Helping educators grow: Board hears about 2 teacher support programs

An expanded New Teacher Academy and an Aspiring Leadership Academy in the Milford Public Schools system is helping new teachers traverse the system and giving seasoned teachers a chance to explore new leadership opportunities.

The Milford Board of Education heard a presentation about the two programs at the December board meeting, and got to hear from teachers who went through the programs.

The New Teacher Academy has grown over the years, according to Sean Smyth, supervisor of district improvement.

He said the program started as a three-day program that takes place in August, when all newly hired teachers are given information about the city schools to help them get started in their new positions.

The program has changed and grown, and now includes a fourth day in August, as well as monthly meetings at which new teachers gather for more in-depth learning. Smyth’s predecessor, Shannan Carlson, initiated the fourth day of the program, before she was tapped to become the principal of East Shore Middle School, Smyth said.

The intent of the program is to ensure that new teachers meet the expectations of Milford Public Schools by receiving ongoing support, according to the board’s agenda.

“Becoming a new teacher anywhere is quite a daunting task,” Smyth said.

“There are 37 new hires at this point,” he added.

The program is structured to help new teachers transition into their jobs, create familiarity with the Milford school system’s core beliefs and practices, and improve student learning.

On the first of the four days, new teachers hear about district goals and priorities, technology and other topics. On the second day, they hear about school security, special education policies, human resources, professional learning, and teacher evaluations. The third day is a “buddy day,” when all new teachers are paired with a seasoned teacher to help them set up their classroom and create lesson plans. The fourth day focuses on building procedures and managing the classroom.

Now, in addition, there are monthly workshops to go over instruction, social emotional learning, effective planning, and technology.

Elizabeth White, one new teacher, spoke about her experience going through the New Teacher Academy and said it was very helpful.

“This is not my first teaching position, but this was absolutely unique and well-thought-out and well-done,” she said. “Everything was so clearly laid out. Nothing was left to chance. We were not left to figure out how the first lockdown was going to go.

“In Milford the children are at the center of everything, and I think that was really reiterated throughout the entire academy,” White added.

Aspiring Leadership Academy

Jeffrey Burt, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, and Carlson launched the Aspiring Leadership Academy last year to give teachers a chance to develop leadership skills.

All teachers across the district were given the opportunity to apply: 42 applied, and there are 10 in the program now. Smyth said they wanted to start the program small since it was a pilot.

The 10 meet once or twice a month as a group. They do case studies, go on walk-throughs of the schools, and create an independent learning project in their school.

There is also a shadow experience, when they spend a day with an administrator to see what the person’s challenges and work entail.

Mary Edo, a district teacher leader with the Milford school system, is one of the 10, and she said the program so far surpasses other administrative studies she has taken part in.

“The instructional rounds piece, I found that to be the most beneficial,” Edo said, “going into classrooms and looking at the instructional core.”

She valued the chance to look at classrooms in action and home in on what works and what doesn’t work in the classroom.

“We’re learning to take copious notes about what the students are doing,” Edo said, adding that the group then talks about how to use their information to guide teachers.

They talk about “how to have a conversation with a teacher who thought it was a great lesson.”

“How do you have that conversation where you say you value them, but also stretch them,” Edo said.

The leadership program is 18 months long. Burt said the intent is not just to help teachers prepare for administrative positions but also to show them how to take on different roles in the building.

“It’s nurturing our own, if you will,” he said.