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Turning New Teachers into Intentional Learning Designers

Three years ago, our student achievement level was average, and it wasn’t sitting well with me or my team.  At that time, I was unable to find any classroom practice in the district that was consistent from room to room, subject to subject, or building to building. For my team (which includes curriculum facilitators in the four core areas), it was imperative for us to determine which practices were most critical to support student learning in all high school classrooms. 

Though our district has a nationally recognized teacher induction program (TIPS) that we’ve been implementing for the past 15 years, there was still room for growth with respect to preparing new teachers. The high school support team set out to focus on teachers in the second and third years of their careers by transforming our induction model to be more of an ongoing support system for teachers new to our district, as well as new to the practice. Here are three components of our model that are making it a success in our district.

1) Designing Effective Lessons

When we decided to make the transformation, we moved our focus away from issues such as classroom management and more toward intentional lesson design. I believe that if teachers build great lessons from start to finish, all other classroom practices fall into place. If today’s lesson connects with tomorrow’s and next week’s lesson, then teachers are building a larger, effective conceptual framework to engage students and move learning forward.

Intentional design requires teachers to plan lessons that are contextually relevant to students in the room and recognize the value of what they bring into the learning experience. In coaching teachers to this ideal, we are asking teachers to reflect on the following questions:

·  How do you know students are learning and retaining your lessons?

·  How are you assessing their learning on a daily basis, and aligning it to your lesson or unit design?

·  How are you responding to what that information is telling you?

If teachers are reflecting on their lessons and responding to the learning that has taken place, then they are well on the road to success. 

2) Developing a Reflective Mindset

We now ask our teachers to think of themselves as intentional learning designers. Once they look at the curriculum with that mindset, they approach teaching differently. Our new model reinforces new teachers as reflective practitioners, so gathering insight from information and experience is the foundation of everything they do.

Our partnership with Verso Learning has expanded to include personalized coaching sessions for a core group of these second and third year teachers. Those open to this unique opportunity have grown immensely and at a rapid pace, exhibiting growth in instruction as well as confidence. Some of the feedback they have received has challenged them in new ways, and they are starting to really latch on to coaching sessions as an opportunity to improve their practice.

So many teachers are finding success within this framework. Each session includes both a classroom observation, as well as individualized feedback on the lesson. During our last quarterly instructional coaching session, many teachers received confirmation of what they are currently doing well. Once teachers changed their mindset to be aware, alert, and reflective, they were equipped to grow in ways they couldn’t and wouldn’t have done before. That’s the really powerful component about this project. When they leave the room after a session, they see themselves differently.

3) Using Tech to Spark Conversation

One of the goals of our district-wide focus on learning design and building reflective practitioners was to round up tools that serve three purposes:

1) Support great classroom practice;

2) Provide timely formative data to guide teachers toward individualized instructional interactions for each student; and

3) Increase student learning results.

We chose Verso Learning as a resource that would allow teachers to develop high-impact strategies and individualized student support, as well as providing students the opportunity to give feedback on their learning. 

For example, one third-year teacher designed an initial learning experience around American culture, before exploring other cultures around the world. She created a journey for students to engage with a question, interact with one another, and finally share responses with her and one another. Opening communication within her classroom ultimately allowed her students to enhance their deep, critical thinking skills.

Great teachers use every tool at their disposal—whether it’s a 3D printer or a crayon. We’re equipping our educators with a growth mindset that they will ultimately instill in their students, valuable tactics to design effective lessons, and tech tools they can strategically use to enhance their students’ classroom experience.

James Montgomery is the executive director of high school instruction for Gaston County Schools and can be found at bit.ly/GCSHighSchools or on Twitter at @GCSHighSchools #ShiftTheNorm