Future of Teaching

From Shanghai to Collierville, collaboration model boosts teacher performance

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier

Fourth-grade math teachers Lydia McGuire and Heather Floyd observe as colleague Angela Levin presents a lesson on equivalent fractions to her students at Collierville Elementary School. They watch closely to examine how Levin teaches and uses examples to illustrate her points.

The goal is to gauge whether the majority of Levin’s students can explain what they just learned and, if not, how the lesson could be improved.

The practice of teachers observing teachers is part of the Teacher Peer Excellence Group, or TPEG, now in its second year at the school in Collierville, a community of 44,000 people near Memphis. The pilot program is being shepherded in six Tennessee school districts by researchers at the Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development in Nashville. It was adapted from methods used in Shanghai, China, home to some of the world’s top-performing schools.

Through financial support from the Tennessee Department of Education and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 18 school principals traveled to China in 2013 to observe the country’s teacher peer support program. During the 2013-14 school year, the principals implemented the TPEG model in elementary and middle school classrooms in urban and rural school districts in or near Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville. Researchers at Peabody have been monitoring the program’s progress.

“The model stems from Asian cultures that revere elders, respect expertise and value collective wisdom, and that carries over to the classroom, where teachers learn from each other and benefit from one another’s experience,”  explained Xiu Cravens, Peabody’s associate dean of international affairs. “This model creates a supportive environment in which new or struggling teachers are quickly brought up to the level of their peers.”

In Collierville, Levin, McGuire and Floyd follow the TPEG model and share a common planning time to develop lesson plans and teaching methods. They take turns observing each other teach without the pressure of the feedback counting toward formal teacher evaluations that affect their tenure and pay. In fact, the teachers say the peer observations help them better prepare for the classroom observations that eventually will be conducted by their principal or a designated administrator as part of their evaluations. And Collierville administrators say participants in the pilot program are scoring higher on their teacher evaluations because of the additional support.

As more school districts use teacher classroom performance to make pay and tenure decisions, more school districts should seek opportunities to support teachers without any high-stakes decisions tied to the support process, said Sandi Jacobs, vice president and managing director for state policy at the National Council on Teacher Quality.

“If a teacher knows a performance evaluation has consequences, that makes it terribly uncomfortable,” Jacobs said. “Instead, they should have multiple opportunities to receive good, useful feedback. If an observation can identify a teacher’s weaknesses –how they can improve them – that’s helpful. It’s also helpful that teachers are encouraged to help each other. Everyone wants to be better than what they are.”

Common ground

Levin, McGuire and Floyd have 32 combined years of experience in the classroom.

“We do get along. That’s important in order for this to work,” McGuire said. “We all know going in that the goal is not ‘how can I make Angela Levin into a Lydia McGuire,?’ but ‘how can I help Angela Levin be a better Angela Levin?’”

For TPEG to work, teacher participants must commit to the joint preparation process, which can be time-consuming as they share practices that work and develop improvement strategies.

All three teachers bring various strengths to the table – Levin is most likely to use technology, for instance. All of them, however, are avid researchers and bring instructional ideas to their weekly pre- and post-observation meetings. The biggest challenge, they say, is arranging for substitutes to cover classrooms when the teachers are observing each other.

“It’s not easy being out of your classroom, but leaving the classroom [for TPEG] has been beneficial,” McGuire said.

Following a checklist they created, McGuire and Floyd sit with Levin’s students while Levin teaches and occasionally walk around the classroom taking notes for review after class. Was the teacher’s communication concise? Was it confusing? Did Levin open with visuals to establish the purpose of the lesson? Did she model the thinking process and demonstrate what is expected of her students?

Collierville Elementary fourth grade math teachers (l to r) Heather Floyd, Lydia McGuire and Angela Levin discuss a math lesson in this Dec. 3, 2014 photo. The teachers are involved in the pilot of peer teacher observations.
PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
From left: Teachers Heather Floyd, Lydia McGuire and Angela Levin discuss a math lesson during their planning period as part of a pilot program on teacher peer observation.

To an outsider, it sounds like a lot to think about, but the checklist is anchored in one main objective, which makes the observation process less overwhelming.

“We plan the lessons together and we think about how we’re going to hit all the standards and do well in our focus area,” Levin said.

Tracking progress 

Since the introduction of teacher peer observations at Collierville Elementary, evaluation scores of its participants have increased. During the 2012-13 school year, the school’s average teacher evaluation score was 3.92 out of a possible 5. One year later, the school’s average teacher evaluation score had increased to 4.29.

“After the first year, we knew it was working,” said Louise Claney, the school’s former principal who is now the municipal district’s director of curriculum and accountability.

Collierville administrators are tracking student test results and teacher observation scores to measure how much the additional peer support is helping teachers improve. In the meantime, the school has expanded TPEG to its fifth-grade reading and language arts teachers.

Some districts participating in the pilot program implemented it full-scale while others moved incrementally. Researchers seem to advocate the latter approach.

“We’re still in the pilot stage and we want to take it deeper before it goes wider,” Cravens said. “Teachers have to want it and be able to adapt it. It’s really important not to push it because when it’s mandated, it doesn’t work.”

Training teachers

How a doctor inspired a new way to train teachers — and how that is leading to a new kind of school

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote
Elizabeth Moje, dean of the school of education at the University of Michigan, studied how doctors are trained with Dr. Jonathan Zimmerman at Beaumont Hospital - Dearborn as she developed a new approach to training teachers.

After decades of training teachers in largely the same way, professors at the University of Michigan are making a radical change.

They’re moving to end the longtime practice of sending educators into their own classrooms after just a few months of student teaching.

In its place, they’re creating a new method — one based on the way doctors are trained — that will extend teacher training through their first three years on the job, supporting them as they take on the daunting responsibility of educating children.

“It was very nerve-wracking,” said Lisa Murray, who just finished her second year as an English teacher at Detroit’s Munger Elementary-Middle School.

Before starting at Munger, she’d spent 14 weeks as a student teacher in a fourth-grade classroom but suddenly found herself teaching seventh-grade English. She had a supportive mentor at her new school, she said, but “ultimately you kind of have to figure it out. It’s kind of trial and error.”

That’s how teacher training has been for generations, said Elizabeth Moje, the dean of the school of education at the University of Michigan.

“That’s what I did.” Moje said of her intimidating first teaching job when she was 21. “It’s what teachers do — and it’s ludicrous.”

Moje hopes her new approach will not only lead to better outcomes for kids, but will keep teachers in the classroom longer at a time when one in ten are leaving the profession after their first year.

She’s particularly hoping to keep teachers working in urban schools where students are more likely to be academically behind, but where limited resources for supporting teachers means that as as many as 35 percent of new teachers leave the profession after their first year.

The new approach involves this: A K-12 teaching school, similar to a teaching hospital, where future teachers — called interns — will train together under a single roof.

They’ll complete their student teaching there. Then, instead of heading out in search of a job in another school, they’ll stay on for three more years as full-time, fully certified teaching “residents.”

Residents won’t be trainees. They’ll be real classroom teachers working with real children and making a real salary — the same as any other first-, second-, or third-year teacher. But, unlike their peers in traditional schools, they’ll continue to learn from their professors and will work closely with the veteran teachers — called attendings — who will make up most of the school’s teaching staff.

Moje hopes to launch the teaching school as a partnership with a school or district in or near Detroit as soon as the fall of 2019.

Once it’s up and running, she said, she expects that between half and two-thirds of the faculty will be veteran teachers. The rest will be residents.

Details are still being ironed out, including the specifics about which school or district will partner with the university on the effort. But one option is the main Detroit district, where Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said he’s been in “active conversations” with Moje.

We are confident that something will be announced shortly about our plans,” he said. “The residency program is exactly what we need during a time when many teachers are not provided with the right support and training to assume responsibility of improving student performance, especially in Detroit.”

Vitti added that he thinks a program like this would recruit high-quality candidates to teach in Detroit and keep them in city schools.

***

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote
Dr. Jonathan Zimmerman, the head of internal medicine at Beaumont Hospital -Dearborn, travels around the hospital with doctors-in-training including a medical student, a resident and an intern, stopping to ask them what they’ve learned from each patient. It’s a model the University of Michigan wants to apply to training teachers.

Moje is not the first to call for teacher training to look more like medical training.

Even as the trend in education in recent years has tilted toward accelerated certification programs like Teach for America that give non-education majors a crash course in teaching before placing them in a classroom, research has shown that if teachers aren’t well prepared and supported, they’re more likely to burn out and quit.

Teacher turnover — a problem that’s especially acute in schools with fewer resources to support new teachers — can exacerbate the very teacher shortages that alternative certification programs like Teach For America and the for-profit Teachers of Tomorrow are designed to address.

That’s why some districts and charter school networks in recent years have started year-long residency programs that are similar to student teaching but involve an entire school year.

Some schools have hired new teachers as “associates” before letting them fly solo in a classroom. The Denver school district has a new program that lets a handful of new teachers spend their first year working part-time in a classroom and using the rest of their time to plan, observe and hone their craft.

But Moje’s concept — the idea of extending teacher training for three years— is one that experts say is a novel approach that’s worth watching.

Because the residents are paid members of the school staff, the model doesn’t rely on private donations, or ask teachers to do extra training on their own dime.

“It’s exciting,” said Maria Hyler, a senior researcher for the Learning Policy Institute, an education think tank. “It fits into a lot of what’s going on in teacher prep right now, but on steroids, which is fabulous!”

Hyler noted that 30-50 percent of teachers leave the profession in the first three years, “often because of challenging working conditions or lack of preparation” so it makes sense to support them through that time.  

Karen DeMoss, who directs the Prepared To Teach program at Bank Street College, said she questioned how this model could work for large teaching colleges that bring in more candidates than they’re likely to have jobs for in any one teaching school. But she said she’ll be watching with interest to see how this model plays out for Michigan.

“I love the idea that an institution is committing to every single student having access to this kind of extended learning experience to learn how to do one of the most complicated jobs around,” she said.

***

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote
Elizabeth Moje, the dean of the school of education at the University of Michigan joins a resident, an intern and a medical student as they meet with a patient at Beaumont Hospital – Dearborn. A school she’s developing will similarly create ways for teachers to learn from peers a year or two ahead of them.

 

Moje’s teaching school concept began in earnest around 2010 when Dr. Jonathan Zimmerman, the program director for internal medicine at Beaumont Hospital-Dearborn, reached out to Moje and her colleague, Bob Bain, at Michigan’s education school for help developing a new evaluation tool for medical residents.

A partnership soon emerged that had Moje joining Zimmerman on medical rounds in the hospital and Zimmerman joining Moje to observe teachers training at Detroit’s Cody High School.

The two soon noticed key differences in the way their students are taught.

At Cody, for example, Zimmerman noted a classroom where a seasoned teacher was working with four student teachers.

The classroom teacher had divided her high school students into four groups and had assigned a student teacher to lead each group.

“I saw them doing the very best they could to get the students to pay attention to a project,” Zimmerman said of the student teachers, but while all of the student teachers were focused on the teens they were working with, none of them were watching each other.

The classroom teacher circulated to each of the small groups, but she could only see one group at a time so the other three student teachers were largely on their own.

“They were all engaged in independent practice, which is great,” Moje said. But all of the student teachers were in the first semester of their training. Most had not yet developed much skill, so three of them at any time could have been doing something wrong “and no one would know,” she said.

In contrast, medical students, interns, residents, and attendings visit patients together in daily hospital rounds. Everyone has a role to play that includes learning from the person ahead of them in their training, and teaching the person coming up behind them.

“A third-year medical student is almost always paired at the hip with an intern,” Zimmerman said. “It’s much easier to learn from a peer that’s one or two years ahead of you and it’s much easier to teach if you are teaching somebody one or two years behind you. You have a better sense of where they’re coming from and they’re not so scared. ”

When Moje and Zimmerman were on rounds one day last month at Beaumont-Dearborn, they were accompanied by a fourth-year medical student, a first-year resident (called an intern) and a second-year resident.

As the team visited a patient with a severe inflammation of the pancreas, Zimmerman asked David Dimcheff, the medical student, what he thought the patient needed next.

“We treat with antibiotics,” Dimcheff responded.

Ok, Zimmerman said but, “what are the other options?”

Dimcheff looked confused. He froze for a minute, thinking, then glanced across the patient’s bed to where the two residents, Pooja Modi and Ahmed Ali, were making a hand gesture that looked like pulling a thread from a piece of fabric.

Dimcheff hesitated until the gestures made sense.

“We could get a sample with a fine needle aspiration and determine what bacteria is causing the infection,” he said. “That would help us tailor our antibiotic treatments.”

Yes, Zimmerman said, “and it would also help us ascertain whether or not [the pancreas] is actually infected.”

Moje noted later that her student teachers at Cody didn’t have residents to turn to if they were struggling.

They were “working independently and not having the kind of support that [Zimmerman’s] team has,” Moje siad. “His fourth-year med student, David, always has somebody more senior to him and our students don’t.”

Moje believes her teaching school can change that.

She’s designing the school so that as resident teachers improve, they’ll help train teachers coming up behind them. They’ll attend classes and workshops that could be held in the school building. And they’ll participate in meetings similar to what hospitals call “grand rounds,” where doctors, residents and medical students gather to discuss the condition of patients and the best course of treatment.

“One day you might be in a classroom with a student teacher and an attending, and a [university] field instructor might also be present, and a faculty member would show up, especially if we’re teaching classes there,” Moje said. “The next day, you might be in the exact same classroom and the student teacher is in a different classroom, but the attending is there.”

The new model will simplify a lot of things for the university’s school of education, which last year had student teachers working in 356 classrooms scattered around southeastern Michigan, Moje said. The university also has interns doing observations in classrooms for several months before their student teaching begins. 

“We can’t be there every day,” she said. “The advantage of the teaching school is that they’ll be in one location so we’ll be able to concentrate a lot more of our time and attention on these interns. That’s also why we can continue to support the residents because they’ll all be in one place.”

By offering college classes in the teaching school building, students can work toward their bachelor’s degree — or pursue a master’s — without having to drive between a Detroit school and a college lecture hall 45 minutes away in Ann Arbor.

When interns first start out, they’ll rotate to different teachers’ classrooms and slowly take on more responsibility.

“A first semester intern might be in a classroom with a teaching resident for part of the day, and in a classroom with an attending teacher for part of the day,” Moje said. “While in medicine, doctors move from patient to patient, in our clases they’ll be attached to a third-grade classroom. But, for part of the day, the teaching resident is leading and the other part, the attending is leading.”

All future teachers “would see a high level of practice,” she said, and all of the extra hands in the building will enable educators of all stages to leave their classrooms to supervise junior teachers or to watch a senior teacher work.

After three years on staff in the teaching school, residents will leave as fourth-year teachers who have been trained to weather the intensive challenges of teaching in urban schools.

That’s how Moje believes her school can potentially impact the quality of instruction across a city like Detroit.

“The gamble we’re all making,” Moje said, is that residents will move on from this teaching school and take jobs in other urban schools. “We’ll start to build a sense of scale because we’re distributing the talent pool to all these other schools.”

***

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote
When the team of doctors at Beaumont Hospital -Dearborn use a scope to view a patient’s vocal chords, they stop to make sure medical student David Dimcheff gets a chance to look through the scope.

Moje’s vision is to eventually have at least two teaching schools — one in an urban area like Detroit and the other near the university’s main campus in more affluent Ann Arbor.

“We hope this will recruit large numbers of people who want to do something very different in terms of teacher education,” she said. ”As the school grows and gains more stature, we hope it will also draw people into teaching.”

The new teaching school could be a tough sell for some parents who might fear that the new model is too experimental, or that educating their children would take a back seat to the demands of training teachers. But Moje said children will get a lot more attention in this school than they would in a typical school.

She believes children will benefit from efficiencies like those created in the hospital when doctors and med students work together.

As Zimmerman and his team made their way around the hospital last month, Zimmerman had the group stop to watch an ear, nose, and throat specialist use a scope to examine a patient’s vocal chords, making sure that Dimcheff, the medical student, got a chance to look through the scope.

He stopped an infectious disease specialist to request an impromptu hallway lecture on bacterial growth. And when the team emerged from the room of a 91-year-old patient who’d developed a bleeding ulcer when drugs he was taking for a heart condition interacted with drugs he was prescribed for shoulder pain, Zimmerman held the group in the hallway for almost 20 minutes, questioning each member about learnings from that patient.

In some ways, stopping to teach is inefficient, he said, but the work interns and residents do in the hospital more than makes up for the time spent teaching them.

“They’re admitting all the patients,” he said. “Putting orders into the computer, following up on [test results], getting a consultant to come see the patient, gathering everybody’s opinion, talking to the family, talking to the patient over and over, checking with them over and over again.”

Moje said she envisions her teaching school working the same way.

“It’s very rare that attending teachers, or any teachers, have the time to do this kind of on-the-job teaching of teachers,” Moje said as she watched Zimmerman and his team.

“That’s one of the things we’re trying to think through,” she said. “What would it mean if we made what we’re now calling attending teachers able to move around the building more? And be able to pop in and work with a novice teacher? With a teaching resident? With a student teacher? An intern? What would we have to do structurally?”

Murray, the English teacher at Detroit’s Munger Elementary-Middle school was intrigued by the idea of teachers getting more support in their first years.

Ultimately, she said, she’s found ways to serve her students. In her second year, the main Detroit school district honored her as its rookie teacher of the year.

“I had a better understanding of how I can run my classroom,” she said. “A better understanding of the curriculum.”

But she fondly remembers the support she had from her college professors and liked the idea of formal support continuing into a teacher’s first years.

“Teaching is one of those careers that no one can ever really prepare you for,” she said.

But once you’re in a school, doing the work, “to be able to have all these connections, all these professors, and all the people I had the support from in college … That could be really powerful.”

teacher diversity

Memphis colleges are training more teachers of color, new study shows

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Shortly after creating its River City Partnership in 2017, The University of Memphis established is creating an urban teacher training track in its College of Education in partnership with Shelby County Schools.

Teaching degree programs at four-year institutions nationwide are disproportionately white, according to new Urban Institute data. But things look different in Memphis, where two local colleges, the University of Memphis and Christian Brothers University, are making strides to ensure their teaching programs reflect the diversity of the schools that house them.

Meanwhile Memphis’ LeMoyne-Owen College, a historically black institution, has a teaching training program whose student body is almost exclusively African-American. The program focuses on preparing  its students to teach in diverse settings.

“Minority-serving institutions,” like historically black colleges and universities, are “doing more than their fair share of preparing diverse teachers,” Constance Lindsay, a researcher at the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. “And then there’s lots of schools in urban settings that are sort of over-representing black and Hispanic students” in their education programs — noting that, in some places, the teaching programs have greater percentages of students of color than the schools as a whole.

The Urban Institute data was released Tuesday.

In Memphis, 68 percent of school-aged children are non-white, and teachers of color make up about 40 percent of the city’s educators. But across Memphis-area colleges, more black students pursue teaching degrees compared to other majors.

According to the study, the percentage of black education majors at the University of Memphis (40 percent) closely resembles the racial makeup of the public, four-year college. Alfred Hall, Assistant Dean of Student Success & Strategic Initiatives at the University of Memphis, said that those numbers are the result of new leadership “embracing the notion of being an urban education institution.”

“We continue to serve a metropolitan area, in which we have suburban and rural partners, and we continue to work to meet their needs,” he said. “But we have been more intentional in the past several years about serving an urban education school district and preparing teachers to have success in those settings.”

The university’s goal is to recruit and prepare teachers to “understand a local context.” Last year, the school established the River City Partnership, a student-teaching program, with Shelby County Schools. That program is centered around understanding concepts of equity and social justice, where teachers-in-training learn about the struggles of urban students as well as the best ways to unleash their potential.

“[We don’t want our teachers to just have] a deficit perspective of feeling sorry for them because they come from certain hardships, but to have an appreciation of the persistence and grit that these students have and how they can maximize those attributes to bring about student success,” he said.

At Christian Brothers University, a private religious college, black students make up 32 percent of the student body. But among students who study education, half are black. A CBU representative was unavailable Tuesday.

The Urban Institute report comes on the heels of an earlier study that found students of color were more likely to attend alternative licensing programs for teachers than to complete teacher training offered at four-year institutions. Some of these non-traditional programs, such as Man Up and Urban Teachers, target students from groups underrepresented among teachers.

But while states like Tennessee have begun to welcome some of these alternative programs, the majority of teachers still take traditional routes.

“I think we have to do a better job of just recruiting students to become interested in teaching across the board, from all racial and ethnic backgrounds,” Hall said. “[We need to help them] see the importance of having an increasingly diverse body of teachers to address an increasingly diverse body of students that have an understanding of certain cultural competencies.”

Cumberland College in Lebanon, Tennessee, is the only other school in the state that has a higher percentage of black students in its education program than it does schoolwide. Black students were underrepresented in 24 of Tennessee’s 27 listed teaching programs outside of Memphis. Here’s how they measured up:

Source: The Urban Institute

The full report allows users to search four-year programs and see how they compare to national trends in two key areas: black and white student representation upon enrolling in an education program, as well as black and white student completion rates. You can access that here.

Other teaching programs in Memphis, including Rhodes College, Southwest Tennessee Community College, and Memphis College of Art, are smaller and were not included in the Urban Institute study as a result.