For the Seattle Teacher Residency (STR), preparing highly effective teachers who can thrive in Title I schools and improve student achievement is a priority. Seattle Teacher Residency was created as a unique partnership between Seattle Public Schools, University of Washington, Seattle Education Association, and Alliance for Education. Since its 2013 launch, STR has placed 90 teachers in 30 high-need Seattle Public Schools, and 91 percent of STR graduates remain in the classroom after their second and third years of teaching.

We spoke with Dr. Marisa Bier, STR’s founding program director, about the residency’s strategies for preparing pre-service candidates for the Title I environment, and about STR’s work to engage its partner school principals.


 

How does STR’s preservice training prepare candidates to work in a Title I environment?

Our teacher preparation curriculum addresses issues of equity, access, and community that are critical to the work of an educator. Throughout their preparation, residents focus specifically on issues of equity and identity related to race, culture, language, socio-economic status, disability and gender. This curriculum includes inquiry to better understand their own identities in relation to students, their families, and their school communities. Our focus on selecting candidates from diverse backgrounds encourages the development of residents that better represent the diversity of the students they serve when compared to the district overall.

The University of Washington’s College of Education is our higher education partner, and support the preparation of our candidates through a master’s in Elementary Teaching program. The program blends classroom apprenticeship with aligned course work. Participants begin their residency with two months of full-time coursework, including content area methods and classroom management courses, blended with experience in Seattle Public Schools summer school classrooms. This summer experience is followed by an entire academic year teaching in Seattle Public Schools alongside an experienced mentor, while engaging in continued integrated coursework.

Residents pursue either an elementary pathway or a special education pathway. In order to successfully complete the program, residency graduates in the elementary pathway commit to pursuing a second endorsement in either English Language Learners or Special Education. These endorsements help to prepare teachers to serve the diverse needs of students in an urban, poverty-impacted school.

Like many urban districts, Seattle has a difficult time staffing its Title I schools. That’s why STR’s focus on serving high need students is of critical importance. Nearly 30 percent of Seattle Public Schools are Title I, but the high needs sites account for 41 percent of unfilled positions. Students living in poverty and students of color are disproportionately affected by staffing shortages and turnover. The result is an opportunity gap, and we believe firmly that all students should have access to high quality teachers each and every day they are in school.

How does STR connect with principals to establish and build strong partnerships?

Since its inception, STR staff has prioritized getting to know the schools in which residents are placed and those where graduates are hired. Throughout the year, STR’s Director of Clinical Practice, Maggie Allen, and I meet with the principals who host our residents. From the very beginning of an engagement with a new principal and a new school, we create an environment for, and an expectation of, open lines of communication and school-wide support for preparing future teachers. We have regular in-person and phone check-ins that include resident status updates. Principals are invited to quarterly meetings with the program director to share their residency year experiences with us, provide anecdotal data around resident performance, and provide information around school contexts.

What kind of feedback do you get from principals on STR graduates’ performance?

STR solicits feedback from principals regularly. Surveys administered by NCTR reveal the vast
majority of STR partner principals believe that:

  • STR prepares residents to be effective teachers, beginning in their first year of teaching;
  • Residency program graduates positively impact the culture of their schools;
  • The residency program is effectively preparing graduates in culturally responsive teaching, and;
  • Mentors to residents have grown into more effective practitioners through participation in STR’s residency program.

Principal Brenda Cuthbertson of Seattle’s John Muir Elementary School told us that she encourages her principal colleagues to visit STR classrooms to recruit top teacher candidates.

“STR has helped shift our culture to one that is both mission driven and data informed, resulting in academic gains for all students, particularly for African American males,” Cuthbertson said. “Through the training that both residents and mentors at my school have received, we are increasingly focused on rigor and high expectations, while maintaining our practice of supporting social emotional growth, arts integration and service learning. STR graduates take on leadership roles and make positive contributions to the success of the school.”

Currently, 24 percent of staff members at John Muir Elementary School are STR graduates.

School leaders at West Seattle Elementary view STR as a grow-your-own strategy for teacher recruitment. For them, it’s important that their teachers know their school, its families, and the community.

“When teachers are hired without that foundation, they are often unsuccessful and/or leave,” said Principal Pamela McCowan-Conyers. “West Seattle Elementary hosted STR residents for the last three years, and we hire their grads every year. Since the onset of this partnership, we have hired five STR-trained residents.”

How is STR tracking hiring data in Title I schools?

We track STR hiring data in Seattle Public Schools through collaboration with the district’s human resources department. The total number of new elementary teachers in the district has decreased by about 20 percent since the 2015-16 school year. In that time, STR has increased the number of graduates placed in Seattle Public Schools year-over-year. During the 2014-15 school year, 24 percent of open new elementary Title I teaching positions were filled by STR grads. By the 2016-17 school year, the number of placements increased to 37.5 percent.

In addition to tracking school placements and principal partnerships, STR tracks graduate retention, school outcome data, and school climate data. Graduate survey data is collected each year. STR also convenes an alumni board that organizes engagement opportunities, collaborates with district induction programming, and offers additional induction supports to graduates.

What’s next for STR?

This year, STR is preparing 19 residents and supporting 19 mentors in eight Seattle Public Schools. Next year, we will prepare 25 to 30 residents. The program’s vision was to recruit, train, place and retain diverse, high quality teachers prepared specifically to serve in Seattle’s Title I environment, and we remain committed to that vision. Forty percent of our STR graduates identify as teachers of color–double the average diversity of Seattle Public Schools teachers. STR is enriching the teacher pool for the district in significant and meaningful ways, which ultimately will ensure stronger outcomes for our students in our most challenged schools.