Teaching is complex work, and learning to do it well takes time. Even the most rigorously-prepared new teacher encounters a steep learning curve on the job. The first several years of full-time classroom teaching are a time of intense learning, during which teachers form the teaching habits and professional dispositions that will stay with them through their careers.
Therefore, the schools where teachers work are powerful players in shaping the next generation of day school teachers. As Judith Warren Little says in “Organizing Schools for Teacher Learning” (1),
Teachers form a disposition toward their learning in the fabric of daily school work. That fabric is woven in the brief exchanges and small moments that make up the enduring patterns of professional life. It does not take a newcomer long to take stock of whether the school’s values, norms and relationships are consistent with learning: respect and encouragement, support for help seeking and help giving, celebration of struggle and accomplishment, principled and well informed debate, and open consideration of alternative views.
For example, the questions administrators ask and the information they share during the hiring process speak volumes about what the school values. The way in which teachers collaborate –or don’t–to map curriculum and plan lessons deeply affects how fast the newest teachers learn while shaping their understanding of what it means to be a colleague in that school. The ways in which supervisors respond to teachers’ mis-steps can elicit either constructive reflection or paralyzing shame, influencing their willingness to take risks in the classroom.
With these principles in mind, the Mandel Center’s Teacher Learning Project (formerly called the Induction Partnership Project) has partnered with nine Jewish day schools since 2005 to help each develop the structural and cultural conditions that promote teachers’ ongoing professional learning, beginning with the newest faculty.
Through this intensive, individualized coaching work we have developed a collection of tools for conceptualizing, building, and assessing strong induction practices. Now, with support from the Covenant Foundation, we have gathered those tools in one place, an on-line interactive toolkit for day school administrators and teacher leaders, professional developers and coaches.
This website, teacherlearningproject.com, is a resource for those interested in the question: How can we make day schools excellent places for teachers to learn and grow? It features practical, field-tested resources, designed to help school teams:
- Develop a shared vision of good teaching;
- Build a robust mentoring program to help teachers realize that vision;
- Create more intentional hiring practices;
- Overhaul their approach to new teacher orientation;Institute growth-oriented supervision practices; and
- Understand the role of curriculum in teacher development.
The heart of the toolkit is a set of standards for school-based induction, articulated across a continuum that describes how schools develop from basic to exemplary practice on each aspect of induction. The continuum is both a conceptual and a practical tool, designed to help school leaders assess what is and envision what is possible. Each section of the continuum is accompanied by a teaching module for school leadership teams. The modules support leaders in understanding and creating the structures that best support novices, from hiring to supervision.
The toolkit also contains an extensive array of resources for mentor study groups, designed with the premise that, like teaching, mentoring a colleague is complex work that must be learned. Our curriculum for mentors supports the development of such skills as focused classroom observation, giving feedback, and co-planning lessons.
Schools are busy places, and school employees often have little time or energy to spare. Creating the conditions that best support teachers’ ongoing learning is not easy. It requires time, hard work, and conviction. Yet the payoff – in stronger faculties, happier teachers, and improved student learning – is well worth it.
We hope that the online toolkit will support school leaders and their coaches in taking on this important work. Check it out at teacherlearningproject.com and let us know what you think! We look forward to hearing your feedback.
To learn more about the Teacher Learning Project, consider one of our free introductory webinars, hosted by the University-School Partnership at Yeshiva University. Register here.
(1) Judith Warren Little. “Organizing Schools for Teacher Learning.” Teaching as the Learning Profession: Handbook of Policy and Practice. Eds. Linda Darling-Hammond and Gary Sykes. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999. 254.