As advocates for rigorous clinical teacher preparation, NCTR and our Network Partners know that a residency program is only as strong as its teacher mentors. The average resident spends four full work days a week training alongside their mentor for an entire school year. This means that mentors have the primary–and significant–responsibility of coaching and training residents. Mentors model effective teaching and provide feedback and support to help residents grow.

Through our Network programming during the 2017-18 school year, NCTR supported our partner residencies as they developed mentors who are committed to improving their own teaching practices. Guided by our Standards for Effective Teacher Residencies, specifically the standards around residency development and the residency year experience, NCTR Network Partners set goals for recruiting and developing high-quality mentors, and for measuring the progress of both residents and mentors against indicators of success. Throughout the school year, helped program staff develop their own mentor training programming by facilitating advanced learning and the sharing of best practices among peers within our network.

A resident and mentor work together in Denver.

In the last year, NCTR worked with fellow grantees of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Preparation Transformation Center initiative to develop the Teacher Educator Practice Framework. This set of 12 practices define what teacher educators need to know and do in order to prepare residents for the classroom. The framework offers definitions for each practice, explains the teaching skills built and their anticipated impact on student growth, and names the components of each practice. The framework supports teacher educators as they plan and implement exercises to improve residents’ teaching abilities.

With the support of our teacher education consultant Dr. Sarah Schneider Kavanagh of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, NCTR introduced the framework to our program partners through a webinar at the beginning of the school year. Dr. Kavanagh is a frequent NCTR collaborator, and started the Mentor Labs Project, a research and development initiative focused on improving teacher mentorship in K-12 schools. She served as a guest speaker during past annual learning institutes for partners who were developing their residency year curriculums.

Using both the framework and Dr. Kavanagh as a resource, we hosted professional development sessions for the Network around the facilitation of mentor labs, which focus on using discrete coaching activities that develop strong teaching skills in residents. Through the labs, mentors are introduced to new coaching activities, rehearse the activities with their peers, enact them within P-12 classrooms, and analyze their work to understand how the activities might strengthen resident practice and improve student learning. Network Partners focused on one mentor activity–huddling–when studying the mentor lab model. When huddling, mentors take their resident aside during class time to discuss a teaching strategy that the mentor will model and the resident will enact.

Network Partners practice huddling while in Boston.

Network Partners had the opportunity to observe and practice the huddling technique last fall during a site visit hosted by Boston Teacher Residency. Partners visited two schools where they experienced the residency’s mentor lab pilot. Participants reviewed the elementary or high school-level plans for a classroom lesson, worked with lead coaches to practice the huddling protocol, then entered classrooms during independent student work time to practice the technique. Simulating the mentor lab experience helped program staff understand the structure and pain points of participating in the exercise from a mentor’s perspective. Through role play, partners could anticipate challenges in their own pilots and ensure mentors were able to master teacher education techniques.

While in Boston, Network Partners worked together to generate strategies for mentor lab implementation and develop resources needed for success. Partners created protocols for assessing the effectiveness of labs, and video recorded the huddling exercise so on-the-ground mentors could access it for future learning. They also learned about mentor lab activities beyond huddling that could improve mentor development.

Several programs shared the progress they made in creating their own mentor lab experiences during our annual Symposium this past May:

  • After running several mentor lab cycles, Dallas Teacher Residency developed and shared data collection and analysis protocols to assess the value of huddling in developing mentors.
  • Seattle Teacher Residency shared its experience using targeted surveys and year-end data analysis to create a professional development curriculum that closely aligned with mentors’ needs.
  • Memphis Teacher Residency provided an overview of its innovative professional development calendar that differentiates training for mentors by experience level.
  • The University of South Dakota Teacher Residency shared its work to meet differentiated mentor needs by delivering live video conference professional development that focuses on adult learning theory.

Teacher mentorship has the great benefit of improving a veteran teacher’s own efficacy in the classroom. The residency model empowers mentors to become teacher leaders and to move forward in their own professional growth and development. According to NCTR’s 2017 Stakeholder Perception Survey, 96 percent of mentors agree that participation in the residency program made them a more effective teacher, and 98 percent report improvements in their abilities as teacher leaders.

NCTR is in the process of developing new resources for our partners’ use, including templatized mentor professional development calendars, assessments and summer learning institute materials for teacher education. We look forward to charting our partners’ progress in developing mentors who will support resident growth in the months to come.