Implementing Standards with New Teacher Learning Teams

By Kristina Marzullo, March 2016

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and the College, Career, and Civic Life Standards (C3) are a new concepts for many new teachers, and learning to put the standards into instructional practice can be challenging for them. Not only are teachers beginning a new career at a new school, daily planning, grading, building student relationships, and more, they are being asked to implement a new way of teaching standards into their daily instruction which they have limited knowledge about.

"New Teacher Learning Teams" (NTLTs) are a great way to support new teachers learn about all of the new standards, and help them intentionally and purposefully set aside time to design instruction keeping the new standards in mind. Planning for NTLTs can be done at the beginning of the school year, and should be facilitated by teacher leaders, teacher mentors, or other content experts in a building. NTLTs build new teacher capacity in their content area while building comradery in a school between new teachers learning together; in addition, they are a direct catalyst to improved student achievement and closing the learning gap.

Often, new teachers are overwhelmed with daily tasks, and can't see the trees through the weeds; therefore, NTLTs provide new teachers an opportunity to purposefully stop, plan for practice, and reflect on practice with new colleagues they work with. According to the New Teacher Center (Goldrick, 2009), "Beginning educators, on average, are less effective than their more experienced peers. Research has consistently found a positive relationship between years of teaching experience and higher student achievement, with teachers who have five or more years in the classroom demonstrating greater effectiveness. Despite good intentions, new teachers have yet to develop their skills and knowledge." Not only do new teachers have limited time in the classroom, they have limited time outside of the classroom planning and grading, among other tasks. That being said, research shows that beginning educators are less effective than experienced teachers due to a lack of knowledge and experience; by putting teachers together in NTLTs, it enables them to grow their knowledge in their content standards which can bridge many learning gaps. In addition, NTLTs enable teachers to feel supported both by colleagues who are having similar experiences, and those who have experience with the standards.

Here are ten guidelines for establishing and facilitating successful NTLTs:

  1. Agree on common goals for the group. Establishing one or two goals for the group keeps everyone grounded and focused. It is critical to keep the group focused on the goals throughout the year so that goals can be built upon from year to year. In secondary schools, content may be different; however, the group can create goals surrounding general knowledge of each area. For example, a group goal might be: "We will analyze and evaluate the sub-components of five learning standards this year and practice them in the classroom. We will use the Action Learning Cycle to evaluate our work and refine our practice."
  2. Establish norms. Ensure every teacher in the group is heard, is respected, and is part of the team; just because a group of teachers is new, doesn't mean they aren't knowledgeable about pedagogy and content. Build capacity in new teachers so they can become leaders in a school or system – the way to do that is to give them autonomy to learn, experiment, and grow. When establishing norms, also consider when and where teachers will meet in order to best satisfy everyone's scheduling needs.
  3. Review curriculum as content groups and decide on essential skills for the year. Use this list to plan what "big rock" components the group will focus on for the year. Think about what components of the curriculum and learning standards will give teachers the most "bang for their buck" during the course of the school year. Keep your school improvement and district improvement plans in mind as a starting point to drive your thinking. As new teachers, it will be nearly impossible to learn and master all of the standards in practice during the course of one school year; therefore, the group should choose a few standards to tackle each year.
  4. Backwards map your yearly plan as a group. Think about where the group should be at the end of the school year, and backwards map how they might get there. Think about the group's plan month-to-month, or quarter-to-quarter, and plan where the group would like to be and what the group will know by that time period. Plan how the group will get there beginning with the end in mind. When designing the yearly plan, plug time in for purposeful evaluation, reflection, feedback, and revising in order to master the standards in practice.
  5. Begin to learn the standards. After standards are chosen, begin to have conversations with colleagues, content experts, mentors, and supervisors surrounding the standards. Analyze student work, critique model lessons, read, analyze, and discuss the standards; in addition, visit teacher leaders in action and take data on classroom observations. Talk about habits of practice, and bring data back to the group each time you meet in order to discuss your findings. Learn the language of the standards in order to model it for students.
  6. Practice the standards in the classroom. Plan lessons, common assessments, and assignments during NTLT time with colleagues in common content areas. Practice lessons in the classroom and give assessments that are aligned with the standards in order to begin to collect student data on weaknesses and strengths. Not only does this give teachers valuable data to move students forward, it gives teachers practice in teaching the skills in the standards.
  7. Reflect on classroom data and practice. Bring data back to the NTLT and reflect on practice. What were the strengths of the lesson/assignment? How do you know? What were the weaknesses and how might you change/revise the lesson next time you teach it? What did you learn about the standards during the lesson? What might be some practices you could put in place to refine student's knowledge of those standards?
  8. Refine classroom practice. Continue to put standards into classroom practice and refine lessons as you learn more about them. Have colleagues from the NTLT and other master teachers observe your lessons and give you feedback in order to refine your practices. Stay grounded in student data and use it to drive your instruction; if you are ever unsure if your practices are working, ask yourself if students were able to master the standard in the classroom.
  9. Always check in with your group's map/plan. When the NTLT meets, always check in to see if everyone is on track to meet the group's goals. Refer back to your map to ensure the group members are meeting their goals; if not, refine the goals of the group or support teachers who are struggling to meet the goals.
  10. Use your mentor or coach. NTLT groups should never feel like they are on an island alone. It is important for the group to have a mentor, coach, or content expert to facilitate the group and help everyone stay on track. Use your mentor for more than just group facilitation; have him or her come in and observe your classroom practice in order to give feedback and suggestions to improve practice. Mentors can also help analyze student data sets, provide and gather outside resources, provide research-based instructional strategies, coach teachers through lessons, co-teach lessons, and more.

Building teacher capacity and knowledge is only one benefit of NTLTs; they also increase student achievement, which is an element new teachers might struggle with. Because teachers take an active role in learning the standards and work with their instructional coach over the course of the school year, they are able to create lessons that are more rigorous and allow for deeper student processing. In addition, teacher planning is more intentionally focused on the standards and the learning focused improvement process, allowing teachers to not only learn the standards, but practice them and refine them in the classroom based on coach and colleague feedback.

New Teacher Learning Teams facilitate learning of the standards and grow the capacity of new teachers. It is critical for NTLT leaders to establish goals with the group in order to keep them focused on a few small standards for the year in order to not overwhelm new teachers. In addition, staying focused on a few standards allows teachers to work at their own pace in order to refine and master their practice. It is also critical for NTLTs to begin with the end in mind and map out a plan of growth for the year and set measurable goals along the way so that teachers can meet them as their year progresses. Without measureable goals, new teachers may get frustrated with the process, give up, or become unable to see the benefits of the group. New teachers must also feel safe to take risks in the classroom and try strategies out of their comfort zone in order to learn the standards; in addition, they must also receive feedback, consultation, and coaching on their practices so they can reflect and refine them in order to improve their craft. Instructional coaches and mentors must take the lead on supporting new teachers in their growth plan to help them move forward in their learning. Without mentoring and coaching, new teachers may again get frustrated and give up on the process; therefore, mentors and coaches should regularly visit new teacher classrooms, be an active part of the NTLT process, and help teachers reflect on their practice by having regular learning focused conversations.

New Teacher Learning Teams can drive new teacher and student learning and build capacity in the standards, taking both new teachers and students to new levels of learning. When new teachers feels supported and have a plan for professional growth with measurable goals, they will blossom into rigorous educators who create thought-provoking deep lessons for their students.

Goldrick, Liam. "New Teacher Center Policy Brief." (2009): 1. New Teacher Center. NTC, 01 June 2009. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.