Reach Out to a New Teacher

I remember rewriting, ‘Miss Long,’ at least 6 times on the white board.
I remember hearing the bell ring and all of the middle schoolers outside reply with excitement filled, ‘Woo’s’.
I remember the pit in my stomach which was a perfect mix of anticipation and pure terror.
I remember watching the empty classroom fill with a sea of 12 & 13 year olds.
“This is my first class.  I can’t believe it!!”

Fast forward, oh let’s say, about three weeks….

I remember turning my back to the class (in a pathetic attempt to write a vocabulary word on the board), clenching my jaw, fighting to hold back tears thinking, “You just have to make it through the rest of this class.  You have 10 minutes.  Don’t show them the tears.” 

Some pep talk, huh?

That^ is the first year of teaching.  Can you recall pieces of your first year yet? 

So, let’s break it down.  What are the most common stumbling blocks when it comes to the first year?  I generated some common barriers with actionable solutions.

1. Not Knowing the Building

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Teachers that are new often find their way to their classroom, the main office, and most likely the nearest bathroom.  Knowing other logistics comes second…but should it?

How you can help support beginning teachers:

  •  Keep arms, legs, and gum to yourself while on the tour!  Walk around the building with the beginning teacher.  While meeting with a new teacher last year, I asked a question about her student’s reading levels…that question led into, ‘Let’s head over to the guidance office and print them out’…which led into, ‘Let’s go find the guidance office!’
  • What is important to know in the faculty hand book?  What do the those ‘codes’ mean?  What should you do if a student has been absent all week?  It’s crucial to front-load this information – or – at least let the beginning teacher know where they can find the information.

2. Classroom Management

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This is a tough one for all teachers, but especially newbies.

“A 2004 Public Agenda survey found that 85 percent of teachers believed ‘new teachers are particularly unprepared for dealing with behavior problems in their classrooms’ (p. 3).  A separate survey of 500 teachers found that teachers with three years or fewer on the job were more than twice as likely as teachers with more experience (19 percent versus 7 percent) to say that student behavior was a problem in their classrooms (Melnick & Meister, 2008; Goodwin, 2012).”

If behavior isn’t under control, let’s face it, little learning is going to take place.

How you can help support beginning teachers:

  • Actively listen!  Admitting there are behavioral or managerial issues isn’t easy to do, so new teachers need supporters in their corner.  Compassion is key…we’ve all been there.
  • And, on that same thought, judgmental, ‘I don’t have that problem with him’ & ‘You need to have rules’ are not only like sticking a dagger into their self-esteem, but they also aren’t too helpful.  Try offering some ideas or encouraging the teacher to check out what you do in your classroom.  New teachers are N-E-W and don’t have a bag full of tricks yet – help them collect some!
  • Offer to check out their classroom and talk about procedures together.  Is there a system for collecting homework? Late work?  What do students do upon entering the classroom?  Taking a classroom walk-through may prove to be helpful.

3. Becoming an Island

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Teaching can be a lonely place when classroom doors are closed.  A study by Scholastic and the Gates Foundation found that teachers spend about 3% of their teaching day collaborating with colleagues. 3%?!

How you can help support beginning teachers:

  • Pop in their classroom – or better yet – take them out of their classroom. Introduce them to other teachers/educators in the building.  Help them build up a mini-network… or at least be able to recognize some familiar faces.
  • Set up a time to observe each other… or invite them into your classroom.  Grab coffee and discuss afterwards.
  • Mention a committee or group that they could join.  It may seem a little overwhelming to the new teacher at first, but reassure them they can take on as much/little responsibility as they’d like at first.  It’s a great way to network with other individuals in school – and keeps them abreast on current school events.

4. Curriculum I-dunnos

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Pacing guides and state standards are helpful.  However, not knowing instructional techniques, common student misconceptions associated with the content, where to locate resources, etc., etc., etc.  can quickly leave new teachers overwhelmed.

How you can help support beginning teachers:

  •  Plan together.  Share some resources or sticky situations that commonly come up while teaching (insert subject or topic here).  It’s so important that we, as educators, are always reflective – why not share that process with the beginning teacher?
  • A common phrase in schools is: ‘don’t recreate the wheel’… So why are we expecting this of new teachers?  Quite honestly, we need to have a sense of urgency when supporting beginning teachers – we can’t wait 3 years for them to figure it out on their own.  That decision will impact many students.
  • Question and discuss grading.  What works?  What doesn’t?  What have you learned?  How could students take accountability for their learning and self-assess?  What are the goals of the assessment?  How will you use student data to drive and inform practice?

Summing It Up

I’ve been able to relive many of the woes and triumphs vicariously though beginning teachers as their Coach.  One of my colleagues tweeted this a few months ago and it still resonates with me:

As we embark on another new school year (yes, I realize it’s still early August), I find it critical that we, as more seasoned educators, truly reach out to the new teachers in our buildings.  After all, schools should be welcoming places for students and teachers alike.

Here’s a chart that depicts the road new teachers travel their 1st year:

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To learn more about the ‘first year curve’ check out The New Teacher Center’s article.

Continue reading

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Ugh We Have PD Today???

Picture this:

It’s Tuesday afternoon and through the end-of-the-school-day-rush, you’ve finally made it to the school’s conference room to join your fellow co-workers.  As you sit, you begin to hear:

A) “My last period class seemed to be really dragging today.  I just wish I could somehow bottle up some energy from my 3rd period class.”

B) “Lunch duty was definitely interesting today… we had a serious pile up that should have been on Channel 10.  There were SIX, yes S-I-X, spilled trays within the first 2 minutes.”

C) “I hope we get out of here early.”

You respond with, “Wasn’t this supposed to start 5 minutes ago?” and right on cue, the presenter begins.   

As you scan the room you see (Check all that apply):

√ Pockets of side conversation 

√ Smart phones discreetly hidden under the table being used

√ Smart phones not being discreetly hidden under the table…being used

√ Adults correcting paperwork

√ Passive participation

Pop Quiz:

Q: Where are you?

A: You’ve got it…PD.

Now, don’t get me wrong – we’ve all been to fabulous professional development and not every meeting looks the way I described it above.  However, in many cases, the scenario drawn out above is exactly how PD is being presented.

Sooo, the big questions: What makes PD effective? What makes it exciting to go to?  How can we tap into the power of PD?

I made a quick list that I think captures some key points:

Norms

Norms help keep everyone accountable for their time and learning (and the time/learning of others).  It’s always better to set the stage from the get-go instead of back peddling as soon as the phones come out.  I stole some of my favorite meeting norms from many of the NTC (@NewTeacherCtr) PDs I’ve been to this year: 

Confidentiality

Equity of Voice

Active Listening

Safety to Share

Self Monitored Use of Technology

Commitment to the Work

Participant Centered

This is huge.  Real learning comes from conversations and tinkering around with new information – so, it’s vital that participants do the heavy lifting in sessions.  I know that listening to someone lecture (I always have a negative visceral reaction to that word) won’t get new content to stick.  We need to be delivering PD with best practice! (Activities, scenarios, role-plays, mini-video clips…) Educators need time to implement new learning – so allow time for participants to actively engage in doing so!

Relevant

It’s critical to have instructional outcomes for PD.  What should participants be able to walk away with?  How will that meaningfully drive their instruction for students?  Make sure the topic hits upon needs and interests of participants – consider giving participants a survey or setting up a Padlet.

(If you are not familiar with Padlet, it’s a mini online bulletin board that could be used to brainstorm ideas.  Here’s an example from an UNconference I’m helping to plan in August… My colleague put this one together for it: Gino’s Padlet)

Differentiated

Also, I guarantee no one wants to sit through an hour (or more!) of something they already know.  We need to tap into the expertise of the adult learners that are in sessions.  Consider open-ended work products or stations for participants to choose from.  One size doesn’t fit all in the classroom, and we need to remember that when it comes to adult learning too!

Useable

The best professional development is the type that can be implemented the next day or that sparks you to learn even more.  When PD is given in isolated bursts, it’s hard to make lasting and meaningful change.  This is why either follow-up activities or timelines helps make everyone accountable.  (Have post-it notes with a chart paper in faculty rooms or by teacher mailboxes: “Here are three strategies we learned about today…  Try out one this week and post a mini-reflection of how it went on this chart paper.  This way, we can continue to learn from one another.”)

Of course this is just a quick list of what I consider key points in facilitating professional development – but – I’d love to hear other’s perspectives and ideas!  

Tying it all together

Recently, I was fortunate to pair up with two fellow Induction Coaches (@GinoSangiuliano & @WriteS_olutions) to run an UNconference for educators here in little Rhody.  It was a huge success (if I do say so myself) so we had to plan another one.  At one point we tried to gather the group together to take a quick break and…well…that didn’t happen.  We couldn’t get participants to pause from their conversations and t a k e a b r e a k!  That’s when you know participants are not merely on-task, but actively engaged in their learning.  Here is the recap.

TechRITechRI2

If that^ tease sparked your interest for information on UNconferences, please feel free to check out some of these resources:

What is an EdCamp Video

Professional Development for Educators by Educators: The Inspirational EdCamp Model  (@ScottRRocco)

What is EdCamp (@davidwees)

And (of course) here’s a shameless plug if you’re in the area and want to attend our UNconference EdTech2 August 2nd, HERE are the details.

The Best Thing About Teaching…

“The best thing about teaching is, it matters. The hardest thing about teaching is, it matters every day.” – Todd Whitaker

Doesn’t that quote just get right to the point?

I’m a classroom teacher that took the plunge to work with adults, instead of my 7th grade kiddos, as an Induction Coach.  I had no idea what to expect in this new role and I found myself often revisiting the quote posted above.  Because, teaching really does matter (with an ! not a .) and when you’re a first year teacher, at times, ‘every day’ can feel like a pretty heavy responsibility.

It’s a humbling experience to be welcomed into a stranger’s classroom, see inside their thinking and choices, learn about their insecurities, troubleshoot and brainstorm, and reflect with them.  While being an advocate, extra pair of eyes, and a listener to some truly amazing novice educators, I grew truckloads professionally (and personally) alongside of them.  But, one of the most rewarding aspects of this instructional coach gig is witnessing many teacher aha! moments.

When I would return to a teacher’s classroom the following week, ask a question and get an eloquently, well thought out response, I began to realize that I was observing tremendous growth.  I’m sure many teachers were thinking (but not saying), ‘Liz, seriously?  Duh.  I’m making this incredibly purposeful decision because x, y, and, z’.  And that, is the beauty of teaching…it’s all about growth.

If we’re not learning ourselves, if we don’t take the time to reflect upon actions and choices, or if we don’t collaborate and share with one another, then tremendous growth… well… just doesn’t happen.  And if the hardest thing about teaching is, ‘it matters every day’ then we better get ourselves a professional network and reach out within our school communities.  This way, we’re able to share and support one another in that immense responsibility.