A long journey starts with a single step

Quality training for teachers at the college level is only the start

Educators use “backwards design.” It starts by visualizing the final product or goal and then goes back to structure the initial and intermediate steps to ensure a successful outcome.

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Directives for improved training of elementary teaching candidates, recently published by the National Institute for Educational Evaluation (INEE), is a good first step. The goal, of course, is improved student learning, to be confirmed by measurements like PISA and PLANEA.

INEE is correct in identifying the systematic and coherent recruitment and development of future teachers as a point of departure. But taking this first step still leaves us far from the destination.

Assuming that everything in Directives can be accomplished, the overwhelming majority of students graduating from teachers’ colleges will pass the exam for admission to the teaching profession.

However, ensuring quality training for teachers’ college graduates will not necessarily improve student learning. So, what are the next steps?

Mentoring of novice teachers: A teacher’s first years in the classroom are stressful. In college, he or she learned attitudes, skills and content knowledge that must now be validated with praxis (teaching experience combined with reflection on practice).

Ideally, the first year of teaching should occur with the permanent support of a mentor teacher, and the second year with frequent visits by a teacher coach. During these two years, new teachers learn classroom management and how to develop deep knowledge of students and respond effectively to their different educational and emotional needs.

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This requires that teachers develop a robust toolkit of formative evaluation strategies to identify, every day, what students know, what is confusing them, and the appropriate next steps in their learning. They have to prescribe, plan and implement effective interventions to ensure consolidation of important skills and concepts.

Professional development in leadership and teamwork to improve student learning for teacher teams in each school: The first years of a teaching career are for learning how to stimulate and improve the learning of students in the classroom. However, school and system-wide improvement can’t be achieved with each teacher working in isolation.

The level of student learning we seek depends on a consistently high-quality educational experience in each grade, year in and year out. Teachers who have secured a permanent teaching position must be trained to work as a team with colleagues in their school, guided by a spirit of continuous improvement and trained in the use of data about learning.

The “Data Wise” process of the Harvard School of Education is one example. Its steps are:

  1. Organize for Collaborative Work: Adopt an improvement process, build a strong system of teams, make time for collaborative work, set expectations for effective meetings, set norms for collaborative work, acknowledge work style preferences, create a data inventory, create an inventory of instructional initiatives;
  2. Build Assessment Literacy: review skills tested, study how results are reported, learn principles of responsible data use;
  3. Create Data Overview: choose a focus area, analyze data, find the story, display the data, allow staff members to make sense of the data and identify a priority question;
  4. Dig into Student Data: examine a wide range of student data, come to a shared understanding of what student data show, identify a learner-centered problem;
  5. Examine Instruction: examine a wide range of instructional data, get clear about the purpose of observation, come to a shared understanding of what is happening in classrooms, identify a problem of practice;
  6. Develop Action Plan: decide on instructional strategies, agree on what the plan will look like in classrooms, put the plan in writing;
  7. Plan to Assess Progress: choose assessments to measure progress, set student learning goals;
  8. Act and Assess: implement the action plan, assess student learning, adjust the action plan, celebrate success.

Research on school improvement agrees that success can only be achieved by building a professional community – a special atmosphere in which teachers work together to improve instructional practices and consequently, student learning.

In Mexico the first step in this direction has been taken. Let’s keep walking.

The writer is an educator with many years of experience in the administration of schools in North and South America. He lives in Pachuca, Hidalgo. 

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