I caught an interview on CNN with Bill Gates reflecting on what he would do to change the education system in America. Gates said if he could change something about the system, he would ‘hire the best teachers’ and get them to learn from each other because the research on the influence of good teaching has ‘become our biggest investment’.
One of the biggest investments we can make is mentoring our beginning teachers. It’s an investment that needs to be shared by universities and school systems alike. It requires us to move away from ‘training teachers’ to taking them on a learning journey.
As soon as students enrol in education courses, they should be placed with teacher mentors and given every opportunity to practice the craft and to learn from experienced teachers. Malcolm Gladwell in his book the Outliers: The Story of Success found the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. Teachers learn to do the work by doing the work.
You can’t blame the universities because it requires a complete overhaul of the model and I’m not sure whether we are all on the same page yet. Linda Darling-Hammond writes in The Flat World and Education that in Singapore, teacher education programs were overhauled in 2001 to increase teachers’ pedagogical knowledge and skills, on top of their content preparation. Darling-Hammond states that practicum training was expanded and located in a new ‘school partnership’ model that engaged schools more proactively in supporting trainees.
Darling-Hammond points out that all the successful teacher education programs she studied develop new teachers who can teach with assurance and skill of more experienced, thoughtful veterans. The programs that are effective do this by creating a tightly coherent set of learning experiences, grounded in a strong, research-based vision of good teaching, and represented both in coursework and clinical placements where candidates can see good teaching modelled and enacted.
The New York Times reported on a new model of teacher education at the Relay Graduate School of Education which has no courses only 60 modules, each focused on a different teaching technique. According to the article, there is no campus, because it is old-think to believe a building makes a school. Instead, the graduate students will be mentored primarily at the schools where they teach. And there are no lectures and direct instruction does not take longer than 15 or 20 minutes at a time. After that, students discuss ideas with one another or reflect on their own.
This year, we began a partnership with the Catholic Schools Office Broken Bay diocese and Auckland University to start a mentoring program for beginning and experienced principals. The program focuses on public coaching and feedback designed to embed and sustain their skill set. The first cohort consisted of five beginning principals and ten experienced principals who entered into an intensive professional learning program which includes participation in workshops, in school and shadow visits, practising in teams and homework.
The more mentors we have in schools, the smoother the transition for beginning teachers and the quicker they move from routine expertise to adapative expertise.