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For Teacher Training, On-the-Job, Contextualized Support Is Key

Note: This week's guest posts will be written by members of the YES Prep Public Schools team. Vice President of Talent Nella Garcia Urban is today's guest poster.

Teacher training has received significant press lately as organizations and researchers try to nail down which programs or program elements best prepare teachers for the classroom. Although this is important work, one factor is glaringly absent from the conversation: context.

No matter what ed school a teacher is coming out of, what we believe will ultimately contribute most significantly to a teacher's success is the level of support he or she receives at the school where he or she will actually teach. In the school context. With his or her own students. It is this practice—in his or her own classrooms, schools and communities—that most contributes to teacher development over time.

Elizabeth Green's recent article in the New York Times Magazine alludes to the importance of contextualized, on-the-job training when she discusses the impact of teachers doing lesson studies together. And at YES Prep, we discovered early on that how we developed our teachers during their first year teaching with us was the greatest indicator of their success. A teaching degree or even previous teaching experience wasn't always a reliable indicator of their success at our schools because context can be such a decisive variable.

Realizing this, we created our own teacher training and certification program, Teaching Excellence in 2003. It is the first of its kind in Texas and will be one of the first of its kind in Memphis when we open our doors there in 2015.

The tenets at the heart of our programming are:

  • New teachers need individualized support and ongoing training to succeed, not just survive, in their first year of teaching.
  • Creating quality teachers requires significant resources and leads to significant return for our students.
  • School systems know best what it takes for teachers to be successful at their schools and therefore are uniquely suited to guide their training.

All of the new teachers we hire automatically participate in Teaching Excellence, where they receive two weeks of intensive summer training in the fundamentals of building a strong classroom culture and basic lesson planning. This is followed by ongoing, differentiated training throughout the year in more advanced topics as they are ready. All the while, they have an Instructional Coach who is observing and meeting with them to provide feedback and lesson plan with them regularly. To make their development even more relevant and contextualized, the Instructional Coaches meet regularly with campus leaders to ensure that their focus areas and support for each teacher are aligned. It is the dynamic of strong and aligned professional learning paired with instructional coaching in context that creates results. Our teachers also earn their teaching certification through our program, if they don't have it already.

Because of the success of our programming, we now train teachers in both KIPP Houston and a local traditional district, Spring Branch ISD. The training we give to these groups of teachers is tailored to their individual contexts as well.

We also realized teachers coming into our schools with previous experience needed contextual training and support, but not necessarily the same kind as a first-year teacher, so we've designed separate transitional programming for these teachers.

While building an internal program like Teaching Excellence may not be feasible or even desirable for some school systems, strategically investing in instructional coaching or other development models like the one Elizabeth Green introduced us to can be pivotal ways for school systems to start taking charge of the development of their teachers. And for undergraduate programs near large school districts, creating a shared, aligned, and contextualized experience from undergrad through the first year of teaching could yield powerful results for both teachers and students.

--Nella Garcia Urban

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