March 12, 2014 13:31 Age: 4 yrs

An Inside Look: Teacher Development at Elm City College Prep Middle

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Robert Hawke is an academic dean at Elm City College Prep Middle. This is an excerpt from a post that initially appeared on Robert’s blog, Hawke Talke.

At Elm City College Prep Middle, we spend a lot of time thinking about teacher development. We know the time we spend with teachers on professional development leads to a much greater impact on students. Our work with teachers falls into four categories:

Before the lesson, helping teachers to do the intellectual work to prepare for a lesson. This is a time to ask questions such as:


  • “What will a truly exceptional response to this question sound like?”
  • “What misconceptions do we expect students to have, and what will they sound like?”
  • “How will we follow up to get students to do the thinking required?”
  • “How can we create cognitive dissonance to get students to confront their own misconceptions?”
  • “Where and how can we help students find the joy in this lesson?"

During the lesson, helping teachers with whatever it is they're currently trying to develop in their own teaching. This ranges from classroom management (I might send a signal to scan the room to see who is on-/off- task, or remind a teacher to smile, or whisper to a teacher that they should use proximity to get students A, B, and C back on track) to the broader category of holding a high bar for student outputs (I might ask a student to revise his/her response by using two of the unit's vocabulary words or by restating the answer in a complete sentence, or I might indicate that the teacher should ask a follow-up question to ensure students are building on each other's responses). This real-time coaching is a key component in making sure the intellectual work teachers did ahead of time translates into a positive learning experience for teachers and students in the classroom.

After the lesson, looking through student work and determining how the lesson went and what we can do to improve for next time. This ensures that we're being honest about the impact of a lesson. An in-depth analysis of student work highlights the true impact of the lesson on student understanding in a way that is often overshadowed in the midst of a lesson by how the room “feels.”

Finally, about once a week, we work on the important parts of teaching that don't fit into a single lesson. For instance, we discuss how we can develop our capacity to promote an inclusive environment in which we are understanding and affirming our kids' identities. We ask questions like, “What do these unit tests reveal about what I should re-teach and how?” “What are best practices for grading/giving feedback to students/calling home about homework?” and “How can I give this critical feedback to a colleague?” These are not dreaded “staff meetings,” they're intellectually stimulating collaborative work sessions where teachers develop their skills while planning to help students develop in the classroom.

It's tough to pick a favorite part of this process, but for me it's a tie between seeing the joyful rigor we've planned for come to life for kids during the real-time coaching part of this process and looking at student work to see what students produced. The first is wonderful because it's great to see kids smiling and learning and saying brilliant things, and the second is great because it allows us to both celebrate kids' progress and figure out what we can do to help them continue to grow.


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