When a new teacher joins a school community, their learning curve can be daunting—how to teach, what to teach, all the students’ and colleagues’ and parents’ names, copier codes, schedules, school norms—it can be hard to know where to begin in supporting their journeys. As a network, we share the support of new faculty with our schools, coordinating across all our schools to inculcate a shared lens on culture, curriculum, and instruction, while individual school leadership teams acclimate new team members into the ways of each school.
How we spend the few precious days we have with instructors new to Partnership Schools says a lot about what we value both in our schools and in the new colleagues we hire.
Root Beliefs and Core Values
Our work to foster success from day one begins even before we hire a single staff member. In our interviews, we always begin with the same two questions: “What brings you to us?” and “What brings you joy?”
The first question invites individuals to reflect upon their “why”: their call to serve, to teach, to lead. It allows them to share what shaped them and what drives them.
The second—which we notice is hard to answer without smiling—is one of our favorites. Interviewees light up as they talk about their children and their grandchildren, their love for reading and for teaching others how to read, and the happiness they felt when a child has their eureka moment in class and understands a math concept that’s stumped them all week.
Neither of these questions has a “right” answer, but both of them open the doors for an individual to consider the importance of what they believe and what inspires their passion for education. Finding out what is important to potential colleagues is crucial for us, because our schools are driven by their root beliefs, and knowing our “why”—both individually and collectively—is, we believe, the key to our impact. As comedian and speaker Michael Jr. shared, “When you know your why, your what becomes more impactful because you’re walking towards or in your purpose.”
So when our new instructors walk into their first day of professional development—even virtually—we start with rolling out our shared “whys”—our root beliefs—which drive everything we do.
Inspired by the work of Assistant Superintendent Christian Dallavis, we begin our professional development each year for new staff members with a session that defines our core values as a network and explores our schools’ root beliefs. We do all this because we believe that our “why” is the foundation for everything we do: the way we study our curriculum, the way we speak to our students, and the way we work as a community.
We also invite these teachers to narrate their own beliefs and the “whys” behind their decision to teach. Daniel Haines, a career changer and first year educator, explained his “why” to us this year, reflecting that, “We are here to serve each other. I really believe that. The way that I feel I can perform that service and have the greatest impact on the greatest number of people is through teaching.”
Teaching is hard work. But animated by personal beliefs and purpose—and sharing in their schools’ beliefs as well as our network’s core values—new educators like Daniel have one of the most important tools for navigating tough times: a clear sense of the “why” that propels our efforts.
We also share three tenets of our Partnership approach that shape the rest of our new instructor induction:
- We are a content curriculum-driven network.
- We believe all students can learn and we prioritize strategies that build academic rigor and student engagement.
- We believe that strong relationships are essential to productive learning and built through engagement in learning.
As a network, we believe effective instruction is guided by lessons with clear, curriculum-aligned objectives and led by teachers who are experts in the content and curriculum they teach. Therefore, in our sequence of training, it’s important that our teachers and staff understand and internalize the content and objectives of the lessons they’ll be delivering before we cross the bridge to techniques.
We accomplish this in multiple steps. First, we study the philosophy and design of the curriculum from the big picture to the little…From there, we bring teachers together to discuss the nuances within each curriculum: Why are domain units in CKLA sequenced in the way they are? How does the Spiral Review practice in Saxon Math benefit our students in retaining mathematical concepts? Why is debriefing the lesson set in Eureka Math a critical component to surfacing misunderstandings?
One way we surface these nuances is through curriculum lesson studies, methodical analyses which allow them to consider a lesson from aim to exit ticket and understand the intellectual preparation needed to deliver a rigorous lesson. We consider the importance of understanding the vocabulary in a lesson, preparing for student misconceptions throughout a lesson, and intentionally plotting key opportunities to incorporate checks for understanding that will drive the think ratio of each lesson.
We don’t just hand instructors the curriculum and wish them well, however; this work takes time and practice, so we bring all teachers together multiple times as a network for deep study of our curricula throughout all grades and subjects. Our curricula reflect that student learning builds over time, and we acknowledge that this is true for our teachers as well.
Building Rigor and Student Engagement
During our interview process, a question that candidates often ask us is, “How do we manage behavior at our schools?” They are often surprised to hear our response: that deep engagement is the best classroom management tool. We believe that we minimize distractions and interruptions through high engagement and rigorous content. We coach our teachers on engagement techniques such as using Cold Call and Wait Time in order to promote deep engagement and rigorous thinking amongst all of our students. These techniques, along with several others we cover during our training sessions, are derived from our partners at Teach Like a Champion.
Take for example, Jill Murray, veteran 4th grade teacher at Sacred Heart School in the Bronx. In this clip, she is using a system for shared reading that Teach Like a Champion calls “Control the Game,” designed to maximize engagement, quality of reading, and accountability- but also joy!
Ms. Murray strategically calls on students to pick up the reading and interjects at key points to bring emphasis to parts of the text or to model reading aloud tricky words. This strategy builds a culture of attentiveness where all students are following closely a sustained shared reading with little, if any, disruption to the thread of a rigorous text. When engaging in a shared reading via Control the Game, teachers are able to create a space for all students to be in the “game,” engaging meaningfully and deeply with rigorous texts.
The desire to care for and support students that Daniel mentioned is an intrinsic driver for many new teachers to enter the field. Strong classroom culture yields strong relationships, but those cultures don’t happen accidentally; they’re built with thoughtful intentionality. Therefore, we start new teachers off with carefully selected techniques that help them engineer lessons that are inclusive of student voices, forming relationships that are grounded in learning and diminishing the likelihood of distractions and interruptions. One of these strategies for classroom culture building that we share with new teachers, also from Teach Like a Champion, involves creating a Culture of Error. As one of our teachers puts it, “creating the appropriate classroom culture, particularly the culture of error, creates the trust necessary for learning to happen efficiently and widely.” It is important that our classrooms are safe spaces where students feel comfortable making mistakes and are supported in those moments.
These techniques for building relationships are grounded in root beliefs that our schools share. We believe that we are made for each other, so the work of helping, supporting and uplifting one another are all at the heart of our teaching.We also believe that all of our students are made in the image and likeness of God, so how we speak to them while giving directions or corrections matters a great deal. We aren’t just cultivating positive student-teacher-classmate relationships to get more school work done; we are building a community that reflects God’s love and likeness. So the culture that even our newest teachers are equipped to create in the classroom resonates at the deepest level of our shared “whys.”
Every year, we are delighted to begin working with a cohort of new Partnership teachers from multiple localities and walks of life: from the first-year teacher who was called to serve the very elementary school she once attended to the 20-year veteran who wished to return to a Catholic school because it allowed her the opportunity to once again share her faith with her students. We think about and refine year-round our plans for starting them off on the right foot, with techniques that help them turn the “why” that has brought them to our network into the “what” of their everyday practices in the classroom. And as we hear their stories, laugh and think with them through practice rounds of techniques, and pray together, our “whys”—both as individual educators and as the network’s Academic Team—get re-energized every year.
John Bacsik is Director of Professional Development for Partnership Schools.
Nehemie Villarceau is Talent and Academic Manager for Partnership Schools.