Prepare and Nurture

I suppose I’ll chime in, better late than never, on The Manifesto. These are my take-aways from the words of Rhee, Klein, et al.:

The widespread policy of “last in, first out” (the teacher with the least seniority is the first to go when cuts have to be made) makes it harder to hold on to new, enthusiastic educators and ignores the one thing that should matter most: performance. Yes, teacher performance matters. More importantly, teachers matter. 1 Of course, we must also do a better job of providing meaningful training for teachers who seek to improve, but let’s stop pretending that everyone who goes into the classroom has the ability and temperament to lift our children to excellence.

Who is pretending this? I have not yet been part of the interview process where I’ve gazed across the table and thought, “Oh, yes, this person has successfully completed a teacher preparation program. They’re ready for this game.” Nor has every experienced teacher I’ve observed been at the top of his/her game in terms of instructional skill set and temperament.

A tweet by Mary Beth Hertz led me to the School District of Philadelphia superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s critique of the manifesto, which somewhat distanced herself from the original composition.

Yes, teachers matter. Thus, it is imperative that we help them or remove those who cannot effectively teach our children. Let us also enlist the entire nation in the pursuit of teacher quality. Let us focus our efforts on the role of the teacher as a pivotal position of new knowledge in a changing society. And in doing so, let us raise the value of teaching as an intellectual and highly prized career, much as it is in other countries. Agreed. Just as we preach to teachers that the child is at the center of the learning experience, let us, as administrators and school leaders, continue to work tirelessly to prepare and nurture our teachers.

What needs to happen for this to occur?

By definition…

Prepare:

  • Make (something) ready for use or consideration
  • Make (someone) ready or able to do or deal with something
  • Make oneself ready to do or deal with something
  • Be willing to do something
  • (in conventional harmony) Lead up to (a discord) by means of preparation

Nurture:

  • The process of caring for and encouraging the growth or development of someone or something
  • Upbringing, education, and environment, contrasted with inborn characteristics as an influence on or determinant of personality

Some of us have more influence than others in changing current practice. That’s just a fact, but the excuses I hear about mandates being handed down and disgruntled principals with unrealistic expectations and lazy teachers and parents who don’t parent are just that- excuses. Every single person who works with children has the opportunity to make changes in his/her practice that will better benefit our constituents. Where can we start?

To better prepare new teachers, our efforts need to focus on the collegiate level, on teacher preparation programs, on student teaching regimens, and on new teacher induction/mentoring programs. Develop partnerships with high schools and universities. When I started as principal three years ago, I made it clear to our local state university that I would take as many willing student teachers as possible. They came in droves. They are phenomenal to work with. I know my teachers learn as much from those students as they learn from working with our children. We’re moving forward to an intensive internship program where the college student will spend an entire semester in a classroom, and both the student and cooperating teacher will engage in collaborative professional development beyond the school day in conjunction with university staff. Our new teacher induction program is also transforming. Assigning new teachers a mentor for one year armed with a loose checklist of things to “cover” and then wishing them well is not the way to go. New teachers need embedded, sustained, peer and administrative support and a scaffolded approach to professional development in their formative years.

Hiring practices need to be tightened up. Too many times, organizations hire looking for the “best fit.” We need to hire the best people, and transform our organizations to meet the standards they exemplify. Our team has studied the work of Stronge to help us in this area.

Nurturing our teachers is equally as time-intensive. Teacher supervision systems need a definite boost. Ours was created from Danielson’s model, and it’s a solid framework. Where we need to put more attention is with the follow-through, professional goal-setting, and reflection. Teacher supervision models should be comprehensive and incorporate elements of administrative observation/conferencing, peer coaching and collaboration, personal action planning and research to improve practice, and reflection upon practice using student achievement and growth data to inform our planning processes. Professional development should be differentiated, teacher-led, and embedded and ongoing.

Nurturing our teachers means involving our community members, parents, and students in our school improvement efforts. Reaching out to these stakeholders is essential. As Ackerman states

A collaborative approach to reform may not be easy, glamorous or movie-worthy, but it is a stronger and sustainable solution that is likely to outlast the tenure of individuals or politicized agendas.

Yesterday one of my dedicated staff members honestly told me, “You look tired.” Darn right I look tired. This education gig is hard work. I am fortunate that I was well-prepared for my role (as prepared as any principal can be!) and every day my practice is nurtured by my administrative team, my PLN, my school colleagues and community, and my students.

Let’s prepare and nurture our people to yield performance. Don’t take the people, the relationships or the individuality of our teachers out of the equation. Doing so lessens the impact of quality teacher preparation programs and supportive organizations that are willing to go the extra mile in preparing and nurturing their teachers. It is evident that there are schools doing it right. By broadening our horizons, collaborating with one another (sharing is our moral imperative, you know), learning from our mistakes, and taking risks to bring the most powerful learning opportunities to our teachers, we can start to transform the role of “teacher” into the title of consummate professional we know deserves to be bestowed upon them.

2 Comments

  1. Lyn,

    I was amazed to find myself agreeing with Ackerman on so many levels. While I have yet to see most of what she preaches practiced here in Philly, it gives me hope that those who are in the spotlight are pulling away from the “Superman/Rhee/Duncan” rhetoric.

    October 20, 2010
  2. Lyn Hilt said:

    Here’s hoping you see increased positivity down your way. I have great admiration for educators who work in urban settings. Your struggles are many and your dedication is commendable! Thanks for your comments!

    October 21, 2010

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