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September 1, 2019
Vol. 77
No. 1

Leading Together / New Teachers as Catalysts

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School Culture
Professional Learning
New teachers can become so caught up in setting up their classrooms, learning new school routines, and meeting colleagues that they can forget this work is all about the students. They benefit from being reminded of the importance of using the first few weeks of school to get to know students as individuals and learners, and to build the kind of collaborative relationships with their students that will accelerate both their students' learning and their own.
The same is true for school leaders: In the hustle and bustle of starting the school year, it's easy for principals and returning teachers to forget the importance of getting to know new teachers as individuals, learners, and future collaborators—and to overlook the opportunity that welcoming new teachers creates for activating relationships that lead to stronger schools. Principals and returning teachers alike should use the occasion of inducting new teachers as a catalyst for improving professional culture.
When they do reach out to their new colleagues, principals and teachers are each positioned to do so from a unique vantage point. Principals, by virtue of their position, can set expectations for a collaborative culture in which all faculty members feel responsible for inducting new colleagues—and can support that vision with the resources needed to make it a priority. Teachers, as role-alike colleagues, can model risk taking, discuss instructional dilemmas, and engage in collaborative problem solving, while creating a safe space that invites these novice educators to do or initiate the same. Their position as current faculty members and peers means their words have special weight in new teachers' developing perceptions of their school's culture. And their deeds—even if overplayed for the benefit of new colleagues—can deeply impact existing norms.
Principals and teacher leaders might think strategically together about how, during the first six weeks of school, they can engage the whole faculty in learning about new teachers' passions, prior experiences, learning styles, work preferences, and professional aspirations—in the process familiarizing and interacting with each other in ways that improve the professional culture schoolwide.

Knowing Each Other as Individuals

Respect and personal regard are the foundation of a strong school culture. When teachers take small risks to come to know each other as individuals—for example, by talking about their personal preferences and passions, their beliefs and aspirations—they develop this foundation. They also develop a sense of psychological safety that can allow them to take more frequent and more significant risks, including the kind needed for deep learning and transformed practice.
The introduction of new teachers into a school presents a natural opportunity to initiate such conversations—if leaders recognize it as such. Teachers can take the lead in formal and informal ways by incorporating quick icebreakers into the beginning of team meetings or suggesting the whole team go out for ice cream after school. For teachers who might normally decline to participate in such activities, the occasion to show some hospitality to a new colleague may entice them to join the fun. School administrators can support this effort by allocating time or even funds for these activities, or by using their schoolwide knowledge of the faculty to connect cohorts of colleagues who have shared goals and aspirations.

Knowing Each Other as Learners

Teachers hold tremendous potential to catalyze each other's professional learning. Their interactions with one another not only help shape the adult learning environment, but can lead to a keen shared sense of the urgency behind professional learning priorities. As relationships deepen, teachers also become attuned to each other's mindsets, enabling them to be even more deliberate and effective in supporting each other's learning.
When new teachers enter the mix, whether new to the profession or new to the school, an invitation is on the table to learn to share ideas on educator learning styles, best practices, and mindsets. School administrators might take this as an opportunity to invite colleagues throughout the school to talk about their experiences with supervision and evaluation, peer observations and walkthroughs, or team meetings. Lead teachers might model self-reflection or "think aloud" as they plan a lesson. As well as being instructive to new teachers, such activities position faculty members to learn about each other's professional goals and become stronger resources for each other's learning. They stimulate conversations about what kind of learning experiences each teacher needs.

Knowing Each Other as Collaborators

Today's schools call upon teachers to be more than leaders within their own classrooms; teachers also need the confidence and capability to positively influence the quality of teaching and learning beyond their classrooms. They might do this through teams, task forces, or even casual interactions that tap their unique strengths as assets for school improvement.
School administrators often introduce new faculty by mentioning their strengths and professional accomplishments. A forward-thinking administrator might also see this as an occasion to deepen all faculty members' knowledge about each other by showcasing each teacher's specific strengths and recent classroom successes. As new teachers are introduced to the school's professional learning priorities and improvement plans, they might also learn about which teachers have skills or knowledge that will help them in pursuing those priorities and plans. Teacher leaders who are mentors might spearhead the creation of an inventory of teachers' areas of expertise; knowing who has expertise in what will help new teachers—and all teachers—who seek to collaborate with colleagues throughout the building.
Schools vary in their approaches to welcoming new faces into the school community. Whatever their approach, school leaders should remember that a round of introductions for the "newbie" can benefit more than just that new teacher, and induction exercises for novices can be enlightening for all. Interactions energized by the presence of new teachers can offer fresh chances for all colleagues to learn about each other in ways that build respect and personal regard, empower us to be resources for each other, and draw us closer into the kind of collaborations that amplify everyone's impact.
End Notes

1 Bryk, A. S., & Schneider, B. (2003). Trust in schools: A core resource for school reform. Educational Leadership, 60(6), 40–45.

2 Berg, J. H. (2018). Leading in sync: Teacher leaders and principals working together for student learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Jill Harrison Berg is a leadership coach, school improvement consultant, researcher, and writer committed to supporting education leaders to recognize and maximize the critical role of teacher leadership in ensuring instructional equity.

Berg is an educator of leaders at all levels. She began her career in the classroom, teaching students to be leaders who take ownership of their own learning and are a positive influence on others, then moved into supporting teachers and other education leaders to do the same. Berg earned her doctorate at Harvard’s GSE while working as a researcher with the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers. She was one of the first teachers in Massachusetts to become a National Board Certified Teacher.

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