Right now, I my job focuses on developing professional learning for our school's teachers. One of the most important parts of my job is training our new-to-us teachers to teach online with our school.
"New teachers must be supported in their hard work to demonstrate efficacy, which includes coaching that is centered on their strengths to build a foundation for gaining new skills."
This quote, in particular, from An asset-based approach to education: What it is and why it matters (2022) resonated with me because we often focus on students as the learners, but our teachers are learners too. And teaching teachers has the potential to have far-ranging effects because each teacher touches so many student lives.
Our new teacher training program follows this format:
Because of this process, every teacher that comes to us has a minimum level of online skill because they've completed the first two courses in the Effective Online Teaching pathway. They also usually have several years of experience teaching and are often leaders in their face-to-face schools.
In the New Instructor Preparation Course (NIPC), the new-to-us but not new-to-teaching instructors are paired with an experienced Virtual Instructional Coach. The new teacher has access to the Coach's course and the coach touches base with the new teacher at least weekly during this pre-hire training course.
Once the new-to-us teacher completes the NIPC, they are assigned a live course with students and are enrolled in our just-in-time course for first semester teachers known as Teaching Online Practicum (TOP). They continue their relationship with their Virtual Instructional Coach during this semester-long course/partnership.
There are several ways we focus on a strengths-based model for our new-to-us teachers.
Note: For the rest of this artifact, when I refer to "new teachers", I am referring to teachers that are new to Georgia Virtual, but NOT new to teaching. Many of our new instructors have years and years of experience in the classroom. Our job is simply to help them transfer, or adapt, that skill set to the online environment.
In our New Instructor Preparation Course, we start the course with a discussion that asks about the new teachers.
We use this discussion to get to know our new teachers as people and as teachers. Typically, the departmental leadership hires the new teachers, so we have some basic information about them, but we did not interview them and get to know them through the interview process - they are completely new to us. So, the first thing we want to do is start getting to know their strengths and building a relationship with them.
I typically start the discussion with a post written informally that includes a funny picture of my family to set the tone for this discussion.
This is my favorite discussion in the course, because not only do we get an idea of their teaching experience, but we get to know who has 2 dogs, who raises chickens, and who visits Disney as often as possible! The coaches are active in this discussion, as am I, and it becomes an asynchronous conversation, which, I imagine, was the "point" of discussions when they were first created for online courses.
Our NIPC course is not a joke - it is 4 weeks long, includes 4 live sessions, and 5 modules of content with several assignments per module. Typically, new instructors spend about 10 hours/week on the course. We are very cognizant of the time investment these teachers are putting into a course in the hopes of being hired for a paid position. Every new teacher is given a Sandbox course and they all receive U.S. History because it is easier, as the grader, to know what should be where when we are checking to make sure they've set up that course correctly.
Within the assignments, however, as much as possible, we ask the teachers to create content for their future GAVS course while they are doing the assignments. They don't have to pretend to teach U.S. History. In reality, very few of our new instructors even have Social Studies experience. So, why should we make them pretend? Allowing new teachers to work within their content area serves several purposes - 1) it allows the new teachers to focus on things they are comfortable with - their content area, 2) this saves them time in the long run because they can reuse most of what they create in their live courses, and 3) focusing on their content hopefully makes the assignments more fun.
Allowing teachers to focus on what they know and their strengths, reduces the mental load of learning something new. As the grader in the course, I just need to see that they can perform the task - the content is irrelevant to me - so letting them play to their strengths helps them build confidence, especially in the beginning.
As you can see in the image above, this teacher is providing drawing resources in her Class Resources page. We don't make her jump through the hoop of finding U.S. History resources. In fact, we ask them to pretend that this page is for their live class, so as they are finding resources and creating their page, they are reducing their workload when it comes to setting up their real class.
The most important job of the coach is to support the new teacher. And, I believe, the coach is the most important part of our new teacher training program. Without the coaches, we are just another, mostly asynchronous, badged training course.
The coaches strive to develop a deep coaching relationship with their new teachers. The coaches call the new-to-us teachers on the phone to welcome them to NIPC before the course starts. They continually provide encouragement and focus on the positives with their new teachers. They are leaders at our school, both in the classroom and out of the classroom.
Each coach meets individually with their new teacher at least 3 times/semester during the TOP course. At least two of these meetings are synchronous. These meetings are something new that we added Spring 2021. We received overwhelmingly positive feedback from these meetings from both the new teacher and Coach. They both loved getting to know the other as a person, rather than someone who sends emails, and they were able to have more organic conversations focused on improving the new teacher's practice.
In this way, we are modeling a type of co-planning, where we focus on the teacher's individual strengths and use those strengths to help them grow in other areas of their course, which is critical in an asset- or strengths-based model.
During NIPC, we continually focus on the new teacher's strengths. For some, the transition to online teaching is a big leap and can be stressful. We focus on the positives in assignment feedback and during our live sessions. We are cognizant that our new teachers are experts in their field and leaders across the nation in teaching. We need to harness that expertise as we help them move to the online environment.
One way that we focus on our new teachers' strengths is by continually focusing on what they are doing well. During our group Live Learning Sessions with the teachers during NIPC and TOP, and in the one-on-one meetings, we include at least a few "glows" - things we've seen in their course that they are doing well. We want to focus on their strengths and build their confidence. Below are some examples of the glows we've found and shared with our new teachers.
Each new teacher has a diverse skill-set and we like to showcase their strengths, which serves a dual purpose: 1) the new teacher knows that we notice the hard work they are putting into their online course and 2) the other new teachers can see the strengths and ideas of others, hopefully propelling their own courses forward by giving them ideas they might not have thought of otherwise.
At the end of the semester, we ask for feedback about our program, and we are continually told that they have never felt so supported as they have by their coach and our program. Below are some responses we've received from our new teachers at the conclusion of NIPC:
"Everyone has been so helpful. I have learned so much from everyone involved in the NIPC."
"NIPC did a lot to calm my nerves and make me feel ready for a course."
"I enjoyed it all. It was fun and the experience was set up well to prepare us to teach a course."
"The NIPC training was very well planned and left me understanding the GAVS system better than any other teacher induction in which I have participated."
These titles helped frame my understanding of asset-based teaching and learning and how to help students develop these skills, even if not directly cited above.