Lessons in On-boarding New Teachers

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A hard lesson I have learned very recently is that our on-boarding process for new lead teachers is terrible. In the twelve years I have worked at this center, we had hired all of our lead teachers from within the organization. When a lead teacher retired, or quit, we would promote an assistant teacher who had a good understanding of the policies and procedures of our center. This system has always worked well for our program, until recently. For the first time in the history of my employment at the center, we hired 2 lead teachers who came from different centers. It soon became painfully obvious that we had almost no process for on-boarding in these situations. We offered an initial orientation that covered the basic policies and procedures that every employee receives, regardless of their position, and a multitude of training opportunities on developmentally appropriate practice, child guidance, nutrition, challenging behaviors, 1st aide, CPR, and many more. However, there was no procedure in place to introduce new teachers requirements specific to the lead teacher position such as lesson planning requirements, annual events, newsletters, our expectations on classroom environment, their role as a mentor to assistants and aides, etc..

When you have worked somewhere for a long period of time, there are things that you forget that you also had to learn at one point. Things become so routine, that you forget that someone new may not have the information, or that it is something you have to teach. For example, our center holds an annual event called pancake breakfast day. Teachers are told when the event will be held and what the general expectations are. However, there are small details that are forgotten about that are necessary the teacher knows in order for the event to be successful. Invitations to families are created and distributed by each individual teacher, the center provides the pancakes, but the teachers are expected to ask parents to bring other supplies such as sausage, milk, fruit, plates, napkins, etc., tables and chairs need to be set up in their classrooms to accommodate the parents, and the teachers are expected to mingle and interact with their parents during the event.

Our center is now working on creating a comprehensive on-boarding process for new teachers that will include at minimum a binder with all of the requirements listed in detail, as well as a separate orientation specific to lead teachers. What strategies does your center use in the on-boarding process? Comment below with any ideas or questions. I look forward to hearing from you!

Preschool Teacher Turnover

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As the new school year is approaching, our center is facing the same problem we have faced the last twelve years. Teacher shortage. Our particular center employs about 35 teachers, assistants, substitutes, and administrative support staff. This school year we are looking to fill 10 of those positions. We lost nearly 30% of our staff. That may sound unreasonably high, and it is, but it is typical. Typical not only for our center, but for the field as a whole. We are a lab school for our local community college and so should have a direct pipeline for teachers for our center. However, we face shortages like this every year and we are not alone. There are many reasons we face this problem year after year.

Increased Minimum Credentials

There is a big push to raise the minimum requirements for early childhood educators. This is great news and very beneficial to students and to the early education field. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) rolled out minimum requirements for preschool teachers that were to take affect in 2019. The requirements were that 75% of lead teachers hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher in Early Childhood Education or related field. In addition, 50% of assistant teachers and teacher’s aides were required to have an Associate’s degree. Highly qualified teachers means a richer educational experience for students. However, NAEYC had push-back from early learning centers on these requirements. The majority of centers simply could not meet these requirements because of the teacher shortage. In addition, a higher degree resulted in the need to offer a higher salary, a problem for a field with very narrow profit margins. In response, NAEYC relaxed the requirements and now lead teachers are required to have any higher education degree with a minimum hours of early childhood educational training, and assistants and aides only need to be working toward a certificate (the equivalent of 12 higher education credits). This is bad news for students but a necessary change until we figure out how to make the field more attractive to potential college students.

Low Wages

There is a large disparity in the wages of preschool teachers vs. elementary teachers. This holds true even when the teachers have the same credentials. The U.S. Department of Education reports that preschool teachers make a national median wage of $28,570, while kindergarten teachers make an average of $51,640. The gap gets even higher when looking at elementary teachers (excluding kindergarten) who make an average of $54,890 annually. What this means is that preschool teachers who pursue a Bachelor’s degree choose to leave preschool and join the school district for a higher wage. When you consider that many private preschools can only afford to offer part-time positions it is easy to see why good teachers are hard to find.

Burn Out

Burnout contributes to turnover rates in a significant way. Caring for young children in a huge responsibility that comes with many stressful circumstances. Children this age are just learning to regulate their emotions and more and more students are needing intensive interventions in this area. Teachers are often with students from early morning to evening with very few breaks. Children this age require a significant amount of teacher support which means teachers have to be “on” for long periods of time. In addition, there are not a significant amount of substitutes available and so teachers are working when they are sick, leading to a feeling of being unsupported. Parents of preschool age children have very high expectations (as they should) for the services they are paying for. Some parents look at preschool, not as a gentle introduction to social interaction and play based learning, but as a means for their child to be “ahead of the game” when they enter Kindergarten. These parental expectations can cause teachers to introduce content that is not developmentally appropriate, leading to challenging behaviors, frustration, and a sense of failure both for the student and the teacher when they are not able to reach those expectations.

Lucky for us, there are advocacy groups who are actively working on addressing all of these issues and more. Feel free to share your thoughts on preschool teacher turnover in the comment section below. I look forward to hearing from you!

Coaching Contracts/Agreements

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One tool that I have always found helpful when presented with a coaching opportunity is a coaching contract or agreement. I am not referring to a legally binding contract full of legal jargon and very fine print. I am referring to a document that outlines what the teacher can expect from you as the coach, and what you expect from the teacher throughout the process. A quick Google search will give you a wide variety of agreements that you can use and change to fit your situation. One of my favorite agreements to use is from the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI). You can find a copy here. This contract is specifically created for coaching on Pyramid Model Practices but will give you an idea of what a good contract or agreement should include.

Coaches Responsibilites

  • Maintain confidentiality
  • observations
  • respect your educational beliefs and values
  • focus on strengths
  • use a variety of tools for assessment
  • offer guidance and support
  • adapt my coaching to your learning style
  • support you in professional development
  • follow through
  • be organized and prepared
  • be approachable and trustworthy
  • be respectful, non-judgmental, and supportive

Teacher Responsibilities

  • build positive relationships with my students, families, peers, and coach
  • create an environment that supports children’s growth and positive behavior
  • learn and implement a variety of social-emotional strategies in the classroom
  • Recognize when behaviors require an individualized interventions
  • Collaborate with all pertinent persons when creating a behavior plan
  • provide coach with data when asked
  • take charge of prioritizing my own goals
  • continuously work to implement changes in my teaching practices
  • be organized and prepared for our coaching meetings
  • be approachable and trustworthy
  • be open to suggestions
  • ask for what I need

Benefits

When a contract or agreement is in place, both teacher and coach know what is expected of each other. This helps in creating a collaborative and trustworthy relationship. The agreement takes away any uncertainty as to why you are there, what you will be doing, and who you will be sharing the information with. This is very beneficial to all parties, but especially to those teachers who are reluctant or nervous about having you in the classroom. Having a contract or agreement also makes the process feel more professional rather than a casual process that may or may not be implemented.

Degree vs. Passion

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Yesterday I sat on a hiring committee for a high quality preschool that was looking for a new lead teacher. There were 3 applicants. Two of them had an Associate’s degree in early childhood education with three years classroom experience. The third candidate had a Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education with 6 years of direct classroom experience and 8 years experience as a manager of our local Head Start Program. On paper, the third candidate was the most qualified and should have had the best chance at landing the job, and yet she didn’t. In fact, she was our third choice. Why? Here are my observations.

The interview process consisted of 13 interview questions, followed by 2 scenario type questions. They were given a scenario that involved a child with challenging behavior in the classroom, and a scenario involving a parent who has come to them with concerns about an assistant teacher. The interviewees were given the scenarios and asked how they would respond. Following the scenario questions, the candidates were asked to present a lesson that is appropriate for the age group they were applying for. There were no specific guidelines to follow for the presentation, as we wanted to see what each person would bring to the table. Each candidate also met with the Vice President of the college (it was a lab preschool for the community college), who gave feedback to the committee.

The interview portion brought about some interesting differences in candidates. The first teacher, who had just finished her Associate’s degree in May had some troubles answering questions about the various agencies that assess the program (NAEYC, QRIS, and TACSEI). However, she showed great passion for the field of early childhood education and had great responses to questions regarding leadership. You could feel her enthusiasm and passion for educating children. She was honest about her areas of weaknesses and showed how she has been actively working on them for the last 3 years. Her presentation blew everyone away! She brought her own flannel board and presented a story that was engaging, well prepared, and hit on many different cognitive areas. She included a complete lesson plan (a copy for each committee member) and showed the activities and transitions she would have incorporated throughout the day. She also brought a binder that included a complete literacy unit that included lesson plans, activities, and transition activities for an entire week). It was obvious to everyone on the panel that she wanted the position and worked very hard on being prepared for the interview.

The second candidate, who also had her Associate’s degree was very nervous and unfortunately couldn’t answer many of the interview questions. However, she showed passion for the field and was very personable. She showed ingenuity in her presentation skills. She also chose to present a flannel story for the presentation portion of the interview. She did not have her own flannel board so she made one herself at home using felt, wood, and styrofoam. She did a great job presenting her flannel story to the committee and I was impressed that she made all of the flannel pieces herself along with the flannel board.

The third candidate, who had the most education and the most experience, did well with the interview questions. She answered all of them to satisfaction and her experience and education were obvious in her answers. However, she seemed to lack passion and enthusiasm. It just felt flat. The presentation is what really broke it for her. She also brought a flannel story but did not bring a flannel board so she wasn’t able to present it properly. She had about twelve gallon size Ziplock bags full of materials and supplies that she dumped all over the table. When presenting the story she would have to dig through the pile to find the piece she was looking for which caused the story to feel very stilted and not engaging. To say the least, it was a disappointing presentation and it felt like it was put together at the very last minute.

After the interviews and their meetings with the Vice President, we all agreed on the first candidate. For me, as the future coach of this new teacher, my preference is to work with someone who is passionate about the field, is eager to learn, and open to feedback and new ideas. As a person who has spent half of their adult life in pursuit of higher education, I very much value education and experience. This interview process was a great reminder for me to look beyond the degrees and look for traits that aren’t as visible on a resume, such as passion, positivity, leadership, teamwork, and enthusiasm.

What characteristics do you most value in a teacher? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Procrastination

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As I sit here in the OB waiting room waiting for my third grandchild to be born (my only daughter’s first baby) I can’t help but think about the importance of being prepared. She isn’t due for another nineteen days but baby Mia has other plans. I feel so blessed that I have been at the birth of all of my grandchildren so far, and they have all been born healthy and happy! However, as with my last two grandchildren I have procrastinated on finishing up this week’s homework assignments for my EMBA degree, and so I find myself once again with my laptop in the waiting room frantically trying to get all of my assignments completed. Sigh. Some of us learn the hard way, and some of us never learn at all! I am determined to not let this happen again and so I have begun researching ways to stop procrastinating! I know that I am not the only one with this issue so I would love to share what I have learned so far.

The New York Times reported that procrastination has nothing to do with laziness (that’s reassuring!) but it is a form of self-harm (not so reassuring!). In fact, procrastination is an irrational act. It is a conscious decision to NOT do something even against your better judgement. I always attributed procrastination to poor time management and/or sheer laziness. I only struggle with procrastination in my private life. In my professional life I am on top of things, I never (well almost never) put off tasks and am usually ahead in the game, and have a hard time sympathizing with co-workers and/or bosses who procrastinate at work.

This has not served me well in the recent past. My current boss is a big procrastinator. Even worse, she waits so long to even start a project that she is incapable of finishing it herself and so many of them get delegated at the last minute to me. I had a conversation with her at the close of this school year and expressed my frustrations and concerns with her procrastination and what effect it has on me and the rest of the team. She was very much taken aback and her feelings were hurt. I couldn’t understand her inability to see how her inaction was negatively affecting the team, and I couldn’t understand why her feelings would be hurt.

The NY Times article stated that “Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem”. People avoid tasks that bring forth a negative emotion (boredom, insecurity, frustration, etc.). Looking at procrastination from this perspective will (hopefully) allow me to be more empathetic. That isn’t to say that I will accept blatant procrastination that affects my ability to do my job, but it will allow me to try and help her to work through the negative emotion associated with the task so that she can begin to reduce her procrastination tendencies.

Wish me luck!

Working with Reluctant Teachers

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Build the Relationship

I know it has been said before, but one cannot argue the power of building a collaborative relationship with your teachers. I wouldn’t recommend presenting yourself as “the expert”, but rather as a resource and a partner. Teachers may be reluctant for a number of different reasons. Maybe they have had a negative experience with a mentor or coach in the past. It is important to take the time to find out where the reluctance is coming from and work through it with them. Notice I didn’t say solve whatever issues they are having or have had in the past. Playing “fix-it” will only exacerbate the reluctance. Take the time to get to know them both professionally and personally. It is not necessary to be “friends” outside of work, but it is necessary that the teacher knows that you care about them on a personal level. Do not be afraid to ask about their spouse, children, or what they like to do for fun. Taking an interest in them outside of their professional skills will go a long way in building a relationship.

Keep their Confidence

As a coach, it is not your job to report back to the Director or Principal on your teachers progress through the coaching progress. In fact, if you are reporting your findings to anyone other than the teacher, you are violating their privacy and undermining the process. One of the reasons I have found that teachers for be reluctant to the coaching process is when they have been struggling with effective teaching and have been put on notice by their director or principal. This creates a high-stakes environment for the teacher. They may fear that if they don’t improve with your coaching, they will lose their jobs. This is a tough situation for all involved. One practice that I make sure that everyone (including the director) is clear on, is that coaching sessions are confidential. I even go as far as having a coaching contract that the teacher and director sign that states what my responsibilities are, what the teacher’s responsibilities are, and that all conversations will be held in the strictest confidence. If this practice is not welcomed by the director or principal I first attempt to explain the reasoning behind the process. If the director or principal still do not agree then I simply refuse that particular coaching job. That isn’t to say that a contract will automatically gain you trust. It is a process that does not happen overnight. You MUST put in the time. Trust is earned, not given.

Student Focused

Teachers are more likely to open themselves up to honest reflection and real change when they can see the value it brings to their students. When talking through a difficult situation it helps to keep the focus on what is best for their students. Teachers can be reluctant to the coaching process when they feel it is going to create more work for them. One thing that teachers do not have an abundance of is time. Asking them to create something like a visual schedule for their classroom can seem overwhelming and unnecessary to a reluctant teacher. However, when the teacher can see the value it will bring to the classroom through reflective conversation rather than as a suggestion from you, they will be more likely to implement it into their daily plans.

Data Driven

Last, I would like to suggest to you that the coaching process by driven by data. Data is collected through observations, conversations, watching classroom videos, and observational assessments. Data takes the subjective nature out of the process, an important point when working with a reluctant teacher. The ability to say “I heard you give 5 positive descriptive feedback today” sounds much more credible and kind than to say “You didn’t give a lot of positive descriptive feedback today.” Using data rather than opinion will give a reluctant teacher something more tangible to hold on to and will go a long way in building your credibility.

Coaching Approaches for Teacher Stages

As a coach, you may find yourself coaching a group of teachers who are all in different stages of teaching development. It is important to approach each teacher as an individual and specific to the stage they are in. In the book “Coaching with ECERS” by Holly Seplocha, an explanation of the 4 commonly accepted stages to teacher development: survival; consolidation; renewal; and maturity. I will outline each below along with some helpful coaching tips based on each individual stage.

Survival

Teachers in the survival stage are generally new to the profession and have 0 to 2 years experience. They do not have many goals outside of getting through the day without someone getting hurt or lost. Their primary concerns are classroom management and discipline. They oftentimes have many students who are exhibiting challenging behaviors. Because they are in a flight or fight mode, strategies are often dismissed because they “won’t work with these specific children”. Teachers in this stage typically revert to a teacher-directed style of teaching. This style of teaching is inappropriate for preschool aged children and will only compound the challenges.

To coach teachers in the survival stage, efforts need to be very focused and specific. Choose areas for improvement that will make the biggest impact on reducing safety hazards, reducing chaos, and room arrangements should be a priority. Teachers in this stage may need to be given materials and resources, and well as modeling rather than a lengthy explanation about the benefits to children. It is important to give them multiple suggestions and options in regards to their concerns.

Consolidation

Teachers in the consolidation stage are generally in their 2nd – 4th year of teaching. They have passed the survival stage and have gained a little bit of confidence in their teaching skills. They have found strategies that work and strategies that do not work and are able to focus on the needs of individual children and instruction. Teachers in this stage have a better handle on completing lesson plans and general classroom management. They may still struggle with individual children who pose challenges to their general classroom management techniques. These students might be an English language learner, a child with a disability, a child who is particularly disruptive, or a child who does not seem to be progressing at the same rate as their peers.

Coaching teachers in the consolidation phase includes discussions about what works and why, providing resources to address specific concerns, directing them to professional development resources, and connecting them with other teachers in this stage to encourage networking.

Renewal

Teachers in the renewal stage are generally in their fourth year of teaching. Teachers in this stage are usually confident in their teaching practices and are interested in new ideas, strategies, and perfecting current practices. They are looking for new and exciting ways to improve their teaching strategies and are often self-motivated. Teachers in this stage ask many questions of their coach as well as other teachers in an effort to collaborate and gain new insights.

Coaching teachers in the renewal stage includes providing them with opportunities for growth. This can mean connecting them to Master teachers, directing them to professional development opportunities, and/or connecting them with outside agencies in order to build a broader understanding of the field of early childhood education. Teachers in this stage benefit from receiving opportunities to share with other teachers. More specific feedback and guidance on individual ECERS indicators is appropriate for teachers in this stage.

Maturity

Teachers in the maturity stage have generally been teaching more than 5 years. They are still interested in purpose, research, philosophy, and reflection, but may have become complacent or picked up some bad habits along the way. Teachers in this stage are sometimes reluctant to try new ideas and strategies based on the philosophy that what they have done in the past has worked (regardless of appropriateness).

Coaching teachers in this stage is most effective when conversations are centered around the benefits to the students. They will also want to know why specific changes are needed or required. Teachers in this stage benefit from sharing their expertise with others. Creating opportunities for these teachers to mentor other teachers and assistants is an effective coaching strategy for the maturity stage.

I hope you found this article helpful. Comment with your experiences with teachers or with any questions you might have.