Nueva seeks to nurture a culture of lifelong learning among its teachers and students. Over the past 18 years, the school has implemented initiatives to ensure professional development for its teachers is continuous, collaborative, and connected to practice. These initiatives, like the school itself, have changed, grown, and evolved over time, as have the faculty, administrators, and the needs of the institution.
Maintaining that effectiveness in professional development at a dynamic place like Nueva requires what Carlina Rinaldi, the renowned president of Reggio Children, calls “being in a state of constant research.” That constant research requires a cycle of inquiry that is similar to how Nueva teachers research long-term studies with their students, as well as the weaving together of short- and long-term institutional goals.
Collaborative Assessment and Development Program
Early in her tenure as Head of School in 2002, Diane Rosenberg, along with the board, established a task force to develop an evaluation approach tailored to teachers who design original curriculum for gifted learners. It also involved colleagues in the evaluation process to build and support strong working relationships. Rubrics created by the task force were based on Charlotte Danielson’s widely accepted Framework for Teaching, but were “Nueva-cized” to articulate the school’s values and a path for growth and development. These rubrics also offered new teachers a window into our culture and expectations, and provided our community with an understanding of what the faculty values in terms of teaching practice. It took the task force five years to develop the first Teacher Evaluation System.
Teachers loved observing each other’s classrooms and nurturing an important sense of community, but the process was ponderous for all involved. Feedback and experience made it clear that another iteration was necessary. A major revision began in 2010. The focus of the process shifted from observing one teacher’s practice and “rating” that teacher on the rubrics, to observing one teacher and having a dialogue with a team of colleagues, including the teacher and division head. These conversations supported the teacher in planning for growth, as well as the growth and development of colleagues as they reflected on their own practices during the process. Everybody learned. The new system was named the Collaborative Assessment and Development Program (CADP).
Considering Nueva’s tremendous growth, it was, and remains, challenging to reach a satisfactory number of participants in this program each year. Research is still needed into processes that ideally allow all teachers to create, and recreate, a personal professional development plan about every two years. Although there is now a strong sense of what teacher excellence and practice looks like at Nueva, we still need an even leaner process that includes systematic and regular follow up in order to nurture growth.
All-faculty professional development studies throughout the years have been driven by our strategic plan, our new and evolving programs, and research into our student and faculty needs. These initiatives have covered such meaningful topics including gifted and talented students and education, social justice and equity, design thinking, structured word inquiry (with a visiting scholar), and a pedagogy exchange program.
The launching of our Innovative Learning Conference and Identifying Gifted Students of Color Conference provided outward-facing opportunities for teachers from all divisions to attend and/or present their work to a broad range of local, national, and international colleagues. Summer Institutes (Structured Word Inquiry, Giftedness, Design Thinking, Equity and Inclusion) have been developed by, and also include a wide range of faculty presenters.
The school has made it a priority to have a generous funding stream for faculty development. Teachers submit proposals to the administration to attend or present at conferences outside of the school. These have been vetted by administrators and/or a committee of faculty and administration. Teachers are encouraged to attend events or present with colleagues to explore a variety of perspectives.
Support for New Teachers
Systematic support to guide the introduction and growth of new teachers has always been essential for teacher retention. It became critical when onboarding so many new faculty members for the growing Middle School and new Upper School. Preparation for a new year often begins the summer before, working with partners or teams of more seasoned faculty. Onboarding sessions for new teachers at the beginning of the school year is now two days, increased from one.
After the year begins, division heads, new faculty coordinators, and grades 5–12 academic deans regularly meet with individuals or small groups of new teachers to discuss specific teaching practices during that important first year. New teachers are invited to sit on CADP teams to see our approach in action. Required attendance within their first three years at Nueva at key Institutes (Social and Emotional Learning, Design Thinking, Equity and Inclusion, and Structured Word Inquiry) deepens understandings of school values.
An Innovative Approach
Our program for teaching associates is a living, evolving piece of research in teacher development at Nueva. Classrooms in the Lower School have always had two teachers, an assistant and a lead.
There has been a strong commitment to offering professional development to assistants. When Megan Terra joined Nueva as a first grade teacher in 2009, administrators wanted to strengthen the training assistants were receiving. By implementing systematic training, new educators entered the Nueva community with a more enhanced teaching ethos and toolbox — part of Nueva’s Mission II. Megan took on a part-time associates coordinator position in 2012 and built a more organized training program in the Lower School.
Each associate received two years of training and provided classroom support. Each year, they taught a different grade and participated in weekly meetings. Associates brought fresh and diverse expertise to the classroom, complementing the skills of the lead teacher. The program was particularly well suited to people became teachers after serving in other professional roles. Associates usually left after two years of teaching and study, but it soon became clear that that the program could also support other hiring needs. It also became clear that the Middle School and the Upper School could benefit from hosting associates.
Now led by Allen Frost, the Innovative Teacher Program supports job search, teacher research projects, and a third-year option to take on more lead teacher responsibilities while being mentored. Second year associates participate in their own version of the CAD system,“Reflective Observation Cycle” (ROC). The coordinator position is now full time, with associate liaisons in each division. These positions provide opportunities for teachers to remain in their classrooms while assuming leadership roles.
There is a deep appreciation for the numerous and generous opportunities for growth and development for Nueva faculty. Our most recent Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) self-study, leadership changes, and the general sense that teacher professional development should never be “done” indicate that new areas of focus are always emerging. They are often framed in ways that we have learned well through Design Thinking processes—questions such as:
- How might our faculty members continue to deepen their understanding and use of assessment? What are the necessary tools to do so?
- How might more daily needs for collaborative planning be met?
- Are there structural changes in the schedule that need to be addressed?
- How might the yearly professional development planning process be made more visible?
A new board task force formed this year, which is focused on professional development at Nueva. We look forward with anticipation at the new paths this group will traverse, and the new cycle of inquiry and research that will emerge from their process.