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From the Teach Like a Champion Blog: Kim Frusciante on Training Rookie Teachers

The following blog post was originally posted on the Teach Like a Champion blog on April 7th.

On a sunny Saturday in May, I sat down for an interview with first-year teacher candidate, John Ezaki. He had what his principal called, “One of the most brutal sample lessons of all time.” John told us about his experiences training for triathlons and persevering through Biochemistry in his last semester of college. He apologized that he couldn’t stay in New Orleans longer; he had to get back for his last college final. All the while he sounded enthusiastic, passionate, and, well, young…. really, really young.

The faces of our scholars immediately scrolled through my mind, along with vignettes of all they worked for and all they still needed to accomplish. Kishonda went from reading below a 2nd grade level in 9th grade to now, two years later, always walking around with a novel in her hand. The first time I met Dwan, he asked me if there had been any shootings in my neighborhood after multiple occurred near his home. Despite taking care of younger siblings at home, Bricole stayed after school almost every day for tutoring, determined to be the first in her family to attend college. These stories are common for scholars at our three schools.

All I could think was, “This guy is going to get eaten alive.” His principal pointed out that John was energetic, committed, and coach-able. He was hired within a week.

Two of our schools are still expanding one grade each year, and the number of high-quality charters competing for the best teachers in town grew enormously over the past five years. In response, we started hiring more first-year teachers

We recognize, of course, that there is no more effective way to educate a child than to ensure he/she has an effective teacher. We will not close the gap and prepare our kids for success in college with someone who is, “good for a first year teacher.” Our kids need excellent instruction now, which means our rookie teachers need to get good fast.

And so, we created a residency program serving all first-year teachers across Collegiate Academies. After a year-long pilot in 2013-2014 led by Jon Bogard, Director of the Collegiate Academies Teacher Residency Program (CATR), we launched our full scale program in August of 2014. Below I describe what this program entails as well as some of the lessons we learned along the way.

Summer Skills Camp

Our residents, also known as CATRs (rhymes with “gators”), start their training with a weeklong intensive, five weeks before scholars returned to school and a week before other CA staff arrived for professional development. In the past, topics have included overall mindsets about kids and teaching, relationship building, and core teaching skills (particularly Strong Voice, What to Do, Narration/Positive Framing, Circulation, Positive Group Correction, and Anonymous Individual Correction).

Since most CATRs have limited or no experience in education, we also use Skills Camp to immerse them in the kinds of techniques they’ll be implementing. To do this, we often use classroom techniques during PD and then step out of scene” to get meta about which ones we are modeling and why (e.g., “As you’re writing, I’m circulating to look at your work to Check for Understanding and make sure you got it.”

Coaching

During the school year, CATRs receive a combination of individual and group support. At the end of each Interim Assessment cycle, CATR staff meets to analyze both interim assessment data for each of the CATRs as well as data from our CA Rubric for Excellent Teaching. We use this data to guide decisions about programming, PD topics, and coaching.

Each CATR receives intensive 1:1 coaching, including weekly lesson plan reviews, daily observation, and two debrief or data analysis meetings each week. Some may also have additional practice or co-planning sessions. During debrief sessions, CATRs receive a bite-sized action step and ample practice time to make sure they are prepared to execute before scholars arrive the next period/day. We emphasize the importance of continuing to implement past action steps (“keeping keeps”).

Real Time Feedback

CATRs often receive in-the-moment feedback. A coach may use non-verbal cues from the back of the room, pull the teacher to the side for a quick conversation, or even follow her around step-for-step, whispering cues in her ear. At the beginning of the year, this type of feedback typically targets classroom management. (e.g. “Perch. Narrate 2, correct 1. Circulate to all desks in 30 seconds. Go.”) As teachers’ development progresses, cues become more academic. (e.g. “Pause. Tell them to be ready for your Cold Call to put in their own words after you give this definition.” or “Go tally mastery for the entire class on #4 of Independent Practice. Be back in less than 60 seconds, knowing if you need to Show Call or work one-on-one if fewer than five scholars are confused.”)

Weekly PD Workshops

CATRs also come together after school twice per week for Professional Development (PD). When selecting objectives for PD, it’s important that our teachers be able to implement the new skill in their classroom the next day. We keep objectives bite-sized and are sure to include plenty of time for planning and practice. In order to make the best use of this time, CATRs come prepared with materials for the next day and lesson plans for the following week. Much like planning a scope and sequence for a class of scholars, we consider the ideal sequence of skills learned while allowing for some flexibility to shift course based on data. We also try to anticipate what rookie teachers will need at each point in the year.

Authentic Group Practice

Our goal is to create the most authentic practice environment possible. During a given activity, one CATR will usually role-play to a classroom of four-to-five other “scholars” (i.e. fellow teachers). Early in the year, we focus on management, and “scholars” were given specific misbehaviors to act out during the lesson. As the year progressed, we noticed that the presentation of material was sometimes confusing to scholars so teachers practiced their Introduction to New Material; “scholars” rated the teacher’s INM based on clarity and engagement (aka “Boring-o-Meter”). Most recently, teachers practice circulating to gather and act on data while “scholars” copy down a variety of anticipated student responses prepared in advance by the teacher.

Building a Cohort

What CATRs lack in experience must be compensated for through hard work and the intensive coaching support outlined above. First-year teachers are held to the same standard of excellence as any other teacher at CA, and their goals for scholar achievement are identical to their more experienced counterparts. This is a lot of pressure for someone just out of college! From day one, we were purposeful about cultivating a strong team culture. Here are some ways we try to do this:

During the summer, we plan icebreakers to help get to know one another. (e.g. “What was your most embarrassing moment in high school?”)

We set clear norms about vulnerability and the importance of helping each other grow. (CATRs regularly give each other feedback, starting on day one of Summer Skills Camp.)
Once CATRs started teaching, Do Now questions during their weekly PD encouraged them to share struggles from the last week.
As it turns out, John Ezaki was not eaten alive. In fact, he quickly became a model amongst all teachers at his school for practice and determination. By the time scholars arrived in August, he was confident and dynamic in front of his classroom. By October, we moved on from management to coaching almost exclusively around academics. Though he would be the first to admit that he still has a lot of growing to do, Mr. Ezaki has grown into an effective teacher, and not just for a rookie. And with his scholars off to college in a year and half, they need teachers who are excellent, regardless of their level of experience. Every moment of ineffective instruction in a classroom is a moment lost for kids who do not have time to lose. As a coaching community, we must ensure that we do whatever it takes to develop excellent teachers for every classroom for all of our Kishondas, Dwans, and Bricoles.

Kim Frusciante is the Director of Rookie Teacher Development at Collegiate Academies. Previously, she served both as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at G.W. Carver Collegiate Academy and as a U.S. History teacher at Sci Academy.

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