The Covid-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges and caused enormous disruption for students, educators, schools and families across California, but it has also presented a unique opportunity to reimagine what effective educational approaches look like in our communities.
As California continues to grapple with the impact of the virus, the recent influx of federal education relief funding could enable changes and advance proven strategies to address the challenges facing school communities. And prioritizing the right strategies will make all the difference.
The focus must be on holistic, sustainable support for the students, families and educators most affected by the pandemic, particularly those already facing systemic underinvestment and entrenched barriers to opportunity. Effective strategies cannot be narrowly focused; they must address not only academic learning but also the social, emotional, creative and physical development of learners.
Efforts to build educator capacity are a critical piece of the puzzle. Teachers and school leaders, especially principals, have a dramatic, long-lasting impact on their students and, just like students, educators shouldn’t be asked to take on more responsibility and confront unprecedented challenges by themselves without support.
As educators navigate the impacts of the pandemic, solving persistent staffing challenges is key, but we cannot overlook the importance of providing opportunities for current educators to come together, share best practices gleaned over the past two years and create systems of mutual support — all essential to giving educators the skills and resources to better manage staffing shortages, curricular changes and more.
Prioritizing teacher and school leader training and support, centered on empowering educators and creating positive, holistic learning experiences for all students, is one of the most transformational choices state, district and school leaders can make at this moment.
The responsibility for creating robust coaching and capacity-building approaches should not fall exclusively on current educators and school leaders with already-full plates. Federal funding to help schools through the pandemic enables them to invest in high-quality partnerships with external organizations that can provide that expertise, guidance and hands-on instruction to build and implement professional development strategies.
For example, at Corning Union Elementary School District, a rural school district in Northern California, staffing shortages have forced teachers — many of whom were already strained for capacity within their existing roles — to take on additional responsibilities and workflows. By partnering with New Teacher Center — a national organization that provides personalized educator coaching and capacity-building support to schools and districts — the district was able to increase capacity for educator support, relieve pandemic-related pressures on their teachers, and refocus educator efforts on student achievement. Specifically, the organization worked with the district to provide instructional coaching to new and existing teachers.
The coaching focused on two priorities: increasing reading skills for all students and increasing English proficiency for all English language learners, providing teachers with important skills and support and empowering them to improve student achievement.
Effective coaching — especially in the ongoing recovery from Covid-19 — emphasizes the interconnected and compounding ways in which students learn and develop across skill domains: cognitive, social, emotional, creative and physical. The impact of the pandemic wasn’t limited to academic achievement, and building more equitable, sustainable systems demands that educators and schools help students develop the breadth of skills they need to navigate crises, as well as recover lost academic progress.
Coaching allows teachers to access real-time feedback, empowers professional growth, increases teacher retention rates and helps educators reach their full potential to meet the needs of their students and support their skills development.
An analysis of New Teacher Center’s structured coaching-based induction program of professional development for, and mentorship of, beginning teachers and novice principals showed that, with targeted instruction and individualized support, the first-year retention rate of new teachers was 94%, and 99% for new principals.
What’s more, educators routinely report deep satisfaction as a result of targeted coaching and professional development; in a recent internal survey conducted by New Teacher Center, 96% of educators said that working with a coach or mentor meaningfully improved their teaching practice.
Investing the time and resources today to co-create strategies to meet the unique needs of each school and district has the power to transform instructional practice and create learning environments where every educator and young person feels seen and connected, and is able to thrive in the classroom and beyond.
As leaders in California explore how to best invest education relief and recovery funding, we must seize the opportunity to build, strengthen and leverage key educational partnerships, with a focus on supporting the people who have the greatest impact on our students every day — our teachers and leaders.
Deborah Smolover is a managing partner of New Profit, a venture philanthropy organization that backs social entrepreneurs who are advancing equity and opportunity in America, and executive director of America Forward, New Profit’s nonpartisan policy initiative.
Atyani Howard is interim co-CEO of New Teacher Center.
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