In 2015, the High Tech High Teacher Center began the process of transforming its California Teacher Induction program to focus on the use of continuous improvement to guide the development of new teachers. Teams from the HTH Teacher Center and the HTH GSE Center for Research on Equity and Innovation came together to develop a process for shifting this program.
Julie Holmes, Director of Credential Operations, reflected on the impetus behind the shift and the ensuing participant experiences in the High Tech High Unboxed podcast episode “Continuous Improvement: Teacher Induction” (Season 1, Episode 14). This is an edited excerpt from that episode.
California’s credentialing structure is a two-step approach. First, you undertake a teacher preparation program, and if you complete that, you receive a preliminary credential. At this point you can get hired as a teacher, but once you’re hired you need to “clear” your credential within the first couple years, and that happens through what California calls “induction.”
Induction came about in 1988, because teachers were leaving the profession in droves. They would get their credential, start working, and within a few years they would quit—and they weren’t just quitting their school, they were quitting the profession. Induction was meant to be a mentoring program, supporting people in the field so that more people would stay. And there’s evidence that high quality induction programs do in fact increase teacher retention (Podolsky et al., 2016).
But, to be blunt, induction was a little dry. There were lots of boilerplate templates that teachers had to fill out—it was very “one size fits all.” So, teachers were trying to fill out these template forms that didn’t apply to their setting, or their placement, or the students they were working with, and it was very frustrating. So even though the point of the program was to support teachers so they would stay in the profession, many teachers were frustrated by it.
Then, in 2016, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing radically changed induction. The pendulum swung from over-designed template forms, to a focus on working with your mentor, getting individual support, and identifying what you, the teacher, need to be better in your practice. This meant that the High Tech High Teacher Center suddenly could redesign the entire induction program. It was very exciting, but it was also daunting, because we’d had this set curriculum to teach from, and now that was out the window and it was up to us to make sure that we were providing the best program to teachers.
So, we redesigned the whole program. We knew that teachers in the program would create and follow what’s called an “individualized learning plan” and that they would work with a mentor through school for the course of the year. Those were still state requirements. Everything else was wide open, we talked to teachers about what sounded useful and interesting to them.
Then Stacey Caillier and Ryan Gallagher, who work at the High Tech High Graduate School of Education, came over to discuss how “continuous improvement” could mesh with the induction program. At first, it sounded like it could be a nice supplement to our induction program, but I didn’t fully understand at the time how beautifully it would just blend together. It is now the foundation of our induction program.
A teacher’s first year is overwhelming: there are so many things to think about, your students all need something different from you, you’re figuring out how to plan, how to assess, and that means most people don’t have the opportunity to pause and reflect on what they’re doing (and how they could do it differently). Induction programs can provide space and structure for reflection. We already knew that teachers would be meeting eight times during the year, so that provided the space. Continuous improvement provided the structure we were looking for. Specifically, there are two major components: small groups with a shared goal and a year-long improvement process.
There are over 100 teachers in the High Tech High induction program, so we split the cohort into groups of ten people or less, each led by a veteran teacher who served as an “improvement coach.” Each improvement coach proposes a focus area (for example, “Authentic assessment,” “equitable group work,” or “culturally responsive pedagogy in math”).
During the orientation session that launches the induction program, new teachers have a chance to talk to coaches about their focus areas. They then choose the focus areas that most interest them and get divided accordingly.
New teachers spend the rest of the induction program primarily in their improvement groups, working together to develop and refine their own “change ideas” within the focus area.
Over the course of the year, every improvement group follows the same sequence of sessions which fit into three steps: Understanding the Problem, Testing Solutions, and Sharing Your Learning.
Session 0: Orientation
Session 1: Empathy Interviews
Session 2: Fishbone Diagram and Interrelationship Digraph
Session 3: Launch Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) Cycles
Session 4: Looking at Student Work
Session 5: Coach’s Choice
Session 6: Change Package Preparation
Session 7: Celebration of Learning
Podolsky, A., Kini, T., Bishop, J., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2016). Solving the teacher shortage: how to attract and retain excellent educators. Learning Policy Institute.