As HGSE prepares to launch its Teaching and Teacher Leadership (TTL) Program, Lecturer Noah Heller, faculty in TTL and director of the Harvard Teacher Fellows Program, discusses the essential elements of good teaching and good teacher training.
What makes a teacher training program effective?
At Harvard Graduate School of Education, we believe in a practice-based approach to teacher education. What that means is that teachers in training prepare a ton and then need to have authentic experiences practicing on their feet and in real classrooms. Preparation and experience are not enough though, they also need constant opportunities to reflect on, analyze, and learn from experiences in light of theory, research, and professional expertise. In the TTL, professional expertise are shared through mentoring, coaching, supervision, course work, and ongoing cohort collaboration with other beginning teachers and aspiring teacher leaders. Like any skilled craft or profession, every teacher should be on a quest for ongoing improvement. The growth curve is especially steep for pre-service and beginning teachers and it's very important that learning to teach doesn't come at the expense of the students their teaching. To this end, learning to teach at HGSE means entering the field in highly supported environments, prepared with the knowledge, skills, and disposition to be a transformative educator.
What elements, whether instructional, relational, or otherwise, do effective teachers bring with them into the classroom?
I think that the core ingredients for a successful teacher are an enthusiasm for and love of the content that they’re teaching, a commitment to constantly developing and tuning the pedagogical practices that bring that content to life for learners, and a deep care and admiration for the young people that they teach. When it comes to instructional practices, there are no silver bullets, but there are many things that teachers can learn and practice to continue to improve their craft and optimize educational opportunities for their students. To this end, no matter where a teacher is in their career, a key element to being an effective teacher is being a constant learner. A teacher’s willingness to reflect, to adapt to meet the ever-changing needs of their students, and to constantly be learning in their field is a hallmark of effective teaching.
What are the challenges new teachers face and how will the TTL Program address those?
For many new teachers, the sheer amount of responsibility can be extraordinarily overwhelming — especially in this day and age where the pandemic has exacerbated a tremendous amount of hardship. As a teacher, you’re a frontline worker. In addition to confronting academic challenges, you’re responsible for ensuring that the young people in your care are safe and healthy. Being able to effectively attend to the social emotional and diverse learning needs of tens of young people at a time, is critically important and a profound challenge. New teachers have to be prepared, resilient, patient, organized, confident, tough, the list truly goes on and on. So a big part of learning how to teach is discovering what is most important at any given moment and where to put your energy to have the greatest impact on student learning and on creating a transformative learning environment for young people. The TTL is designed to offer robust supports through a community of practice that’s focused on everyone’s constant improvement. Teaching is endlessly complex, but together we’re able to break it down, work on specific high impact practices, and implement those in the classroom with a ton of support and opportunities to continue learning form our experience.