Training for Success
Writing recently in the New Yorker, James Surowiecki offers some valuable insights on the power of preparation. Prior to the 1970s, he writes, high-profile athletes rarely rehearsed the fundamentals of their sport (things like footwork and positioning); instead, practice sessions were about staying in shape. Most people assumed these athletes’ skills were largely innate and, among professionals, hard to improve.
Then something changed, and not just in the sweat-soaked sectors of the economy. Basketball players, musicians, chess experts, car makers—all learned to harness smarter, focused training techniques to master the specialized tasks of their jobs. Standards have improved, and technical skills are now at an all-time high.
Yet the myth of the natural-born teacher still holds sway in the field of education: Like athletes of old, people assume the ability to teach is innate—either you have it or you don’t. “What we need to embrace instead,” Surowiecki explains, “is the idea of teaching as a set of skills that can be taught and learned and constantly improved on.”
Developing Great Teachers
At Green Dot, we know that educational performance in the United States is improving—student test scores bear this out. But the improvements aren’t happening fast enough, and too many students are still being left behind. Like Surowiecki, we believe the answer is simple, and it starts with teacher development.
Green Dot works hard to recruit highly motivated, experienced teachers. But as today’s best athletes have discovered, we understand that training is essential to professional mastery and personal growth. And so, for our new teachers, training begins with a week-long summer institute, followed by intensive coaching and mentorship, and continues with ongoing PD throughout their Green Dot career.
New teachers (and teachers taking on new subjects or courses) work closely with specialists who offer personalized coaching on everything from curriculum development to classroom management. They can access an online portal where they can share lesson plans, exchange ideas, and watch videos of their peers in action. And they’re encouraged to collaborate throughout the year—a practice that, as Surowiecki points out, is a hallmark of high-performing school systems around the world.
The Results Are In
The hard work is paying off: Internal data shows our first-year teachers growing exponentially as a result of the support they receive. In fact, their evaluation scores, on average, are comparable to those of their more experienced peers.
“Our goal is to have a highly effective teacher in every classroom. Our students deserve it. We have a moral imperative to provide students with high-quality instruction every day, and it is our responsibility as an organization to provide teachers with the supports they need to help us reach this goal.” – Cristina de Jesus, CEO of Green Dot Public Schools California
At Green Dot, we’re always looking for ways to master the fundamentals of this vital work. For the past two years, we’ve been readying our roll-out of the Common Core standards: designing new curriculum and assessments; assembling teams to lead the transition at schools; and meeting with teachers and staff for training and discussion as part of our annual Common Core Boot Camp.
We’re not just developing teachers. We’re training top-notch teachers for our winning team.