Bright spot — Coaching that centers students in standards-based learning
In 2018, we began working with Lisa Gregoire, director of the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative’s (SWWC) New Teacher Center, to adapt our mentoring model for local professional learning across the region. This partnership has been an incubator for innovation, and we’ve been able to share model practices and strategies with a cross-section of Minnesota education stakeholders and leaders in other states through our national peer learning networks.
As the program evolves, SWWC continues to offer robust induction support that gets better and better, producing several generations of highly skilled mentors serving new teachers in the region. A critical proofpoint is how well NTC coaching aligns with the needs of beginning teachers serving students with learning differences. Special educators and teachers and coaches from alternative schools in the region report that our relationship-driven approach puts the student first, leveraging social-emotional learning (SEL) to design appropriate and impactful instruction. NTC’s optimal learning environment framework and coaching tools in particular support a student-centered approach to meet the diverse needs of learners.
A critical proofpoint is how well NTC coaching aligns with the needs of beginning teachers serving students with learning differences…. Special educators and teachers and coaches from alternative schools in the region report that our relationship-driven approach puts the student first, leveraging social-emotional learning (SEL) to design appropriate and impactful instruction.
Bright spot — Coaching across the transition from pre-service to in-service
Recently, SWWC kicked off a collaboration with Southwest Minnesota State University to pilot a grow-your-own teacher prep initiative offering coaching modeled on NTC’s approach. But this is not the only place in Minnesota where higher ed is asking the question: Why are we waiting until they get into the classroom to mentor and coach our teachers?
To ensure student teachers at Minnesota State University (MSU) at Mankato receive excellent mentoring during their field experiences, Gina Anderson, director of the College of Education’s Center for Educator Support, has embraced our coaching approach. Her team uses NTC’s professional learning and formative assessment tools and protocols to support the growth of student teachers, university supervisors, and many cooperating teachers in MSU’s Elementary and Literacy Education, K-12 Secondary, and Special Education teacher prep programs. Graduates have shared they’ve made job decisions based on what kind of support they can expect at prospective schools. Systems that offer NTC-based coaching — even when teachers have to drive farther or when the pay isn’t as good — are seen as providing a critical career-boosting benefit.
Graduates have shared they’ve made job decisions based on what kind of support they can expect at prospective schools. Systems that offer NTC-based coaching — even when teachers have to drive farther or when the pay isn’t as good — are seen as providing a critical career-boosting benefit.
MSU Mankato and NTC recently collaborated to integrate Minnesota’s new Standards of Effective Practice (SEP) into the program, a big step in supporting the state’s commitment to culturally responsive teaching.
Bright spot — Coaching for rural communities
Because so much education research focuses on urban environments, the field has a lot to learn about the challenges faced by educators in rural contexts. We do know that 30 percent of American schools are rural, serving a sizable portion of the U.S. student population (9.3 million learners) in increasingly diverse communities. In Minnesota, this includes growing refugee communities and established second-generation immigrant populations.
To learn more about how to support students and teachers in rural areas, in 2021, NTC received a five-year Education Innovation and Research (EIR) federal grant. We partnered with 20 Minnesota schools, engaging district and school leaders and coaches to support teachers to design SEL-anchored rigorous instruction through coaching. A key focus is on elevating student, family, community, and teacher voices in the design of a whole-school professional learning strategy that prioritizes teacher well-being. Our learning from the EIR grant will help us contribute to the local and national knowledge base of what works for rural education.
Because so much education research focuses on urban environments, the field has a lot to learn about the challenges faced by educators in rural contexts. Our learning from the EIR grant will help us contribute to the local and national knowledge base of what works for rural education.
Bright spot — State-level innovations driving equity and optimal learning
State teacher induction policy varies widely, from the bare minimum of “you have to offer induction” to detailed, top-down mandates. From the beginning of our partnership with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), leaders in Teacher Induction and Mentoring have been purposeful in filling the gaps seen in many state programs.
For one thing, they’re tackling the challenge of an increasingly diverse student population served by a substantially less diverse education workforce. How they’ve set out to achieve this vision is equally compelling and important. We’ve helped them to manage an iterative, stakeholder-led design process, engaging groups representing educators and communities of color from across the state. This included a review of other state induction policies and programs, analyzing NTC’s teacher induction program standards and other models, and finding multiple ways to gather input and feedback on key design questions. In addition, the state’s effort to focus on enabling conditions for quality induction support will advance our understanding of how leaders can nurture school climates that provide optimal learning communities for educators and their students.
The resulting state framework is unique in terms of its emphasis on:
- specific attention to retaining teachers of color, particularly indigenous teachers
- the mentor’s role in promoting culturally responsive teaching
- leadership’s role in creating and sustaining a culture for teacher learning and professional growth
MDE is deep into a carefully planned pilot of the framework, closely monitoring local strategies, progress, and impact at schools. The goal is to be able to show how school and district leaders are rethinking induction and to share evidence, artifacts, and resources to help replicate positive changes in new teacher support across the state.
From all our years in the teacher induction business, we know the life-changing impact a skilled mentor can have on a new teacher’s career. But quality teacher induction has to also involve commitments up and down the system to create the “enabling conditions” for teacher success.
We look forward to continuing our support for Minnesota’s education leaders as they connect the dots across multiple system touchpoints, making the efforts of champions for teachers statewide bear fruit. As they position coaching as a teacher preparation, recruitment, retention, and professional development strategy, we’ll share insights on:
- promoting culturally responsive teacher development
- embedding strategies for retaining teachers of color, specifically indigenous teachers
- building seamless support for the transition from prep programs to the classroom
- identifying promising practices to meet induction challenges in rural schools
- supporting teachers and leaders to better serve immigrant and diverse communities
- and more clearly codifying the essential role school and system leaders play in these efforts.
Amy Feehan is Director, Programs and Partnerships, and Jennifer Iacovino is a Senior Program Consultant at New Teacher Center.