Some Thoughts and Resources on Independent School Teaching

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About ten years back, based on an article I had written for Independent School magazine, I was asked by the National Association of Independent Schools to put together a proposal for a book on hiring, training, and retaining teachers. An Admirable Faculty: Recruiting, Hiring, Training, and Retaining the Best Independent School Teachers appeared in 2005, and I stand by the content, dated as some of it may be.

The themes of An Admirable Faculty seemed to resonate still as I have tracked the Twitter stream and some the compelling Storifies and blog posts emerging from the NAIS Science of Learning and 21st Century Schools Summit at Vanderbilt University earlier this week. The technology may have advanced, but I don’t think it has become any less important for schools to be developing

  • truly thoughtful mission- and culture-informed recruiting and hiring campaigns (not just “dial-an-agency” hiring)
  • equally thoughtful induction programs for new faculty focusing on expectations, school culture, and a schools’ unique approaches or methods
  • comprehensive mentoring programs for all early-career teachers
  • menus of rich professional development opportunities built around both the needs and capacities of each teacher and the strategic needs and capacities of the school
  • an articulated set of school-based standards for what it means to be an effective teacher—in all a teacher’s roles, and
  • thoughtful management and encouragement of faculty career paths, including leadership opportunities and development and ways of tapping the developed skills of master teachers.

In fact, I was so committed to the ideas of thoughtful and “intentional,” a few years later I wrote a book intended for teachers that was kind of the mirror of An Admirable Faculty. Called The Intentional Teacher: Forging a Great Career in the Independent School Classroom (Avocus, 2009), the book offers teachers basic advice on the carrying out various responsibilities of an independent teacher at all levels and in all kids of schools, of course including classroom teaching. (On this topic, among the better advice is to acquire and read Jon Saphier’s The Skillful Teacher (co-authored by Mary Ann Haley-Speca and Robert Gower), published by his Research for Better Teaching organization, the best one-stop shopping handbook for building classroom skills that I have found; I was excited to see Jon in the group at The Design Convening To Transform Teaching last week in Boston).

Again, technology has advanced, but I like to think that The Intentional Teacher’s “inside” thoughts on what that “great career” might look are still relevant. I feel the same way about its advice on taking institutional responsibilities into one’s own hands if they are not offered by the school—how to be a mentor, how to help colleagues manage their own careers, how to imagine one’s own “standards” for effective professionalism.

There are other outstanding resources on great teaching—Harry and Rosemary Wong’s The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher, Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion—but as far as I know there aren’t a lot of books besides a handful in the Avocus list that pertain directly to independent school teaching and teacher-leadership. (It’s worth mentioning that Carolyn Kost’s brand-new Engage! Setting the Course for Independent Secondary Schools in the 21st Century includes many excellent thoughts on the transformation of teaching.)

I read the NAIS Summit as a clear signal that the Association is back in the business of being actively involved in advancing teaching and learning and in supporting teachers. I’m personally excited about this because it aligns with what is obviously a great personal passion. Post-books I started blogging, and I have tried to sustain teaching themes at Admirable Faculties for some years and now here at Not Your Father’s School.

Best of all, the Summit has stoked anew the critical conversation on what it means to be an effective independent school teacher and what it looks like for a school as a whole to offer a program that is delivered skillfully, intentionally, and effectively. The framework of independent school education still demands empathetic, knowledgeable, and creative teachers, but the elements of the work we do in and out of the classroom are evolving rapidly and continuously. There are new books and new blog posts to be written to explore possibilities yet unimagined—exciting times!

To ice this post’s self-promotional cake, I’d also invite those interested in the advancement of independent school cultures and practices in teaching and learning to stay tuned to the growing body of offerings by the Independent Curriculum Group. We’re dedicated to supporting schools and teachers in developing their capacities in pedagogy, curriculum, and assessment with a focus on what works for the students and within the culture of their own schools.

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