Wednesday / May 29

7 Practices to Support Teachers in the First Days of School and Beyond

7 Practices to Support Teachers in the First Days of School and Beyond

Are you ready for another year of school leadership? Are you enthusiastic and excited about beginning a new year and the desire for creating an effective school environment? What are you going to do to make a difference this year?

Leadership teams spend the summer getting ready for the endless opportunities that will determine your school culture. What happens on that first day will set the tone for the remainder of the year. Being proactive and having a plan in place will greatly influence the success of the beginning of school. When I wrote Supporting New Teachers: A How-to Guide for Leaders, I did not realize the impact that these strategies would have on not just beginning teachers, but on all educators. The heart to school improvement is in the improving of daily teaching and learning practices, balanced with the appropriate level of evaluation and daily collaboration. Permeating through the cultures of effective schools are leadership attitudes that establish positive support mechanisms. In interviews with school leaders around the country, each one of these was in the forefront of their leadership style and practice from the first day to the last.

Ask yourself how you implement and model these principles and write down your reflections as you read through the actions. Choose just one area, or no more than five practical tips from this list, to implement throughout the year.

Model and implement high expectations for all.

We all believe children can learn. It is written on mission and vision statements across the country and we have spent countless hours helping our school communities understand that this is truly what we see as our goals in education.

  • Start the school year with high expectations. Define “high expectations” and establish a set of goals that model these expectations.
  • Post your mission and vision statement within the school and model it in action.
  • Have grade levels and/or individual classrooms establish their own mission and vision statements.
  • Determine your expectations for instruction, management, and behavior in your building and meet with your teacher-leader teams to support best practices.

Focus on student engagement and motivation in all classrooms.

Students should be engaged with learning and teachers should be motivated to come to school.

Several years ago, I was interviewed by a local TV news crew about teacher morale and motivation. The anchorwoman asked me a variety of questions about what makes effective schools and how teacher retention impacted student learning. She asked me: “What motivates you to come to school?” I did not have to think about the answer and replied very quickly: “If I have to motivate myself, then who will motivate my students?”

  • Define what engagement means to you, your teachers and your students.
  • Talk about motivation and the impact it has on teaching and learning. Find out what motivates your staff to come to work every day.
  • Ask your students: “What are you learning today?” You should not accept comments such as “Nothing,” “I don’t know,” or “Math.” There should be a specific, standard-based response that indicates the teacher has shared the learning outcomes for the day.

Implement a rich and engaging curriculum including standards and assessments.

The new Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics and the Next Generation Science Standards have once again changed the way we approach curriculum in this country. Whether you have adopted these is not important, but having a strategy that integrates best practices for curriculum design is critical to improving student achievement in your school.

  • Share your expertise about the curriculum with your teachers. What are the skills and content that student’s must be able to do and know in order to be successful?
  • Provide a systematic method to “tame the standards” using a curriculum design process for writing rigorous units of study by grade level and content area.
  • Visit classrooms often and ask students to share their learning experiences with you.

Implement and monitor effective teaching practices in all classrooms on a daily basis.

Robert Marzano’s Classroom Instruction That Works and John Hattie’s Visible Learning clearly define the best instructional practices that make a difference in schools.

  • Conduct a book study of best instructional practices focusing on one or two each month during a staff meeting.
  • Model best practices at staff meetings to show that you are aware of current research-based strategies that work.
  • Hold a round table discussion at a staff meeting. Place selected best practices on index cards and have teachers share how to actually do these in the classroom.
  • Allow your new teachers to observer master teachers, either in your building or at a colleague’s site.

Provide data analysis and feedback to ensure teacher and student improvement.

The responsibility for data analysis and feedback is one of your most important jobs in the building. You have a lot of numbers to crunch and must decide how to share the most important data with your staff. Data sources inform and guide actions and without meaningful data, you will not know the effectiveness of your initiatives. Your role is to constantly review, refine, and re-align practices that reflect specific needs based on data analysis.

  • Decide which data is the most critical to inform your decisions. For example, this could include behavior, attendance, assessment, or other related data points.
  • Design your learning community teams so that there is uninterrupted time to collaborate and share information.
  • Establish goals for student achievement that are specific, relevant, timely and measurable. For example, improving algebra scores from 33% to 45% proficient is more realistic than setting a 100% goal over a span of six weeks.
  • Determine the type of feedback that will make a difference in teacher actions. This should be specific, timely, relevant and measurable.

Develop strong interpersonal connections between students and adults in your building.

Building relationships is one of the most important aspects of effective teaching. The adults in the building are your strongest resource and what happens between the classroom teacher and their students will impact school success. Teachers have to like the students they are teaching.

  • Congratulate your staff members when they do exceptional work in the classroom.
  • Start every staff meeting or email with a “thank you” or note of appreciation.
  • Recognize new teacher milestones during the year.
  • Talk to your new teachers about staying for the next year. You should begin these conversations around the middle of November. Explain why you need them and need them to stay.

Develop strong positive relationships within your school community. Your actions and your teachers’ relationships within the school community are important in establishing good working conditions for everyone.

  • Keep your communications short and to the point. People will read about 30 seconds of what you send home.
  • Do not use acronyms. Most people don’t know what they mean.
  • Have a school community communication plan.
  • Quickly dispel misconceptions or rumors. In a crisis, communicate the facts as quickly as possible using all media sources to staff, parents, and students.
  • Communicate face-to-face as often as possible. Walk the halls and talk to people. Listen. Use focus groups, phone trees, blogs, and email.

The impact that one teacher has on a student is immeasurable in relationship building, student achievement, and life-long skills for learning. If we recognize that teacher quality is the greatest predictor of student success, we must realize that teacher support is critical.

The ownership of teacher retention should be a concerted effort at the school level through a continuous, well-designed flow of professional development and support targeted at the skills and knowledge needed by the staff. All educators must have access to the building principal, mentors, and colleagues who can provide their expertise in curriculum design, classroom management, and instructional delivery. Think about how you do the following:

  • Provide sustained professional development that is relevant and aligned with their needs.
  • Model, implement, and monitor classroom management and instructional strategies.
  • Allow for administrative support, specifically from the building principal.
  • Raise student achievement through teacher capacity building.

The world of education is challenging and full of constant change. Administrators, especially the building principal, have the opportunity to make or break the success of their teachers. As you reflect on your years in education, take time to think about what you do to support and nurture your staff members. What you do on a regular basis will make the difference. These strategies are a great starting place. Have a great year!

Written by

Lynn Howard is an author, teacher, and advocate for quality teaching and learning. She has over 40 years in education as a middle grades science and math teacher, coordinator of the gifted program, and a K- 12 Regional Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. Lynn works nationally with districts and schools to implement best practices in systemic school improvement, leadership, and instructional strategies.

Lynn is the author of Supporting New Teachers: A How-To Guide for Leaders.

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