Thursday, March 11, 2010

Provide Extensive Support

The heart and soul of these high-quality alternative programs is the on-the-job supervision and support candidates receive as they face the daunting challenges of being a new teacher in what is often a very difficult classroom setting. In the programs studied, support is structured at three levels: (1) program-provided supervisors; (2) site-based mentors; and (3) peer cohort support. All six programs had some variation of these three, which interweave to form a new-teacher safety net. Rather than strand candidates to sink or swim, support structures ensure that candidates will fulfill their promise or, as McKibbin puts it, that "they will obtain the skills to succeed and the commitment to stay."

Figure 6. Georgia (RESA) Candidate Portfolio Contents

Domain and Areas Addressed* Examples of Documentation
Domain I (Planning and Preparation)
Competencies 1-7, e.g.
  • Demonstrating knowledge of content and pedagogy,
  • Demonstrating knowledge of students,
  • Selecting instructional goals,
  • Demonstrating Knowledge of Resources,
  • Designing Coherent Instruction,
  • Assessing Student Learning
Lesson plans with acquisition lessons and the components, extending and refining lessons, examples of differentiated strategies, graphic organizers, and authentic tasks and assessments

Domain II (Classroom Environment)
(Competencies 8-12)
Include video clips documenting the candidate's classroom environment and culture of learning, a classroom floor plan and rationale, student rules, Glasser's Choice Theory Implementation, and a discipline plan

Domain III (Managing Student Behavior)
(Competencies 13-18)
Include video clips documenting instruction, observation records documenting mentor and RESA observations, examples of student work from various levels of achievement, copies of candidate's written feedback to students, and examples of lesson modification

Domain IV (Professional Responsibilities)
(Competencies 19-24)
Include copies of administrator's evaluations, documentation of participation in school and community activities
* Framework based on Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching (ASCD, 1996)

On-Site Supervision

All of these programs include direct and indirect support. Direct support comes in the form of classroom observations, done by the program (or university) supervisor, the mentor (who is often an experienced teacher at the candidate's site), or a school administrator, such as the principal, who has partnered with the program to provide such support.

In Georgia, mentors observe frequently, give candidates feedback, and act as role models by coaching and demonstrating lessons. They also arrange for candidates to visit and observe in other classrooms.
In Hillsborough, the coaching cycle is key to the program. Because candidates can enter at different times during the year, the program is organized into a series of observation-and-coaching "loops" within three cycles or phases, as depicted in figure 7. Within weeks 1-2, for example, the support provider—the candidate's program administrator—conducts a preobservation conference to schedule observation times and introduce the candidate to the Florida Performance Measurement System instrument. Observations will be based on Florida's Accomplished Practices for Educators, and the administrator will use this instrument in evaluating the candidate on those practices. The candidate will self-assesses on the same competencies. After the initial observation has taken place, the administrator and the candidate, together with a trained peer teacher, write an action plan to determine methods and time lines for addressing competencies that have not been successfully demonstrated. This plan guides subsequent observations and conferences and is updated at the end of each cycle.

Chico supervisors are also course instructors, ensuring that there is no disconnect between course work and classroom practice. As one Chico supervisor explains, "I know what's being taught in reading courses, and if I go out and see that it's not happening, I say, 'You just finished the course—where is it?'" On-site support is planned but also highly individualized—tailored according to Chico candidates' individualized plans and expressed needs. And the support team—supervisors, mentors, and school administrators—zeroes in on potential crises. "Need someone there next Tuesday?" queries another Chico supervisor. "We'll make that happen. We do visits on top of visits."

In all of the programs, support is carefully coordinated. In Georgia, supervisors facilitate regular reporting and communication. In Hillsborough, principals take that role. In Chico, it's the university supervisors, each regionally assigned and working with 10 to 15 mentors and roughly the same number of candidates. As they follow their candidates and link with mentors throughout the four semesters, Chico supervisors also communicate and develop rapport with school principals and other district or county education administrators.

Figure 7. Hillsborough Three-Cycle Observation Schedule

Cycle I-
18 weeks
Cycle II-
9 weeks
Cycle III-
9 weeks
Identify ACP support staff Weeks
Conduct 3 observations Week
Write Cycle III Action Plan
Pre-observation conference Review Cycle II Alternative Certification Professional Development Plan (ACPDP) Weeks
Conduct 2 observations
Complete screening instruments Final Summative Assessment
Write Cycle I Action Plan
Conduct 2 observations
Review Cycle I Alternative Certification Professional Development Plan (ACPDP)
Conduct 2 observations
Review Cycle I Alternative Certification Professional Development Plan (ACPDP)
Hold Cycle I Final Conference
Develop Cycle II Alternative Certification Professional Development Plan (ACPDP)
All program leaders agree that the success of a support structure rests, fundamentally, on an environment of trust. Interns must continually give honest answers to the support providers' core question: "How are you doing?" Since candidates are simultaneously dealing with course work, teaching, supervision, and mentoring, everyone knows they are having a struggle. "In a traditional program, people expect your competencies to be there," says a graduate of Chico's program. "Here, supervisors know you will be floundering. I invited my supervisor to 'Come see my worst part of the day.' I was at four schools. She came to each one. She saw the diverse environments and knew my challenges. She understood. Then later, I said, 'Come again and see how much better I am doing.' There is no intimidation."

That sense of trust and bolstered confidence was echoed by a Georgia candidate: "From the beginning of the program, I felt I was set up to succeed."

On-Site Mentoring

While supervisors keep classroom practice grounded in course work, on-site mentors—"treasured advice givers," as one candidate called them—are critical to day-to-day survival. The programs pay strong attention to the selection and training of mentors, pay mentors a stipend, and are very clear about what is expected of them. (As an example, figure 8 is New York's mentor position description.) In Texas, mentors are selected by principals who receive guidance from Region XIII on what qualities to look for in a mentor. Mentors attend 15 hours of professional development provided by Region XIII. The mentor and each candidate must complete six observations during the school year—Region XIII suggests three times with the candidate observing the mentor and three with the mentor observing the candidate. In addition, the two also hold a minimum of four discussion meetings.

Georgia mentors—who are themselves classroom teachers—receive training on coaching and communication. They spend a minimum of 100 hours working with each candidate the first year and 50 hours the second year. One mentor responsibility is to support the candidate throughout all phases of the program by providing feedback based on the Danielson framework (see figure 6 on page 17).

Mentors in Hillsborough are former administrators. Not only do these individuals bring a wealth of expertise, but they have a vested interest in the district and can speak to principals and veteran teachers with the authority needed to make the candidates' lives easier. For example, candidates might be tempted to take on extra or peripheral responsibilities as good school citizens. Mentors would counsel principals to restrict such duties, to make candidates' experiences less taxing.

Peer Support

Besides this very direct support, successful alternative programs offer a more distanced yet crucial kind of support, in the form of seminars. Such seminars create a bridge—between theory and practice and also between the program's course work and its system of support. These sessions offer candidates the opportunity to share frustrations and engage in problem solving, not only with program faculty but with fellow candidates, whose insights come from being in the same boat. These kinds of discussions allow candidates to travel an arc: They take theory learned in course work, try it out with students, return to the group to analyze what succeeded or failed, get advice, and then go back and try again—each time growing in terms of teaching, reflection, and self-analysis.

Figure 8. New York City Mentor Position Description

New York Teaching Fellows Mentoring Program
POSITION: Teacher to serve as a Full Time Mentor Teacher—Elementary, IS/JHS/HS and Special Education for Teaching Fellows and other first year teachers with Transitional B Certification.
The New York City Teaching Fellows Full Time Mentor Model is designed to support and guide new teachers by having experienced colleagues serve as their mentors. The supportive, productive rapport between mentor and intern is intended to increase the new teacher's effectiveness and job satisfaction. At the same time, the mentor/teacher's role will enhance his/her professionalism by providing an opportunity to share successful practices.

LOCATION: Various locations throughout the City.
ELIGIBILITY: NYC licensed, tenured classroom teacher.
  • Minimum of five (5) years satisfactory teaching experience in the New York City Public Schools.
  • Mastery of pedagogical and subject matter skills.
  • Extensive knowledge of the new NYS and NYC performance standards and new assessments.
  • Fluency in DOE regulations, policies and practices relative to content area.
  • Demonstrated expertise in designing and implementing standards-based instruction.
  • Exemplary knowledge about content, materials and methods that support high standards in various curriculum areas.
  • Demonstrated capacity to serve as a catalyst for implementing instructional change in the classroom.
  • Demonstrated understanding and experience in addressing the complexities of classroom life.
  • Knowledge of staff development practices and in-service education.
  • Record of engaging in cooperative and collaborative projects with staff/adults/administration.
  • Evidence of excellent interpersonal relationship qualities.
  • Demonstrated skill in team building and group dynamics.
  • Experience in relating to adult learners.
  • Evidence of excellent oral and written communication skills.
  • Willingness to undergo additional training during the summer and throughout the year, as well as to travel among field locations.
  • In certain collaborations, willingness to serve as adjunct faculty for collaborating college/university which may also require that candidates hold a Master's degree.
  • Establish and maintain a trustful, confidential and non-evaluative relationship with intern.
  • Serve as a Peer "Coach," providing opportunities for intervisitation, demonstrating /modeling and conferring with the intern.
  • Develop and conduct a daily in-school program that is tailored to the beginning teacher's professional interest and concerns.
  • Assist teachers in using collected data to work on the design and implementation of a comprehensive educational plan that focuses on high standards and achievement for all students including those who are LEP and/or receive special education services.
  • Model appropriate and innovative teaching methodologies through techniques such as team teaching, demonstrations, simulations and consultations.
  • Act as a liaison between the intern, entire school staff and the administration to promote the positive aspects of mentoring.
  • Meet periodically with university faculty representatives.
  • Promote collegiality through fostering an atmosphere of cooperation and communication among school personnel.
  • Maintain and submit required documentation (mentoring plan, monthly log of mentoring activities, etc.).
Georgia offers an example of how such peer support operates. The RESA program makes available a series of professional, problem-based seminars. The seminars are facilitated by teachers with successful classroom experience, positive experience teaching adults, and expertise in particular specialty areas. Candidates are required to attend six seminars in the first year and four in the second year. If the support team determines that a candidate needs help with, say, behavior management, it recommends a classroom management seminar. The support comes in a form that is easy to digest, as well as relevant.

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