Sunday, July 10, 2016

Support for New Teachers

This will be my 14th year as principal of our school, and the first that we have such a turnover of teachers. In my last blog, I shared my feelings about losing staff and hiring new teachers. I ended the blog on a positive note, and I feel confident that we will benefit from the individual strengths and life experiences of our new staff.

Since then, I read a timely and relevant blog, "8 Characteristics of a Great Teacher," and it was such validation of what I believe as an administrator. I reflected on our interviews with numerous applicants, and I know why we selected the teachers we did. When we ask our interview questions, we are listening to the candidates' core beliefs and their life experiences about why they went into teaching and what they can offer to our students and school community. We can tell when they are being honest and saying what they believe. Throughout the interview, woven into the different questions we ask, we get a glimpse into that teacher's philosophy and beliefs about education and about children.  We were picky; even though we had a number of openings, we preferred to ask for another list if we didn't feel that anyone would be the kind of teacher who would thrive in our school.

Many of the teachers we hired are new to the state or new to the profession, and they bring a wealth of experiences to our school. I am excited about what they shared when we asked about any innovative projects they had been involved with. They are committed to building strong relationships with their students, especially those who are the most challenging. As the interview ended, some teachers found a way to add that they are not textbook or worksheet-driven and prefer to engage students through inquiry-based hands-on activities that encourage collaboration and communication with others. I was pleased that these interviewees were confident enough to let me know up-front about their beliefs and practices. As part of our interview process, we want any teacher applicant to know that as a school, we believe that there is a general guideline of what students need to learn and do, but teachers are encouraged to use their own strengths as well as the strengths and interests of their students to provide a rich, engaging, and empowering classroom curriculum.

What these interviews indicated to me was contrary to what we've been hearing about schools today. The teachers we hired did not talk about high test scores or following a set program. They shared about knowing their kids and building a community within their classroom so their students would feel safe and will want to come to school even if they are experiencing challenges such as transitions or deployments. They are excited to try new things that we have implemented at our school like creating a class web page to communicate with families or using technology to share student learning. And they embraced our school vision, "Empowering learners to explore, discover, create, and share" and related our vision to themselves as teachers and learners.

Now that we have found the teachers we want for our school, it is our responsibility as administrators to provide them with the support and guidance they need to be successful in their new positions. Our grade level teams, instructional coaches, technology team, and mentor teachers are essential in providing that support. After all, teaching is a challenging profession but with the right support, our new teachers will continue to grow personally and professionally.

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