictionary information off the whiteboard into a composition book that they keep in their desks. An added bonus is that they have access to their vocabulary words all year! I’ve modified other GLAD strategies too, so I can use them and still keep my walls pretty clean. People walk into my room and comment on how calm and organized everything looks. I believe my room helps my students be calm and organized too.

All that training, all that synthesizing, all that experience pays off over time.

The research says so.

The Learning Policy Institute recently published a review of research into teacher effectiveness as teachers become more experienced. They said that as teachers gain years of experience, you can expect to see positive gains in student achievement. What was interesting for me to learn was that, while the steepest gain was in the first few years of a teacher’s career, the gains “continue to be significant as teachers reach the second, and often third, decades of their careers.” Not only did students do better on standardized tests with more experienced teachers, but they had other positive outcomes, like fewer absences.

Besides supporting increased student learning in their own classrooms, experienced teachers also help support greater student learning for other teachers in the school. They benefit the school as a whole.

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Of course they do. This last year I met with multiple brand-new and fairly-new teachers to help them with multiple issues from technology questions to classroom management to how to deal with parent issues to how to craft a particular lesson. Most of those meetings weren’t formal. A lot of them started in the hall or workroom. Individuals shared a problem, I offered help, and they accepted, or they approached me and asked for help. At the end of the year, I got thank you notes, but not for any specific problem-solving. For the hugs and smiles and sense of support I offered.

Hm. Maybe I have good reasons to stick around.

 

Goals for a New School Year: #ObserveMe

I first spotted the #ObserveMe hashtag on a leisurely scroll through my Twitter feed. This piqued my curiosity. Who’s observing me? What are they observing? As I spiraled down the internet, I found that Math teacher, Robert Kaplinsky, is challenging educators to rethink the way we pursue feedback by making it easy and immediately obtainable. It’s simple. Make a form that says something like “Hi I’m ____. I would like feedback on the following goals:_____”. There is no right way to set up your #ObserveMe sign. Then, adjacent to this invite place a reflection tool. From reflection half-sheets to QR codes connected to google spreadsheets, a teacher can embrace any way that is easy (and I’d argue most meaningful) for them to receive this feedback.

I discovered that while #ObserveMe isn’t quite trending yet, it’s catching fire even at the university level. In teacher prep, some professors are using it as a way to model to preservice teachers the need for a clean feedback loop. Today’s teachers are constantly working to fight the isolation that can happen in this profession. We are also always looking for ways to improve and receiving meaningful feedback on our instructional moves is hard to find. Here’s what I like about Kaplinsky’s challenge to teachers.

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It increases the frequency of feedback. With #ObserveMe, I don’t need to wait for my administrator’s scheduled visit. I don’t need to wait for end of unit or end of course student reflections. I don’t need to wait for my instructional coach to find time to come into my classroom. I don’t need to wait for a colleague to get a sub so they can meet with me about student learning. In fact, this has the potential to give me more, real, immediate feedback from a variety of perspectives than anything I’ve seen this far in my eleven years of teaching.

ObserveMe-5-300x232It forces me to have a growth mindset. If this sign is on my door, I am telling the world that I want to grow. I am inviting anyone to come in and comment on my instruct. Yeah, that’s a little scary. But it’s a healthy risk that models vulnerability and openness to others. Who could pop in? A visitor. A parent. The librarian. Another teacher on planning period. I’m both thrilled and terrified at the possibilities. The #ObserveMe challenge reminds us that teaching is relational and we need all types of perspectives to help us grow. This model is based on trust. By opening myself up to the community, I am making them a part of my learning process and saying that I value their voice in my growth.Alissa

It will definitely impact students. If we begin the year with this signage, we are modeling the culture of learning we are trying to cultivate in students. We should be getting feedback that we can implement the next day. I will have concrete date for how I implemented my feedback and can brag about that to my administrator at my evaluation (wink, wink). This has the possibility of transforming my instruction and hopefully inspiring the observer to work on something in their classroom.

 

So far, a handful of teachers in my school are ready with their signs (they gave me permission to include below). I’m hoping our vulnerability will encourage others in the school to jump on board, foster deeper conversations about goal setting, and improve our practice.

Nate

 

Anyone else up for the challenge?

If you’re on Twitter, post a picture and use the hashtag

#ObserveMe

Summer Learning: PLCs

One of the most profound professional development activities I took part in this summer was attending the Professional Learning Communities at Work Institute in Seattle with a large number of colleagues from my new building and across my district. We’ve all heard about PLCs and we’ve all been part of PLCs, but there were definitely some missing pieces in my understanding and implementation. (Read a short history of PLCs.) Maybe my story resonates with your experience.

A few years ago, I’m not quite sure how many, there were a set of four questions posted in the largest conference room at the district office, which also served as school board’s default meeting location (among other uses). Maybe they’re familiar?

  1. What do we want students to learn?
  2. How will we know if they have learned?
  3. What will we do if they don’t learn?
  4. What will we do if they already know it?

Good questions, but I had no idea where they came from or how I could use them. In fact I was a little suspicious of them because of the mystery that surrounded them. These questions seemed to show up everywhere. They were part of a number of school improvement plans and inexplicably appeared on collaboration forms my team was asked to fill out after working together.

A few years ago I was swept up in the Finland frenzy and was particularly struck by how much time teachers were able to collaborate during the regular school day. I already knew from my own experience that teachers needed more time to work together and I suspected that this was probably one of the reasons why the schools in Finland did so well. I joined a couple of PLCs and worked with teachers at my grade level, teachers from other schools, and teachers from across the grades interested in co-learning in my school. Still, I wasn’t totally clear on what the difference was between a group working together and a PLC. When I heard there was a conference on PLCs, I put my name in even though it was far off in the middle of the summer about nine months away.

INT. KITCHEN TABLE – NIGHT

Spencer writes a blog entry after the conference

So I’m here to tell you that I now believe that those four questions above are the secret to transforming public education. I wont be able to recreate the three day workshop with multiple keynotes and breakout sessions presented by some of the leading experts on PLCs working in education today, but I will explain those questions.

First of all, those questions form the cornerstone of the work that teachers in PLCs do together. They were articulated by Richard DuFour, Robert Eaker, and Rebecca DuFour. For further reading check out their books on PLCs.

Question 1: What do we want students to learn? This question is meant to be answered by teachers who collaborate together and work at the same grade level(s). These teachers must look at the standards and decide together what they guarantee that each of them will ensure that ALL students learn. What is non-negotiable? What, if not learned, would be disastrous for that student? Teachers need to commit to teaching those things as priorities. Not everything is of equal value. Teachers clarify and prioritize the standards together taking into account the intent of the standards and the needs of the students. This step can not be skipped, nor can it be mandated by above. This is where the team makes commitments to one another.

Question 2: How will we know if they have learned it? Now the teachers teach with the same objectives. They teach the best way each of them knows how. They decide on common formative assessments that will be given at approximately the same time. And when they have given those assessments and evaluated them, they come together to share their findings.

Question 3 & 4: What will we do if they don’t learn? What will we do if they already know it? These are the intervention and enrichment pieces, but there are a couple of important points to clarify if the PLC is to function properly. Firstly, we need to get vulnerable. Someone on your team will teach that particular concept most successfully and someone will teach it least successfully. Though there might be a nicer way to say that, this is where we feel threatened so we have to confront it. It must be visible so that the student learning can be addressed and this takes trust. Fundamentally, the teachers involved must see themselves as members of a team. Teachers in a PLC are not running side-by-side in a marathon, but rather rowing in the same boat (This was literally Rick DuFour’s analogy at the institute and it is a powerful shift in thinking). Secondly, the teachers need to take action with the information they obtain from looking at the results. That may include learning from the teacher who demonstrated the highest levels of student proficiency. It may also include having that teacher lead the intervention group for all of the students who have not learned. Nobody can meet the needs of all of their students by themselves. If we aren’t working as a team we don’t have a chance.

This process runs repeatedly and cycles through the key learning objectives for the students.

Time will be required and because we know it is a scarce commodity creativity will be necessary. One of the best ideas I have heard on creating time is to (occasionally) move the 30 minutes teachers are required to be available after school and combining it with the 30 minutes they are required to be there before school. In some cases you may be able to add an all-school activity to kick in another 15. All of this can be done without impacting buses, students, or families and could take place on a regular basis (with some contact negotiation).

This is the technical/structural shift, but the cultural shift may be the toughest to make (and hardest to recognize). This was brought to a very sharp point by Dr. Anthony Muhammad when he asked us to examine the achievement gap and equity from our own mindsets as well as within the de facto mindset of the system in general. More on this in another post…

Teacher Induction Programs

Over the next two weeks, thousands of teachers, new to teaching or new to a school district will gather in excitement to learn details about their new jobs.  Many of those teachers will find themselves deflated in hours.  All too often, new teacher training days end up as Intro to Human Resources 101, far from focused on the realities of teaching and learning.  I’ve been witness to such programs and I’ve wondered, what did these teachers get out of this day?  Did we just curb their enthusiasm for this job?  Did teachers feel supported and mentored and were we (those who put on the training) good stewards of our practice?  After all, we know that supporting new teachers can lead to a reduction in attrition and can go a long way for a new teacher and a district.

So how do we balance the paperwork and the practice?  What should a new teacher induction program look like?  What goals do these programs aspire to meet and how will they evaluate when those goals have been met?  

Admittedly, until about six months ago, I hadn’t put much thought into this.  I’ve attended our new teacher meeting each year.  I’ve seen the revolving door of district staff and administrators introducing our newest staff to the paperwork, policies, and website.  I’ve been part of that revolving door, advocating for National Board Certification and working as a mentor teacher over the years.  For the most part, I thought that we had done a nice job introducing the new teachers to the must know information for the job.  And then I learned about the Beginning Educator Support Team (BEST) program.  

BEST is a program designed to help administrators and mentors support novice teachers as they make the transition into the classroom.  This program was designed by OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) and funded by the state legislature.  The program has three goals:

  1. Reduce educator turnover.
  2. Improve educator quality for student learning.
  3. Ensure equity of learning opportunity for all students.  

You will notice that nowhere do you see — “4.  Learn how to put in for a substitute teacher when you are sick.”  

When our district hired several novice teachers, our assistant superintendent applied for and received a BEST grant.  The BEST grant partnered our district with our local ESD to support  a year-long mentoring project with our novice teachers.  One of my colleagues, Malinda, dove into the work of BEST and attended several academies and conferences, so that she could better understand what supports were needed.  Malinda brought back to a team of administrators, instructional coaches, and district support staff a set of standards, created by OSPI and CSTP for Teacher Induction Programs.  I should preface this by indicating that I’m not a BEST mentor and I have not been thoroughly trained by our state’s BEST program.  However, I’ve seen the impact of that training and having witnessed our first teacher induction program as a result of BEST training,

Our team of instructional coaches, human resource coordinators, building and district administrators came together and studied the standards.  We worked independently to see where we were in approaching those standards and we learned quickly that we were deficient in several areas.  To respond, our team came together every two weeks for several months to create a game plan for how to meet those standards.  Although BEST helps support novice educators, we wanted to ensure that we were supporting veteran teachers who were new to our district, too.  Malinda worked diligently to keep us focused on the standards and after months of work, the team established a game plan that included strengthening our hiring process, partnering with local universities, and developing a standards based teacher induction program.

Our new teacher induction program kicked off this week.  It is no longer a one day, rotating door meeting.  Instead our new teachers began their career in our district with a focused, five day training.  Our new teachers (novice and veteran) worked with district administrators, building administrators, instructional coaches, and peer to peer mentors.  They met together as a team of new teachers and were also broken into smaller teams, based on buildings/grade levels.  They worked to establish procedural plans and assessment goals, and also learned about curriculum and instructional materials.   And when the week concluded, the music was cued and the lyrics “Money, money, money, money” by the O’Jays blared while our Payroll Staff handed out paychecks to our new teachers for the week’s worth of time/work.  I heard shrieks of excitement and even an “oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!”

So was the work worth it? I sure hope so.  It’s too soon to measure whether this induction program is going to meet the three BEST goals. That will be better assessed later in the school year.   But anecdotally I feel that we are on our way.  I witnessed those smiles and heard those conversations.  I spoke with a new-to-us teacher who indicated that he could see our district’s vision being emulated in the staff’s passion for teaching and learning and the work that had been put into planning for the week.  Our new teachers felt valued.  

A growing attrition rate coupled with a teacher shortage requires that schools and districts critically examine the supports that are in place for new teachers. Supports must include thoughtfully planned, goal oriented, standards based teacher induction programs.  If we want to keep good teachers teaching we must demonstrate that we value their professional growth at the onset.  Let’s keep these teachers enthusiastic about the work that lies ahead and give them the tools early on so that they may be successful in accomplishing those goals.  

Lesson Plans vs. Professional Development

Thanks to the internet, I have hopelessly messed up some of the most (supposedly) tasty recipes ever posted: Homemade breads….desserts including many species of cookie…a few things involving breading and frying various other foods…

It is foolish for me to believe that merely following a recipe will net the kinds of results I see on the Food Network.

That, along with my roles as a mentor and leader of teacher PD, is why the headline “Give Weak Teachers Good Lesson Plans, Not Professional Development” caught my eye when it posted in Education Week recently.

The article made a few valid points, including this: Often, the least-effective teachers are so because of ineffective planning, ergo starting with stronger lesson plans is a great remedy. By “least-effective,” I’m talking the lowest 5-10% of the struggling corps.

Unfortunately, that valid point gets buried by this statement toward the end: “Giving teachers lesson plans is also cheaper and easier to scale than other interventions aimed at improving student achievement.”

I can follow a simple recipe, sometimes. I will never be Wolfgang Puck by just following a recipe. What do people who want to truly excel at their cooking do? Take classes. Get a mentor or coach. Collaborate with a peer. If I’m stuck on using a recipe, maybe I need to learn to cook without one…or better yet, learn to write recipes I and others can follow.

I’m a big believer in planning. I have never, not once, used a lesson plan written by someone else. That’s just me, not a wholesale indictment of “planning via Pinterest.” I simply cannot wrap my head around someone else’s script and make it work. I’ve tried, but I end up completely rewriting the recipe on the fly… my students tend to be picky eaters.

The point in all this: Yes, good lesson plans are a must for some teachers just starting their careers, wading into a new grade level or content area, or who are struggling to be effective. The lesson plans should be the starting point, though. Only through deliberate practice, peer support, and (gasp!) well-designed professional development, can we move beyond the recipe. The false dichotomy of “lesson plans” or “professional development” suggested by the article (which also cites that studies reveal almost no impact of PD on test scores) ignores the very real truth that well-structured PD whose practices are implemented with the support of peers, teams, or instructional coaches does in fact have a research-supported positive impact on student learning.

Lest we scrap our PD budgets and start just printing recipes for everyone… let’s remember that we have some pretty talented cooks in our kitchen already. We can, and should, learn from them. “PD” doesn’t have to mean sitting in the cafeteria to watch a PowerPoint. What “PD” looks like has evolved to be much more job-embedded and meaningful…and much more powerful than a few lesson plans printed out from TeachersPayTeachers. When it comes to PD making a difference, the quality of and follow-up provided in concert with the professional learning we experience is what transforms the recipe into a meal to remember.