Clinton City Schools has recently partnered with the University of North Carolina’s Watson College of Education to develop and test a pilot program focused on supporting beginning teachers and doing so in such a way that they want to stay and grow in the profession as well as in their local community.
“We’re excited about it,” shared Nancy Dillman, assistant superintendent/human resources for Clinton City Schools. “We can’t provide too much support for our beginning teachers.”
The partnership between the local school system and UNCW has its roots in a grant that a team at the university received. The team — Claire King, a doctoral student in education who will serve as project evaluator; Gary Wright, an undergraduate student who will help evaluation the project’s online modules; Jeff Ertzberger, director of Technology for the university’s Watson College of Education; and Somer Lewis, a teacher-in-residence at the college — came up with a “Beginning Teachers Matter Project” which was one of only four projects selected to receive a $50,000 grant through the 2014 Emerging Issues Prize for Innovation. To receive the grant, which is sponsored by the State Employees’ Credit Union and Institute for Emerging Issues, teams had to propose projects in either education, health, environment, or the economy that would ultimately help improve teacher experience and potentially benefit North Carolina’s overall education system.
As part of its project, the team was required to partner with a school system in order to put a plan into action, and their call went to Clinton City Schools.
“They called and asked if we’d be interested and I said ‘yes,’” said Dillman. “I saw it as a definite need for beginning teachers…We want to grow teachers.”
The two Waston College of Education faculty members on the grant team will oversee and work with the city schools over the summer on the project which will then be implemented and tested next school year.
“We’ll see it in action in the fall but we’ll work collaboratively with them this summer to develop a training module that can be replicated anywhere,” explained Dillman, stressing that the whole point of the project is to actively address the issue of teacher retention by helping beginning teachers become a part of their local community. “It won’t be a one time thing; it will be able to be used to benefit more school systems.”
During the 2014-15 school year, beginning teachers with up to three years teaching experience will be included in the pilot program. They will meet once a month with city school master teachers who will lead sessions where a variety of issues affecting teacher retention will be addressed. An emphasis will also be placed on helping beginning teachers learn more about and become more involved in the community which will serve as a support system for them.
“I can’t anticipate any new folks, but based on what we have right now, I’d say probably around 30” teachers, ones from all subjects and grade levels, will be involved in the project, noted Dillman.
According to the assistant superintendent, the system, through its one-year partnership with UNCW for the project, is hoping to develop a resource room for beginning teachers as well as a web portal and a teacher tool kit that goes beyond what the system already provides.
Providing such support to its beginning teachers isn’t new for Clinton City Schools.
“The state requires that we have a beginning teacher support program,” noted Dillman, sharing that every year the system holds a new teacher induction three days before the new school year starts. Over the course of those three days, beginning teachers learn about the teacher evaluation instrument, classroom management, and payroll and benefits, to name a few. They are also assigned a mentor, often one teaching the same subject and grade level as them, who works with them for their first three years as an educator. Beginning teachers also attend monthly meetings where issues and concerns raised on end of year teacher surveys are addressed.
“This (project) will just add a whole other layer of support,” Dillman said, mentioning the benefit of having access to UNCW resources. “It will just add another dimension to what we already do and make that community connection stronger, strengthening those ties so that they (beginning teachers) have a connection with the community and can feel more a part of it. It’s all about developing that network of support.”
That support, Dillman pointed out, is essential, especially to those who are just entering the classroom and facing the profession’s many challenges.
“Classroom management, knowing how to access and use resources, and learning how to differentiate instruction for all students. Those are the major issues” concerning teacher retention, said Dillman.
“You have to be organized and structured as a teacher, and you have to know your content because there isn’t time to learn it once you’re there. You have to know how to engage students and still keep that professionalism,” she continued. “And everyone has to find what works for them. There’s no one way to do it because we’re all individuals but we need to help teachers learn to pull from their strengths.”
“And there’s so many positives that come from the cultural, community part that that really helps them with all the rest,” she noted.
And Dillman is sure that the community aspect of the upcoming project will be an an enjoyable and easy one.
“We’re really lucky here in Clinton to have such strong community support. People in this community just provide and they’re always there. They genuinely care about the students, and not just the students, but the staff too,” she shared. “I feel like we’re very blessed to have that level of support. I don’t know if that’s part of why we were chosen (to partner for the project) but I do know that it’s not like that everywhere.”
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.