NTC was founded 20 years ago in Santa Cruz, California, by a group of teachers who knew from experience that successful students depended absolutely on successful teachers: teachers who were confident, empathic, and supported in the continuous improvement of their craft.
In 2016, we began working with multiple districts in the Bay Area of California to support their early learning educators. The partnership was connected to beginnings in two ways: working around the Bay Area put NTC close to our geographic origins; and the focus on pre-K education reflected our commitment to the crucial early years of child development, on which so much of a kid’s future — both in and out of the classroom — depends.
In 2019, NTC added support in trauma-sensitive practices for the Resilient Oakland Community and Kids initiative, and also implemented regular meetings with school leaders focused on combating the culture of whiteness, and creating anti-bias and antiracist leadership. Those conversations can be difficult enough, and they were harder still when the pandemic struck in early 2020, followed by a summer of racial reckoning. These events added unprecedented trauma to the shared experiences of students, educators and their communities. The pandemic impelled school leaders to engage in continuous, mutually supportive communication, as well as examination and adaptation of new mindsets and approaches during a fraught time.
That was where NTC’s collaborative and educator-empowering approach, which listens rather than dictates, and builds confidence from assets and strengths rather than focusing on what’s missing, became critical.
“Before we could do PLCs around being anti-bias, anti-hate, we had to do really deep work with our own leadership on white supremacy and how that infiltrates an educational system,” said Christie Herrera, executive director of early learning in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD).
“In partnership with NTC, we led robust, difficult, important work over the last two years around how we are an anti-bias, antiracist, anti-hate early childhood department. And we could not have done that work without NTC. Because of that work, we have been able to start bringing in these same series to our educators.”
– Christie Herrera
Caroline Jones, an early learning principal in OUSD, agrees. “The partnership with NTC pushes my own thinking,” she said. “They are excellent thought partners. When conversations with staff about how we look at equity are difficult, NTC has helped us make them approachable, accessible, meaningful, and relevant. Instead of tiptoeing into them, we’re pushing ourselves into more courageous spaces, and having those conversations in a way that’s thoughtful and has positive outcomes with kids and families. NTC has helped us do deeper-level thinking in an ongoing way.”
And that deeper-level thinking has allowed school leaders to act as empowerment partners to their educators. Rather than dictating solutions, Lorena Alcayaga, program director of Family Connections in Menlo Park, California, sees NTC’s approach as effectively building ownership within teachers. “They learn how to mentor and coach each other, how to use the data and observations to work independently in their classrooms and facilitate learning not only with the kids but with their parents.”
Teachers and coaches feel that sense of empowerment as it spreads holistically, an integral part of a culture built on inquiry and an asset-mindset. For Brittney Bylund Rodriguez, transitional kindergarten teacher for Alum Rock Union School District, the experience of NTC’s capacity-building coaching did more than build her confidence as she transitioned to teaching transitional kindergarten. It pushed her to become a coach too, providing others with the same level of care and attention that actively disrupts inequities in practice. “Having a strength-based approach where my coach was reflecting back to me all the things that I was doing well, instead of thinking about all the things I was lacking in, really helped me as an educator,” said Brittney. “And that carried over into my becoming a coach. I wanted to help other educators have that same confidence that I gained from working with a coach.”
And that’s where NTC’s approach with its coaching model has had a transformative effect — the coach acts as a listener, not a teller. At Oakland’s Brookfield Village Elementary, Pre-K teacher and coach Judy Lee uses three key coaching stances — instructional, collaborative, and facilitative — in her partnerships with teachers. “Before NTC I was definitely instructional,” said Lee. “[I’d say:] ‘Let me tell you how it’s done. You’ve got a problem? Let me fix it for you. This is what you need.’ I’m really learning that it’s not about me solving their problems. It’s about me having reflective data and guidance that will steer their thinking so that they can think for themselves, so that I become a thinking partner.”