New teachers across Nooksack Valley Schools gain a network of support, including at Sumas Elementary where Jessica Wilkinson and Abbie Ball have spent nearly a decade mentoring the newest teachers in the school.
After a group of NV teachers went through a University of Washington course and additional training in 2012 to become certified teacher-leaders, Wilkinson and Ball have spent time developing their own skills as mentors to coach new teachers and have settled on a co-coaching protocol. In this set-up, both Wilkinson and Ball come into a classroom and model a lesson, with one of them in front of the students teaching and the other in the background explaining the practices and highlighting student reaction to the teacher.
"We landed on that because we were finding that a lot of our new teachers were more successful in implementing the strategies when they could see us doing it with their own classrooms," Ball says. "The added layer we were able to give them by co-coaching is one of us is able to model while the other one is able to sit with the teacher in the back of the room and provide the narrative alongside the demonstration and really name those teacher moves and how students are responding."
The pair work with new teachers at Sumas up to years three, four or even five at the school. The effort generally begins with an intensive three-week cycle and then gives the teachers a break to practice the strategies and ask questions before the next cycle. "We want them always feeling supported, but also trying the strategies independently," Wilkinson says. At the end of each cycle, teachers reflect and learn how to do the process independently.
Working with seven teachers at Sumas this year, every situation is different. Some new teachers may want support for up to 45 minutes a day every day, while others may need just 15 minutes of support once or twice a week. "We try to meet our teachers where they are and offer as much support as needed," Ball says.
Throughout the mentoring, Ball says they analyze data, whether through observation or assessment, to help guide the support. This focused effort also ensures that while teachers stay on track for professional growth, the students and their academic growth remain the central focus. Throughout the mentoring process Ball says teachers often realize what their own students are capable of and learn to push them to work harder.
"I think teachers are really appreciative of it and that there is time invested in them to truly develop their instructional strategies," Wilkinson says. "We are in there to guide them, but they see they can be independent with their kids and realize 'Wow, I really can do this.'"