I’m taking a little time off this week (remembering to actually take vacation is definitely the “50th technique” everyone asks about). To keep the thread going here on the blog i asked my partner and co-author Erica Woolway to share some thoughts about teacher training from some of our work with TNTP’s Nashville Teaching Fellows. As usual her insights are a gold mine. Enjoy her outstanding post and we’ll look forward to more discussion in a week or so.
Doug and I recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Nashville, where we got to observe TNTP’s summer training for new teachers. We spent the morning observing nine teachers on their sixth day of teaching, and we spent the afternoon observing three of their skill building sessions. What we found is that TNTP is building better teachers by building bionic trainers.
Our first observation of a skill building session was of Alice Weber, a veteran teacher working with 45 of her teaching fellows. She was doing what we call “Supermodeling”—demonstrating the techniques we hope to see teachers use with students, with finesse, for a room full of adults. Supermodeling is not for the faint of heart—it requires incredible planning, confidence, and mastery. Many of you may have been fortunate enough to have been in a classroom with Julie Jackson while she supermodels her Threshold or her famous Call and Response (which she uses to both engage participants and check for understanding). Supermodeling can accelerate the rate of learning for teachers because not only are they explicitly learning the techniques in the session, they are seeing them modeled in real-time. The engagement techniques that Alice was modeling were both engaging and informative—so they served a dual purpose.
Because Alice’s session focused mostly on Positive Framing, she supermodeled this technique the most by narrating the positive behaviors of her teachers in the way you would want to see a teacher do of her students. Here are just a few examples from her session:
- “I love how Jeffrey was ready for that right away.”
- “I can’t wait to find out how many instances of Positive Framing you were able to pull out of that clip.”
- “We have 15 seconds, Maya is making sure that she is tightly facilitating her group’s discussion.”
- “We’re going to do it one more time because I know that after a morning of teaching it’s important to do things with lots of energy.”
She intentionally distorted reality by using Positive Framing more than a classroom teacher might so that she could show participants several different examples of what the technique could look like in action.
In addition to these techniques, she constantly Cold Called on participants to answer objective based questions, and she used Call and Response to capture fellows’ attention after a stretch of independent work (e.g., using props like “Fellows, fellows, fellows” – “Yes, yes, yes” and “PST” – “2014”). The session was chock full of Systems and Routines—a critical technique for new teachers to master—and the pacing never lagged as she used a timer to manage tight turn and talks and practice activities. There was No Opt Out, Control the Game, and Visible Compliance, just to name a few more. And all of this was for a room full of teachers
The number of techniques that her fellows observed her supermodeling in the 15 minute session we observed is mind boggling. It could take six observations of amazing veteran teachers to get that same type of professional development experience. However, it’s important to include a note of caution here. Supermodeling is not for everybody. In fact, Doug himself uses it with caution, if at all. As co-facilitators Colleen and I will more liberally incorporate small props or cheers and intentionally model specific techniques when the sessions are relevant (e.g., use Cold Calling or Call and Response in a session on one of those techniques). Some adults thrive in this type of action packed classroom and retain more information through experience, while others may be less receptive to that type of environment. Facilitators must be mindful of this tradeoff.
Supermodeling is one tool in your tool kit. If supermodeling is a strength of yours, as it clearly is for Alice, make the most of it by calling out when and why you’ll be supermodeling. As follow-up, provide participants with time to debrief the impact that the techniques had on their learning experience.
Next, we observed Jennifer Heuertz. It was incredible to see how different her style was from Alice, even though she was using the same session plans that Alice was. Jen was extremely deliberate and intentional as she helped her fellows analyze and learn from the Positive Framing videos they were viewing. Her intentionality led to a great discussion on the different styles teachers used while executing the same technique. This is an especially important point for new teachers who are simultaneously working to emulate the techniques they see masters using while finding their own voice and style as teachers.
When Jen sent her fellows to practice, she did so with careful precision. She gave them two minutes to plan how they would re-write teacher statements so that they were Positively Framed before modeling the activity herself with another coach. This modeling served several key purposes. First, the fact that the coach was open to practice and feedback normalized it for all teachers in the room. Second, it made the objective and expectations of the activity crystal clear and therefore more effective and safer to engage in.
Jacklene Robinson was the third and final bionic teacher trainer that we had the pleasure of observing. We walked into her session when her teachers were actively and deeply engaged in practice. They were practicing how to correct student behavior using Positive Framing. Some groups were engaged in practice while others had already moved on to giving each other feedback on that practice. Teachers had fun trying different styles and approaches with each other while in a safe environment. This gave them the space to find their teaching voice while amongst colleagues as opposed to doing so in front of 30 third graders on the first day of school.
Whether through supermodeling of techniques, deep video analysis of high quality video clips, or stellar facilitation of practice, TNTP’s champion trainers are producing teachers with promising early results.