Robust Support for Teachers Pays Rich Dividends to Schools and Students
“A strong teacher support system is critical,” states Vivian Tam. “Teachers are the ones who can turn around the growth outcomes for each child.” Tam, who serves as principal at Jing Mei Elementary School, invests heavily in what she calls “wrap-around support” for her teachers. Part of the Bellevue School District (BSD) in Bellevue, Washington, Jing Mei offers multi-tiered resources and approaches that acclimate new recruits and engage veteran teachers, helping them address classroom issues, achieve personal career goals, and direct their significant talents and energy towards improving student achievement and bettering the school community.
Tam explains that teacher support begins with high standards for hiring. Jing Mei, a dual-language immersion school, seeks teachers with specific credentials that include a Washington state teaching certificate along with an endorsement for K-8 elementary education. An additional endorsement in English as a second language, bilingual education, or Chinese is preferred. On top of that, Tam says Jing Mei seeks people who want to be involved in improving their teaching and contributing to the school. “Leadership potential and mindset is important to us.”
Support begins right away for new teachers with instructional mentorships where novice teachers are assigned a mentor to help them analyze student work, design instruction, observe accomplished teachers, set and work towards professional goals, and effectively manage their classrooms.
Perhaps most importantly, Jing Mei, like other Bellevue schools, has a dedicated instructional technology curriculum leader who offers coaching support, coordinates professional development within the building and with the district, analyzes student data, spearheads instructional technology initiatives, and adapts the district curriculum for the Chinese language. At Jing Mei, this position was, until recently, filled by Tina Bogucharova, who in the fall of 2015 will be starting a new position as principal of Cherry Crest Elementary School, also in BSD. She especially likes that her district offers professional development opportunities for teachers throughout the year, and allows her to build additional “release times” into her budget.
Every Wednesday, class dismisses early at Jing Mei and other BSD schools so school staff can attend school-or district-level professional development sessions. Teachers enjoy eight hours of paid professional development and have an option for twelve additional hours beyond what is offered by the school and district. Each month a range of topics are offered, from classroom- or department-specific issues to special topics such as the Common Core State Standards, or Smarter Balanced testing. There is also a five-day “summer institute” workshop, as well as a leadership institute for administrators and teachers to learn about topics such as operational health, equity, and district initiatives. The variety of opportunities, explains Bogucharova, in essence asks teachers, “Hey, where is your passion outside of the classroom?”
Teachers at Jing Mei also have the opportunity to participate in a Dual Language Immersion Cohort, where they work with their Spanish-language counterparts on matters such as writing, heritage learners, and Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS), a whole-school, data-driven framework for problem prevention and solving. Additionally, some teachers opt to participate in leadership teams, which offer stipends, project-pay or hourly pay and include Instructional Leadership (with each grade level represented by one teacher), Guidance, Positive Intervention Behavior System, Green Genius, Staff Social, and Wellness.
In addition to help from the school and district, community support is essential. “Bellevue community has a very strong belief in supporting our children,” remarks Melissa Taylor, President of the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) at Jing Mei. “We want to have an opportunity for every family to be fully engaged.”
Like professional development, community involvement takes place in many forms. At the school level, the PTSA sits on interview committees and helps raise funds that supplement those provided by the district. They mobilize parent-volunteers to assist in fundraising, help at a family engineering night, field day, book fairs, and author visits, and to serve as recess coaches, lunch helpers, and homeroom parents. Furthermore, the Bellevue Schools Foundation provides a National Board Certification coordinator, and STEM-related professional development. Eastside Pathways, a partnership including the Bellevue school district, the city of Bellevue, and community organizations, finds ways for the broader community to support children from cradle to college to career.
“It is so important to support classroom teachers’ workload and demand,” maintains Tam, who says that even teacher evaluations present an opportunity for support. Jing Mei follows the Washington State evaluation process, but Tam asserts, “It is a collaborative system. It’s not just evaluating the teacher, it’s helping the teacher grow.”