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Weigh In: What's the Most Effective PD for New Teachers?

Mentoring programs top the list for these involved district leaders.

Big on Mentors

"We believe the most effective professional development continues to be having teachers who engage with coaches and mentors about their practice," says Susan Zurvalec, superintendent at Farmington Public Schools in Michigan. "We have supporting mentor teachers in all of our schools who work with our new teachers and help them collaborate on effective practices. Our new teachers have opportunities to go into other teachers' classrooms and be observed by either coaches or their mentors.

"We are really focusing our efforts on all teachers and principals who we truly want to be instructional leaders in the district. We don't see [new teacher training] as isolated.

"Our principals have been going through extensive training where they observe a teacher's classroom and use a rubric to describe what's going on, then engage in dialogue with teachers about what they observed. They provide teachers with the opportunity to reflect upon their teaching.

"In every school, we have two facilitators leading conversations with teachers about what quality instruction is. Teachers then look at a video-short segments of other teachers in the classroom-and are asked to reflect on what they've seen. Through that process of dialogue and reflection, they come to an understanding of what really constitutes effective teaching."

Seven Steps

"It's something called ETHS 101," says Eric Witherspoon, superintendent at Evanston Township High School District 202 in Illinois, speaking of the program named for the school. "It's a yearlong professional training and induction for new teachers. Every month, teachers attend a two- to three-hour seminar.

"There are seven dimensions: equity and high expectations, classroom environment, content knowledge, instruction, assessment, professional growth, and professionalism.

"Most of the curriculum is delivered by our own teachers. It's a collegial, cohort environment. In addition, every new teacher has a mentor, usually someone within his or her content area. So it's teachers supporting and teaching their colleagues.

"It's been so successful that we started a second year, called ETHS 202, for the same new teachers. Now they have a second-year induction program where we take them through the study of skillful teaching based on the research of Jon Saphier (The Skillful Teacher). It's a course designed around knowledge like teaching strategies, student beliefs, being part of a professional community, and very specific classroom strategies.

"We really need to have an ongoing commitment to support our professional staff and provide them with the kind of training and mentoring that's going to help them continue to grow and develop into being far better professionals."

Discipline Issues

"Every new teacher receives a mentor for one year," says Becky Kesler, assistant superintendent at Texarkana Arkansas School District in Arkansas. "We have them meet in the summer. Each teacher gets two days with their mentor to go over things like how to do lesson plans, how to take attendance, and so on. Then, once school starts, they spend one hour a week with their mentor and an additional 25 hours throughout the semester.

"We have been very successful with assigning the mentor on campus, where the teacher is actually located. The teacher and mentor work it out among themselves, and figure out when and where they're going to meet. Mentors have to go back every three years and complete a three-day training. We make sure they have very clear guidelines about what's expected of them as a mentor, what documentation we'll expect them to turn in.

"I've conducted two studies so far this year with the new teachers, and they have all found that it has been very helpful for them. How to deal with discipline issues was the main thing they pinpointed that they really needed help with as a brand-new teacher.

"We've done this for several years, and every year it gets a little bit better."

Start Right

"We have a very significant induction program in our district," says Sandy Ripplinger, the assistant superintendent for school leadership at Boulder Valley School District in Colorado. "The main reason this is so valuable is because it's embedded on-the-job professional development for our teachers.

"Every new teacher in the district is assigned a person who acts as his or her mentor, and that mentor meets a half day each week with the teacher. It can really look like a lot of different opportunities. Sometimes the mentor co-teaches with the teacher. Sometimes he or she will model different lessons or different strategies for the teacher with that teacher's classroom. And sometimes the mentor comes into the classroom so that the teacher can go and visit another experienced teacher in the school or in another school.

"Outside of mentoring, the mentor and the new teacher meet monthly in a seminar. Different specialists will come in. It may be the special education director in our district, who offers insights into the programming and then answers questions specific to his or her field. I was part of a principal panel a number of years ago, and I talked to new teachers about evaluations and what I looked for as I evaluated teachers.

"Whatever we can do to make teachers successful right from the very beginning is worth its weight in gold."   

Across the Nation: Instructional Coaching, Reflections on Teaching

"Last year, we implemented a nine-week instructional coach program," says Janice Garnett, assistant superintendent of human resources at Omaha Public Schools in Nebraska. "We identified new teachers in some of our high-poverty schools to have a retired teacher work alongside them. Weeks one and two focused around classroom management, three and four on planning and preparation, five through seven on instruction, and eight and nine on mentoring and instructional coaching. The teachers who went through this program were later very successful."

"New teachers say that the most valuable piece of our mentoring program has been classroom observations," says Lisa Kudelka, human resources manager at Bismarck Public Schools in North Dakota. "They reflect on areas of concern or areas they want to change and improve. We follow up with a debriefing and they write a specific plan as to how they're going to move forward, what they want to do differently in their own classroom."

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