When you devise a year-long, monthly schedule for meeting with new teachers, you’ll be able to offer them timely resources and guidance for first-year experiences.
Of course, being “new” is a three-year process. So what can administrators do to provide ongoing professional development to new teachers to ensure that they continue to build their content knowledge and best instructional practices?
Two words: Master teachers.
Identify Model Classrooms for New Teachers to Observe
As principals, we know who our master teachers are. When we walk into their classrooms, students are highly engaged in instruction, in-depth critical thinking is a priority, and there’s consistent, masterful implementation of best practices. By tapping into the expertise already in your building, you can prioritize ongoing professional development for your newer teachers throughout the school year.
Start by identifying model classrooms in different grade levels and content areas. When reviewing different classrooms, note what instructional practices you deem as hallmark examples (backed by research). Focus on the instructional practices rather than traits specific to certain content areas. The priority is to build a toolbox of best practices for your new teachers. If you can align content areas with best practices too, then great — but it’s not necessary. Best instructional practices, however, are universal.
The goal of identifying master teachers and what they do well is to create a list of classrooms for your new teachers to observe throughout the year. This process gives new teachers expert colleagues (coaches) whom they can seek out, beyond the formal observations, for ongoing support, ideas, and clarification.
Create a Cohort of Coaches
Sending new teachers into classrooms to observe best practices will require someone or a group of people to help facilitate tasks and discussions. Some schools have the advantage of having instructional coaches on staff. Use them! If you don’t have a designated instructional coach, identify teachers or support staff you can assist in spearheading this initiative.
Once you’ve identified two or three classrooms, at different grade levels, that model instructional practices you want new teachers to replicate, approach those teachers and ask them to be part of your cohort of coaches. Most teachers will be flattered and eager to help their newer colleagues.
In your first year of creating this cohort, you should take the lead in organizing and guiding the group. This will help your staff understand your vision and purpose, as well as your expectations for the school.
Here’s an example of a vision and purpose you might share with your coaches to help get them excited and unified about what you’re trying to do:
- Vision: To give ongoing support for new teachers (under three years’ experience) to observe, learn, and replicate best practices in instruction, regardless of content area.
- Purpose: Provide firsthand observation of best instructional practices on topics such as:
- Questioning techniques
- Inquiry-based learning
- Facilitating student discussions
- Interactive learning (rather than passive listening)
- Use of authentic resources to make real-world connections
- Integrating best practices in reading and writing in all content areas
- Active listening techniques
- Behavior management and positive reinforcement
Once you’ve laid out the vision, then you can move on to logistics such as:
- Your expectations of teacher-coaches
- Scheduling concerns for observations
- Follow-up conversations between coaches and new teachers
The follow-up conversations are a critical component to this process. They give new teachers an opportunity to ask questions, process what they saw, and brainstorm how these techniques might look in their classrooms. Most importantly, it will allow coaches to explain why they took specific actions and the expected outcomes for students.
Consider Budget and Other Details
The primary budget consideration will be the cost of substitute teachers to cover new teachers’ classrooms during the observation and coverage for both classrooms during follow-up conversations. Ideally, post-observation discussions should happen immediately after the observation. If finding substitutes is not possible, think creatively by using personnel within the school to cover classes or by scheduling observations to occur right before the coach’s planning period.
Additional details to work out might include:
- Coordinating schedules
- Selecting focus areas
- Gathering resources (e.g., short, research-based articles that correlate with the planned observation)
Ideally, new teachers should participate in at least three observations. Meeting in early fall, mid-year, and early spring will allow for layers of understanding to build over time. In addition, it gives time for new teachers to put new strategies into practice and for principals to observe and offer additional coaching.
After the first year of using model classrooms, do it again! Remember, new teachers are learning over the course of three years. A teacher’s first year is mainly about surviving, the second year is about fixing what you didn’t know from the first year, and the third year is for refining.
New teachers need a lot of support and coaching in their first three years. It’s the prime time for you as their leader to shape them into a master teacher — one who exemplifies best practices to grow and support students.
Another benefit of using model classrooms, beyond being a training space for new teachers, is having these classrooms identified for other veteran teachers to observe. All growth-minded teachers are eager to gain deeper insights into best practices. You can provide this ongoing professional development by using the experts in your building. They are right at your fingertips.