Professional Learning

Strengthen Your Work with New Teachers

What readings can best support sites in implementing successful programs for their new teachers?

That question was at the heart of a bibliography that that the New-Teacher Initiative (NTI) Leadership Team developed over five years as it collaborated with and supported local site leadership at eighteen National Writing Project sites.

The most immediate aim of the New-Teacher Initiative is to explore multiple professional development approaches and strategies for supporting new teachers. To serve that end, a national leadership team designed and implemented the work of the initiative to support sites in designing models of working with new teachers.

One of the major tasks of the NTI Leadership Team was to design learning events—a launch of the program for each cohort of sites, cohort summer institutes, and dissemination retreats — that would assist site teams in implementing successful programs for their new teachers.

Three major areas surfaced that needed support in these NTI learning opportunities: investigating strong models of meaningful, high-quality professional development for new teachers; making inquiry a part of the way sites worked with new teachers; and deepening site leaderships’ own knowledge about the teaching of writing in order to help their newest colleagues.

Selecting the Readings

What readings and approaches would meet those needs? After much brainstorming, reading, and discussion, the team selected readings relevant to the goals of the event that also met the needs of the participating teams.

“For each event, we selected articles that heightened awareness of work that we saw going on, but needed some support, or topics that site leaders wanted to be on the agenda, as well as those that would support the goals of the initiative,” said Linette Mormon, a member of the New-Teacher Initiative Leadership Team.

The annotated bibliography (PDF) that the team created is a partial list of the readings that were most significant in their work. It is organized into four categories: (1) the teaching of writing, (2) understanding culture and its implications for teaching and learning, (3) strengthening inquiry as a mode of learning, and (4) rethinking professional development for new teachers through participation in a professional community.

Protocols Deepen Inquiry

In addition to the readings, Mormon noted that the team also wanted to demonstrate effective approaches to working with texts in hopes that team members would be able to integrate their experiences into their local site work with new teachers.

For example, to deepen everyone’s understanding of inquiry, the team selected “Inquiry and Outcomes: Learning to Teach in the Age of Accountability” by M. Cochran-Smith and used a writing–to-learn process developed from the work of Ann E Berthoff (1995) known as the “dialectical journal” or “double-entry journal.”

This simple format of using two columns for taking notes and dialoging with the text requires the reader to slow down, identify portions of the text he/she wants to comment on, and capture in writing thoughts about and interactions with the text.

During the “Learning from the Field” segment of one institute, the team used a version of the “Save the Last Word for Me” protocol to actively engage with the text.

“Using this protocol provided a disciplined and safe space for each individual to participate in the conversation about the text,” said Mormon.

Reading and discussing texts contributed to collegiality among the cohort participants, stimulated leadership teams to reflect on and revise their sites’ work, and deepened the knowledge of everyone involved in the initiative.

“The protocols encouraged listening and sharing in a democratic manner and I’m glad I was a part of them,” said one participant.

Another participant added, “In NTI, I am being exposed to literature that supports what I’m doing and that says how difficult writing is and how difficult it is to have students write. I’m with people who care and want to listen, and I’m expressing myself and being heard with some kind of positive feedback.”