By Amy Wooten, Executive Director of Higher Education Partnerships and Special Projects
Every school leader wants to ensure that all students have access to great teaching and learning experiences. And each leader knows that having an effective teacher is the most important factor in making that a reality. Yet, across the nation we are facing severe teaching shortages that threaten our ability to make this happen.
While the current challenge requires an immediate response, as a profession we must also plan and prepare strategies that will result in long-term, lasting solutions. Taking deliberate steps to develop a pipeline of educators requires creating a bridge between preparation and practice that ensures aspiring teachers are well-prepared to enter the profession. Using an evidence-based instructional rubric to anchor coaching strengthens this bridge between preparation and the classroom.
The NIET Aspiring Teacher Rubric (ATR or “rubric”) is being used by higher education faculty across the country to facilitate alignment between preparation and practice and ensure high-quality, well-prepared individuals enter the profession. The ATR provides a focused set of performance indicators that define effective instruction for aspiring teachers. The rubric includes 12 indicators that describe the key skills and abilities that aspiring teachers must develop to be prepared for the classroom and is based on the NIET Teaching and Learning Standards Rubric. Taken as a whole, the rubric serves as a tool for supervisors, mentors, and preparation faculty to provide aspiring teachers with high-quality feedback about their strengths and areas of improvement on the path to becoming a teacher.
Southeastern Louisiana University (Southeastern) has been partnering with NIET to use the ATR as a tool to strengthen the coaching process for aspiring teachers. This work will be expanding through a recently awarded Teacher Quality Partnership grant titled Building Rigorous Induction and Development for Growing all Educators, or BRIDGE. The BRIDGE partnership will continue to improve preparation and support for aspiring teachers, while strengthening induction for novice teachers as they enter the classroom. To learn more about how the ATR is supporting new teacher preparation, I sat down with Jordan Ahrend, the Director of Clinical Practice and Residency at Southeastern. Her reflections below draw on her own experience as a faculty member as well as the impact that she has seen the ATR have on aspiring teachers.
Q: What does your partnership with NIET look like and how did you come to use the Aspiring Teacher Rubric?
A: NIET and Southeastern Louisiana University began working together in 2015. Our entire faculty was first trained on the NIET Teaching and Learning Standards Rubric, which defines effective teaching. After a few years of implementation, we noted that we wanted to really take a focused look at pre-service descriptors. We were given the opportunity to work with NIET to develop a rubric that was focused specifically on aspiring teachers.
Q: We all know that introducing a new rubric can be challenging and overwhelming. What was your process for bringing the ATR to the faculty?
A: When supporting faculty development on how to use the Aspiring Teacher Rubric, we first began with some data sharing events with the entire faculty. We were able to take performance assessment data and student work to develop a plan that worked for our university. One thing we noted was that as faculty, as teacher educators, we could focus attention on how we model and scaffold this rubric for our candidates. So that's what we did—we developed a curriculum map where we walked through every course and determined when the indicator and descriptors of teacher practice would be introduced and to what level they would be introduced.
For example, in our Introduction to Education course, candidates complete exposure activities that involve deconstructing the language of the rubric. In the next series of courses, candidates continue to develop and refine their understanding of teacher practice by observing and co-teaching during clinical experiences. Candidates target specific indicators by using in-the-field evidence to support their understanding of specific components of instructional practice. Lastly, candidates complete a year-long residency which includes performance assessments where candidates are evaluated on and supported by the descriptors in the ATR.
Q: One of the goals of this rubric is that it can support both faculty and aspiring teachers. Have you experienced this?
A: The Aspiring Teacher Rubric is really explicit in the language that it uses. One thing that we noted as faculty was that it gives us a common language that helps us provide focused coaching to each of our aspiring teachers. This was something that, though we noted in our data sharing events, we struggled with “how do we implement this in the classroom?”
We reflected internally, and then made a very focused effort to examine our own courses. One piece of evidence that emerged was around academic feedback. We realized that the rubric is asking us, “How are you implementing written and oral feedback in a timely, specific manner?” As a faculty, we worked on that. We sat with our courses to consider how we provide academic feedback for our own students, and then we started modeling those practices with them. After that, our students were able to take what they learned from our models and implement those practices in their own classrooms.
Q: A rubric cannot stand alone—it must be supported by coaching and feedback structures. Can you tell me about the NIET “POP Cycle” structure and how it supports aspiring teacher learning?
A: The POP Cycle, which includes the pre-observation, observation, and post-observation coaching sessions, is a structure that really guides how we, as teacher educators, coach our aspiring teacher candidates. When we begin with the first coaching session, candidates bring student work from their PK-12 setting and we analyze what they need to plan for as they prepare to deliver the lesson for their observation. This time together allows them to modify their instruction to better meet the needs of students in their classrooms and to ensure alignment between standards, objectives, and assessments.
This provides us a safe space to ensure that our students are making the largest instructional impact in their classroom. After the observation, the student reflects on and assesses their own practice. In our post-observation coaching session, we sit together and really discuss the evidence from the observation. It's important not to focus specifically on the scores when we're discussing evidence because our students often worry about what their score is, and we want them to focus on how to improve practice to better meet the needs of our PK-12 population.
Q: What happens with the evidence gathered in the POP Cycle? How do you translate it into meaningful feedback for an aspiring teacher?
A: During the post-observation coaching session, our teacher educators sit with our students, and they discuss their area of reinforcement and areas of refinement. We know in any observation or during any performance assessment that there are great strengths to highlight. It is really important to start with what our candidates are doing incredibly well, and then we move on to the areas in need of improvement. It is during this time that we really focus on student observable behavior, and we ask questions like, “What were your students doing during this portion of your lesson?” And the aspiring teacher candidate reflects on that and can realize, “Well, maybe I didn't get the desired results I was hoping for with that activity.
It's in this space that we can actually come up with some collaborative next steps—is there a professional development that the candidate wants to attend to improve their engagement strategies, or is there a co-teaching strategy with a mentor teacher that we can facilitate? It is in this really safe space that we see the greatest improvement. Our students are really engaged in the process and it's super meaningful to them.
Q: Have you noticed an impact on the quality of feedback since introducing the ATR?
A: As a faculty, it is really important that we provide consistent feedback to all of our aspiring teachers. For this reason, we implement different co-scoring events throughout the school year. Once a semester, faculty come together for a co-scoring event where we watch a video observation of a student that is on NIET’s Portal for Raising Educator Preparation (NIET PREP), or of one of our own students. We review this together and we all co-score. Then we have these great dialogs around “what evidence did we see in the field? What was our teacher candidate doing and what were the PK-12 students doing? How would we give feedback?”
These conversations really support coherence in feedback. It's incredibly important that every resident and every teacher candidate feels like they're getting consistent feedback from the faculty. These co-scoring events have been a great opportunity for all of us to sit together and ensure that we know and use common language when we are training our aspiring teacher candidates.
Q: Now from the student perspective, what kind of impact are you seeing from the ATR?
A: When we first started implementing the Aspiring Teacher Rubric, the faculty noted that the aspiring teacher candidates tended to score themselves a bit higher than what the teacher educators scored them. For this reason, we did a deep focus on the descriptors in the ATR. We made sure that students knew what observable behavior would show evidence of an indicator. After doing this, we have really noticed that candidates have a much deeper understanding of those observable behaviors, and they, without us there, can determine how to monitor and adjust their own instruction.
The greatest impact of all though is that students, at the end of each semester, report that they feel ready to teach. Then they go out in the field and their principals and school leaders call to let us know that the new teachers are, in fact, ready.