by Lizzie Salzfass, Art of Coaching Conference Presenter and guest blogger
Surgeons fresh out of medical school are not immediately thrown into operating rooms on their own. They complete internships, residencies and hundreds of hours of supervised practice first. But brand new teachers, most with a year or less of student teaching experience, are charged with educating over 150 children per day. And we wonder why they struggle?
There is a large gap between what teachers learn in credentialing programs and what they need to know to successfully weather their first year in the classroom. This is particularly problematic when new teachers are placed in high-needs urban schools, where daily challenges extend far beyond lesson planning, grading and assessment.
As an instructional coach in an urban public middle school with close to 90 percent teacher turnover in the past five years, a large part of my job is bridging the gap for new teachers – equipping them with the knowledge and tools that credentialing programs rarely provide.
This is why I developed “New Teacher Boot Camp,” a professional learning series for new and new-to-middle school teachers designed to combat teacher isolation, promote culturally responsive teaching, and build a shared understanding of key instructional strategies.
Here are tips for an effective Boot Camp:
- Make it “opt in”: It would be great for all teachers new to your site to be part of Boot Camp and at my school they were. But participation should not be required if a teacher is resistant. Adults learn when they want to.
- Develop a supportive, positive community of learners: Build in time for “checking in” and normalize failure on the way to success. Also bring snacks.
- Start early and often: If new teachers are hired in the spring or early summer, assign pre-reading so everyone comes to Boot Camp ready to engage with the content. I recommend Chapter Nine of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond. Meet as a team for at least one or two full days before school begins to develop a shared vision and sense of solidarity. Following this kick-off, meet weekly for at least the first two months of school to continually check in, monitor progress, assess needs and build on people’s skills.
- Make it super-practical: Create specific, sequential learning targets based on key skills that new teachers need, such as “Teachers will be able to give clear instructions using economy of language and a strong voice” and “Teachers can make quick behavioral corrections without sacrificing learning time.” (Two great resources that break down these skills are Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion and Paul Bambrick-Santoyo’s Get Better Faster- A 90 Day Plan for Coaching New Teachers).
- Offer ongoing opportunities for teachers to practice in a safe space: Incorporate role-playing and videos of participants in their classrooms into each session. Have teachers give one another feedback on strengths and areas for growth.
- Utilize expertise on and off site: Bring in videos of other teachers modeling the skills you want participants to acquire. Give time for Boot Campers to reflect on what they see. Boot Camp alums are a great resource!
- Practical teaching skills are important but mindsets and culturally responsive ways of being are crucial for new teachers as well: Spend time with participants at the beginning of the year reflecting on core values and how a teacher’s identity shows up in the classroom. Collectively envision culturally responsive classrooms and continually give Boot Campers opportunities to reflect on which of their students are and are not being served.
- Have a plan. Adapt as necessary: Some sessions focusing on skills such as classroom management and engagement strategies are “must haves.” But seek and utilize feedback regularly to ensure you’re meeting your teachers’ changing needs.
- Pay teachers for their time: Teachers do enough unpaid labor. Let’s treat these professionals with the respect they deserve!
- Connect Boot Camp participants with one-on-one coaching or coach them yourself: They need a way to regularly practice and receive feedback on the new skills they are learning.
Boot Camp is fun! It is a great way to build a community of learners, and elevate the level of teaching at your school. Enjoy!
Lizzie Salzfass is an Instructional Coach in the Oakland, CA Unified School District who strives to promote equity and cultural competency through professional development, “Boot Camp” training for new teachers and transformational coaching. She is a presenter at the annual Art of Coaching Conference.