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In practice | leadership

Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

Rookie teachers need dress


rehearsals too
Before the curtain rises on the school year, the newest teachers should have practiced time
and again what they will encounter their rst days of school.
Rookie teacher Noel Borges is
taking the reins of a middle school
class for the first time. Like many
an eager new teacher, he stands
before his students with equal
parts purposefulness and trepidation.
Yet this is no ordinary
middle school class Borges
is about to teach. For one
thing, its not September, but
mid-August. And for another,
the students arent middle
school students at all: Theyre
the 10 other rookie teachers joining middle schools in his network
this fall, led by principal Serena
Savarirayan.
Borges begins his first greeting
to his students. All right, I need
everyone to look at me in 3, 2,
1 . . . I need Marcellus eyes . . .
1, he tells them. Excellent. All
right, good morning, class. I need
all of you to immediately take
your seats, quietly, and begin the
morning activity, which is on your
desks. You will have four minutes.
Savarirayan asks him to pause.
Try that same thing again, she
says, but with fewer words. Just
say, Eyes up here, morning activitys on your desk, lets go. Fewer
words, shorter amount of time.
PAUL BAMBRICK-SANTOYO is
managing director of Uncommon
Schools, Newark, N.J., and author of
Great habits, great readers: A practical
guide to K-4 reading in light of the
Common Core (Jossey-Bass, 2013).
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Kappan

October 2013

Borges nods and starts again.


Eyes up here! he begins, much
more confidently. Excellent. I
need everyone to sit down and
start your activity. You have four
minutes. Borges students file in
and begin their activity.
The summer professional development (PD) session that we just
witnessed was the dress rehearsal
for Borges real first day of teaching. In many other industries, such
a rehearsal would be considered
natural. Actors would never perform a play without running it successfully many times before opening night. Surgical residents would
not perform surgeries until they
practiced and mastered each detail
of preparation, such as how to remain sterile while getting dressed
for the operating room. Teachers
need the same thing especially
rookies. Getting them to practice
teaching in advance makes the difference between accepting them as
they come to us or making them
better.
The first choice, to be sure, is
more common. Deborah Ball and
Francesca Forzani underscore in
an American Educator (2011) article that its common practice in
the United States to focus more
on hiring better teachers up
front than on guiding teachers
as they dive into their work. But
that choice, Ball and Forzani say,
is a gamble: It bets each teachers
actual success in the classroom on
qualifications that dont necessarily mean he or she is a better
teacher.

Savarirayan is not a gambler.


Her rookies are all intelligent,
capable, and qualified. And she
knows that if she doesnt show
them what to do when the curtain
goes up, at least one of them will
fail. And for her students, thats
one too many.

If we dont coach our


rookie teachers, at least
one of them will fail. For
our students, thats one too
many.
Lets get behind the scenes of
Savarirayans summer PD. First,
well see which skills are the most
powerful for new teachers to build
before they meet students. Then,
well examine Savarirayans process for making sure every rookie
learns them.

Setting the stage for success


The New Teacher Project
(2013) recommends focusing new
teachers growth on the basics by
narrowing the focus to no more
than 10 essential competencies
that first-year teachers can practice
and improve quickly. The intent is
to avoid the trap of overwhelming
rookie teachers with everything
they need to know and to be able
to do to be a master teacher, with
the result often being that they
dont know where to begin.
This is especially true when it
comes to summer PD except

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Know this on the first day


Skill area

Teachers must be able to

Rolling out routines


& procedures

Write out critical classroom routines: what teacher


and students will do at each moment, and how noncompliance will be handled.
Plan how and when to teach each routine to students.

Giving directions

Stop moving, and strike a formal pose while giving


directions.
Use a formal tone and word choice while giving
directions.

Writing effective
lesson plans

Write precise learning objectives that are data-driven,


anchored in the curriculum, and can be accomplished
in one lesson.
Script what to say to students during I do and
questioning parts of the lesson.
Design a brief nal mini-assessment that aligns with
the objective.

she has to make sure he learns


how to deliver a great greeting
unchallenged.
Go granular. Consider the
specificity of Savarirayans feedback to Borges: Reduce the
number of words in his greeting.
Why sweat something that small?
Because every detail your rookies can get right in August makes
them more likely to succeed with
the added challenge of students in
September. If Borges knows how
to deliver his greeting succinctly,
warmly, and effectively, hell almost certainly be able to do it on
the first day of school no matter what unforeseen circumstances
arise when he meets students the
first time.

Lights, camera, action


that since the PD takes place over
such a short period of time that
you need to keep your list of essential competencies even shorter.
Here are three skill areas that Savarirayan has found most fruitful
to cover during her summer. (See
chart above.)
Savarirayans list of skills to
teach during summer PD is brief
and focused, but its still ambitious. How can you and your
rookie teachers cover that much
ground in the time you have for
summer PD? The answer: many
opportunities to practice.
Think back to the moment we
witnessed earlier when Borges
role-played his first greeting to
his students. What if, instead of
facilitating a role play, Savarirayan
had simply delivered a PowerPoint presentation on giving students directions? What if she had
shown a model of effective routines and then just asked teachers to plan on their own? Even if
she had specified that directions
should include as few words as
possible, Borges would never
have done what Savarirayan was
describing, and he wouldnt have
actually known what words to use
when addressing students for the
first time. Practice is how Savarirayans rookies are able to learn
more skills in a shorter amount of
time and, by extension, become
better teachers faster.

Heres how Savarirayan sums


up her approach to facilitating
practice with her rookie teachers:
Practice it correctly multiple
times. In performing arts, there
are many dress rehearsals, not just
one. The actors need to practice
successfully more than once to be
able to replicate that success before an audience. Getting a rookie
teacher to practice something
just once correctly isnt effective, either. Multiple strong runthroughs are necessary for real
learning to happen.

Avoid the trap of


overwhelming rookie
teachers with everything
they need to know and
be able to do to be a
master teacher. Too much
information often means
they dont know where to
begin.
Rehearse success first; then,
add the challenge. After Borges
has perfected his greeting to students, Savarirayan may have him
do it again with some of his fellow
rookie teachers playing the parts
of disruptive students. But first,

As Borges fellow rookie teachers move to their desks, Savarirayan joins them in pretending to
be one of Borges students. She
shakes Borges hand at the door,
just as everyone else has. Good
morning Serena, Borges says.
Then he follows her inside, taking
his place, for the first time, at the
front of the classroom.
Just a few weeks later, Borges
did all of this again with real students. He knew what to do when
they talked out of turn and how
to tell when they misunderstood
concepts. He knew how to hold
their attention, welcome them
into his classroom, and get them
to start learning. This year may
be Borges first year of teaching,
but Savarirayan made sure that
from his first day in the classroom, teaching was happening. K
References
Ball, D.L. & Forzani, F.M. (2011,
Summer). Building a Common Core
for learning to teach, and connecting
professional learning to practice.
American Educator, 35 (2), 17-21,
38-39.
The New Teacher Project. (2013).
Leap year: Assessing and supporting
effective first-year teachers. Brooklyn,
NY: Author. http://tntp.org/assets/
documents/TNTP_LeapYear_2013.pdf
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