Tag Archives: #BWTalksTalent

Traditional and Teach For America Preparation: One Teacher’s Experience

Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This post is part of a week-long series about educator and leader pipelines. Read the rest of the series here.

While Teach For America (TFA) welcomes fully certified teachers from traditional programs at institutes of higher education, most of their corps members come in and attend TFA’s summer sessions without prior teacher training. Fully certified teachers might wonder if there is a place for them in TFA, and TFA-trained teachers might question what they missed by not having teacher preparation as an undergraduate.

I interviewed one educator who completed both pathways: my daughter Gabriella Nelson. She completed teacher training at Grinnell College, then enrolled in Teach For America and attended their summer institute in the Mississippi Delta region.

Gabriella is now the academic coordinator at the school she joined through TFA six years ago. In addition to overseeing curriculum, she coaches grade 6-12 ELA other subject teachers, bringing lessons from her classroom experience and dual preparation to shape and encourage her colleagues. In our conversation below, we touch on the reason for her choices, the differences in each type of preparation, and what she finds most helpful to prepare teachers.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How did you choose a college for your teacher preparation?
I looked for colleges with good educational programs where I could get my license in four or four and a half years. I picked Grinnell College because I knew that they put you in the classroom earlier than the student teaching programs in other schools. I was in a classroom beginning the second or third semester of college. I also liked that education wasn’t a major — you had to major in a subject, and I felt that was better content than what I perceived some “education major” coursework included.

Grinnell created a strong foundation for knowing how to plan my classes — they did a good job of preparing us in that respect. But the program didn’t talk a lot about classroom management. Another weakness (not their fault) was that learning how to teach in rural Iowa is not necessarily the most translatable experience to where I ended up teaching.

You also chose to participate in Teach For America (TFA) after graduation and attended their summer institute. Tell me about that choice.
I chose TFA in part because they sent me an email in October of my senior year inviting me to meet with them and apply. At that time, I was unsure of where to go teach and I knew their process would help me make that choice. Also, educational inequality was something I wanted to focus on: to be around people who valued making education more equitable.

How did TFA’s summer institute training compare to your traditional training?
Grinnell had a general focus on social justice, but I didn’t get explicit preparation for teaching in diverse settings. TFA’s institute had specific sessions geared towards diversity, equity, and inclusion. For example, we learned how to teach students who didn’t share your culture, and strategies inclusive of all learners. A lot of time was spent on building cultural competency.

You ultimately taught in Memphis with TFA. Did you feel prepared to enter your classroom on the first day?
I felt prepared and then very quickly realized I was not prepared. In theory, I knew what I was supposed to be doing and had my plans, but nothing prepares you to be the only one in the room responsible for all these students. I hadn’t really practiced for that.

In theory, teaching should be easy — best practices, best classroom management, etc. — but you are not teaching in a vacuum. The hardest thing is that you never know what is going to happen. Will there be a fire drill? What kind of attitude will the kids have? Will the school flood? There were so many different things that could happen. Constantly adapting and working through the sheer number of decisions you have to make every day was overwhelming. Responding to students, switching up a lesson, calling out a student for a uniform violation or letting it go — nothing can prepare you for how much decision making is happening all of the time. And those decisions potentially have a long-lasting effect on student outcomes. Learning how to productively manage that pressure takes a lot of practice.

What have your experiences taught you about what works in traditional and/or alternative pipelines for teachers?
More programs should follow the Grinnell-like model where you are in the classroom earlier. I wish more of them would make students really study some content – Grinnell’s academics were more rigorous than some “standard” education preparation programs.

I recommend a more rigorous and regular support system for new teachers: a combination of classroom support, checking in with teachers to make sure things are going okay, and anecdotal coaching to relate to them that you also struggled when you were new. This support is better if it is school-based rather than someone coming in from the outside because every school is different.

After serving as a classroom teacher for three years, and one year split between teaching and administrative work, I’m now a full-time K-12 academic coordinator for about 700 students and 45 – 50 teachers. The value of what I do is that I’ve been here and understand this school’s culture and can coach from that lens. Outsiders may not understand the culture and norms our teachers face. At the very least, the coach should have taught in the same city or the same general environment. A suburban teacher coaching in a Title 1 school is not effective.

What I Learned About Retaining Teachers From Having Done It Badly as a New Principal

Photo via Flickr user jeffdjevdet

This post is part of a week-long series about educator and leader pipelines. Read the rest of the series here.

As schools across the nation get back into gear, top of mind for principals and leaders is how to keep the teachers they’ve hired. I can tell you now: free coffee in the workroom, t-shirts during teacher appreciation week, “carrot and stick” methods, or other gimmicks by themselves don’t keep teachers. Teachers stay when they experience genuine care and investment from their school leaders and managers. Gallup’s well-known research, which led to the creation of the Q12 survey to assess employee engagement, points directly to the impact of a strong manager. Their research reiterates the common idea that “employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” Similarly, teachers don’t leave schools, they leave principals and leaders who haven’t been able to engage them. I learned this the hard way.

At the start of my first year as a principal, I hired a team of twenty one. By the end of the school year, only seventeen remained. Of the seventeen, only seven continued on into the following school year. While some of the seventeen were let go, I knew that too many of them had quit.

I felt frustrated and exhausted. I remember taking those seven remaining teachers out for dinner and asking them: “Why did you stay?” Their responses became my first leadership lesson as a new manager: They said: “We were the ones you invested in,” “we were the ones you trusted and gave leadership to,” and “we were the ones who you showed that you cared [about personally].”

This was hard to hear but true: these were the teachers who I invested in more, trusted, and encouraged, especially when they were struggling. I was thankful for this feedback. Moving forward, I tried each year to create this feeling for my whole team and not just a select few.

Here are some of the key changes I made and the ones I suggest to leaders:

Know the individuals on your team

No matter how big your school is, you need to know the individuals on your team. Know their strengths, areas of growth, interests, and aspirations. Ask about their significant others, kids, and life outside of the school — take a personal interest in them. Leverage a situational leadership style to tailor your support of them. Use your head and your heart when working with them. If you hired them, hopefully you care enough to see them not just as the teacher who teaches in room 202 but as a whole person.

Coach and develop your team

Make sure they have a coach who is providing personalized development, even if it’s not you. Ensure this is happening on a consistent and regular basis, and regularly make time to check in with them yourself on how their coaching and support is going. This includes joining coaching sessions to offer input and push the quality further. Plan professional development that is tailored and differentiated, whether that includes choice in sessions or structured pathways such as teaching fellow programs. Create stretch opportunities for them to grow in areas they may not even recognize as strengths yet.

Ask questions and listen to them

Be genuinely curious about their opinions and feedback, even if you don’t use all of it. Create the space for them to share constructive ideas and thoughts about improvement. Let them know when you have used their feedback or ideas. Gallup’s research affirms that employees who feel like significant contributors to their organization and believe their “opinion counts” experience a higher level of satisfaction in their workplace. If I had not taken my seven returners to dinner, asked them for their honest feedback, and genuinely listened to it, I would have missed out on a vital leadership growth opportunity for myself.

Be patient with them

Understand that they will make mistakes, drop balls, miss deadlines, arrive late, call out sick last minute, etc. Use these moments as a learning opportunity to reset expectations and plan for the future with them as opposed to becoming annoyed, holding a grudge, or looking for their next mistake. Keep the bar high and provide direction, support, and scaffolds to help your teachers get there.

Empower them

Create opportunities for as many team members as possible to lead and shape aspects of the school. Create opportunities for your teachers to start and lead initiatives that allow them to bring other aspects of their personal life into the school. This spreads leadership and ownership of the school while also enriching it with diverse perspectives and points of view. I remember the day my principal asked me to lead my grade-level team even though there were more experienced teachers on it. He and I didn’t know then that he had sowed the seeds of school leadership by recognizing something in me.

Show your appreciation

You should be your teachers’ biggest fan. Celebrate your teachers’ growth and accomplishments. And just like in an interpersonal relationship, don’t wait for Valentine’s Day or birthdays to show appreciation. Take a page out of the 5 Love Languages and demonstrate your appreciation in a variety of ways, like by saying “it was great watching you in action with your kids today…” or by genuinely spending time with your teachers. I fondly remember chatting it up with my teachers as they headed home after school.

Become the kind of manager our teams need us to be — our kids and communities can’t afford a revolving door of teachers.

School Principals Aren’t Quitting En Masse, But These Factors Affect Their Satisfaction

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This post is part of a week-long series about educator and leader pipelines. Read the rest of the series here.

An often-cited 2012 MetLife survey indicated that 1 in 3 principals was very likely to leave their role. According to EdWeek coverage at the time: “Nearly half of principals surveyed indicated that they ‘feel under great stress several days a week.’ And job satisfaction among principals has decreased notably…” After the survey’s release, the education community echoed concerns about increasingly frustrated principals.

But a new report indicates that while some principals may be as unsatisfied as they were in 2012, they are not in fact fleeing the job in droves.

This past July, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) published findings on principal attrition and mobility from the 2016-17 Principal Follow-up Survey.

The overall results show that principals stay in the profession at high rates. Among the 2015-16 cohort, 88 percent were still principals in 2016-17, with 82 percent of them in the same school. More than half had served as principals in the same school for three or more years, and nearly 70 percent had served as a principal in any school for three or more years.

The report separates the survey sample into “stayers” (serving as principal in the same school as the base year), “movers” (serving as a principal in another school), “leavers” (not serving as a principal), or “other.” Digging into the attrition data more deeply reveals that the percentage of stayers, movers, and leavers holds fairly consistently across various characteristics, but there are some differences. While small — often just a few percentage points — a few of these differences stand out, potentially warranting monitoring over time to see if new trends emerge:

  1. A higher proportion of charter school principals leave the profession compared to district school principals. The difference in the percent of leavers is less than four percentage points (13.8 percent compared to 9.4 percent), but the 2016-17 results are the first to show this difference. Results from the two previous versions showed differences less than one percentage point between the two groups. We can only speculate what factors may be driving the change, and only time will tell if it represents and emerging trend or a one-time blip.
  2. Having less experience as a principal does not appear to affect attrition rates, but experience as a teacher prior to becoming a principal may. The percentage of leavers across years of experience as a principal is fairly stable except for the highest levels of experience. Higher “leaver rates” among the most experienced principals is expected because of the impact of retirement. However, a slightly higher proportion of principals reporting less than five years experience as a teacher prior to becoming a principal left the profession, suggesting that either total experience, total experience in education, or specific experience as a teacher may influence how long a principal stays in the profession.
  3. A slightly higher proportion of principals who served in lower-income schools leave the profession compared to wealthier schools. The difference in the proportions between these two groups is only 3 percentage points (11 percent compared to 8 percent). It is also worth noting that the proportion of leavers serving in schools with a lower percentage of free and reduced-price lunch participation (between 25-49 percent) is about the same as that in schools with the highest participation rates. In short, student population doesn’t seem to largely affect principals’ decision-making.
  4. Even principals who indicate a high level of dissatisfaction in their work mostly stay in their roles. The vast majority of principals surveyed indicated that they find their jobs satisfying, and a sizable proportion indicate plans to remain in the profession as long as they are able or at least until retirement. Even among the subset expressing agreement with negative statements such as “I don’t seem to have as much enthusiasm now as I did when I began this job” (29 percent of respondents), “I think about staying home from school because I’m just too tired to go” (13 percent),  or “The stress and disappointments involved in being a principal in this school aren’t really worth it” (16 percent), more than three-quarters of them stayed in their roles at their same schools.

The good news is that on average, principals appear to be a fairly stable group: they stay in their roles over time, and when that stability is matched with quality leadership, good things will happen for students and schools. But it is critical to continue working to ensure that educators have the supports and resources they need to be successful so that every school has an inspired leader at the helm.

Want to Keep Great Teachers? Listen to What They Say.

This post is part of a week-long series about educator and leader pipelines. Read the rest of the series here.

Last Monday was the first day back for DC Public Schools (DCPS). Luckily, many DCPS students entered classrooms led by teachers rated “effective” or “highly effective.” In fact, the district retains 92 percent of these in-demand educators.

But what about the high-performing teachers who leave the district? There is a common misconception that a punitive evaluation system is the main issue driving out great DCPS teachers. Yet, when you actually ask teachers, this narrative doesn’t seem to tell the whole story.

DCPS surveys all teachers exiting the district to ask about why they left, where they went, and what would have made them stay. In a recent report, we took a closer look at these data and focused on high-performing teachers’ responses to better understand how to retain these teachers in particular.

Analyzing why great educators leave can be a touchy subject, so when we released the report, our approach was not appreciated by all:

Kaya and Dan are right in that, compared to other urban districts, DCPS does not have a problem retaining its high-performing teachers. We know that because of the district’s evaluation system, IMPACT, which meaningfully differentiates teachers’ performance:

But we still thought it important to review these findings. A rigorous evaluation system such as IMPACT makes the resulting data on what high-performing teachers want much more valuable than data from systems that struggle to identify outstanding teachers. By focusing on good and great teachers, our report aims to provide DCPS and other urban districts with strategies to intentionally retain these high performers.

Differentiating teacher retention by performance speaks to a larger research-backed theory: not all teacher churn is bad. Yes, in general teacher turnover is harmful to students, but when districts can replace teachers who leave with higher performing teachers, it is better for student achievement. DCPS is a shining example of this approach.

In case you missed our original report, here are the key themes we found in our analysis:

These findings give DCPS and other similar urban school districts data to consider when making changes to retain their best teachers. They could give experienced, high-performing teachers more options for extended leave and part-time employment. They could address how school leaders show encouragement and recognition to high performers or think about systems for behavioral and instructional support. On the flip side, trying to retain potential career changers might not be a promising strategy since most of them say there was nothing the district could have done to change their mind.

Although DCPS already retains a large majority of its effective and highly effective teachers, we hope that our report will help the district continue to do so and potentially influence other urban districts that are considering retention strategies.

The Black Teacher Pipeline Is Clogged by Decades of Discrimination. Here’s How to Fix It.

This post is part of a week-long series about educator and leader pipelines. Read the rest of the series here.

For too long, schools have subliminally communicated an insidious message to black students: careers in education are not for you. As student diversity grows, only 20 percent of teachers nationally are of color, and numbers of black educators are swiftly declining in large urban school districts. When students of color graduate from college, less than 20% of them hold degrees in education. Honestly, I’m not surprised: Why would an educated, successful black person choose to enter a profession that has demonstrated systematic racism toward them for more than sixty years?

It hasn’t always been this way. Before the landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, black teachers taught black students in black schools. There were tens of thousands of black teachers and principals, particularly across the South. But when schools were integrated, a large portion of black educators lost their jobs (an issue which made it to the Supreme Court with Brooks v. Moberly in 1959). As schools became less segregated for children, the teaching profession became more so. This was no accident: school districts systematically excluded black teachers, firing them en masse after integration, setting them up for failure in newly-integrated schools, and, over time, hiring them at slower rates than their white peers.

While this history is little-known, it’s not shocking. The same racism that drove slavery and Jim Crow dictated that it would be impossible for black teachers to preside over classrooms that included white students. The thought of a black adult facilitating any child’s learning was, well, unthinkable.

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

Having a teacher of color as a classroom leader matters for all kids. It’s important that the education workforce looks like our nation’s student body, and recent research shows having a same-race teacher improves academic outcomes for black students. Moreover, all students report feeling more academically motivated, more supported, and more cared for by their teachers of color than by their white teachers.

Attracting black teachers is no simple task. Here are three ways states and districts might begin turning the tide against decades of discrimination and bias:

1. Codify equitable and inclusive hiring practices

Early in my own teaching career, I taught in a small, rural school district. At a meeting for new teachers, I asked the superintendent if she might connect me with other teachers of color in the district, as I had noticed that I was the only one at my school. She laughed uncomfortably, explaining “that people like that” didn’t apply for jobs in the district. Her response haunted me: she didn’t seem concerned by the dearth of diverse educators, and if there were a problem, it certainly wasn’t the district’s fault. Though there were a significant number of students of color in the schools she led, there was no ownership of the fact that teachers of color clearly found the district undesirable, and there was no urgency or sense of responsibility to change that situation.

The good news is that when districts make efforts to reduce discrimination and bias in their hiring practices, it works. A teacher desegregation court order enforced in Louisiana in 2010 not only reduced the “representation gap” between black students and black teachers, but also improved academic outcomes for black students.

It doesn’t have to take a court order to see results like these. Instead of lamenting the fact that black teachers don’t apply in their districts, or simply wishing that their teaching ranks were more diverse, districts could codify equitable and inclusive hiring practices that emphasize a bias toward teacher diversity. When possible, districts should commit to filling open teaching positions with qualified teachers of color until the racial composition of teachers mirrors the racial composition of students.

2. Remove the barriers to teaching that disproportionately affect people of color

For equitable and inclusive hiring practices to work, of course, districts need to have diverse teaching applicants. The problem is that barriers to entering the teaching profession disproportionately affect people of color. College is becoming increasingly expensive, and that burden rests more heavily on the shoulders of black and brown students than on their white peers. Further compounding the problem, teacher licensure exams are unfairly biased against potential teachers of color.

States might address this problem in a couple of ways — first, by offering full tuition reimbursement or student loan repayment for teachers of color who commit to teaching long-term. States might also consider approving more non-traditional routes to certification, like streamlining the pathway to teaching for paraeducators and other school-level, non-certified staff.

Suburban and rural districts, which are less likely to employ teachers of color and more likely to face overall teaching shortages, might consider more drastic measures, like teacher residencies to prepare diverse candidates, pay advances for recent college graduates, commuter subsidies, and leadership roles that recognize and leverage a teacher of color’s expertise.

3, Craft a new narrative around teaching for students of color

I don’t recall having a single same-race teacher before I went to college, and until then, I never considered the teaching profession as a potential career option. My childhood experiences told me that teachers aren’t black. Presumably, this is the case for many students of color.

Commonly mentioned strategies to ameliorate that problem are programs like Educators Rising, which seek to increase the number of “home-grown” teachers by inspiring and developing a passion for teaching at a young age. But for this effort to most effectively engage students of color, teachers of color must be working in schools and in these programs.

There are a myriad of reasons that students of color don’t go on to be teachers. The fact that they never had a teacher of color simply should not be one.

States and districts have an opportunity to craft a new narrative for the students of color they serve: that teaching is a profession not only open to them, but ideal for them. Education professions offer unparalleled opportunities to positively impact children, and for teachers of color, those opportunities are even more robust. By pairing an emphasis on community service and potential impact with fair hiring practices and financial incentives, states and districts might be able to turn the tide on decades of exclusionary practices toward teachers of color.

The pipeline for black teachers is dangerously narrow, clogged with decades of discrimination, bias, and apathy. That pipeline can and must be fixed, though, or states and districts risk negating their progress toward closing achievement gaps and improving learning and life outcomes for all students. Failing to attract teachers of color fails all children.