by Lorna Baniaga-Lee
Kim came into my classroom as a teacher in training. She was eager to learn about what it would take to be an Freshman English teacher. Her first semester with me included basic observation of my day-to-day routine with my students. I also brought her to all the after-school meetings and any additional meetings that I attended to expose her to the responsibilities teachers had outside of the classroom.
After two semesters of teacher training with me, Kim was hired to work at my school, and we became colleagues. I mentored her in the first two years as a beginning Freshman English teacher. In her first year, we focused on assimilating into the career. I watched her embrace the profession even though she had many difficult days in the classroom. In her second year, we reflected on her teaching practice and focused on finding her own style within the mandated curriculum. With each observation, I saw her develop deep relationships with her students and watched her own teaching style blossom. In addition to developing her teacher practice, she began to show greater interest in the processes of the school and started to voice her suggestions on improving our school culture. In her third year, although uncommon, I asked her to become a mentor for a beginning teacher. I believed her positive energy, forward thinking, and growth mindset would shape her to become an effective mentor. She then became a trained mentor to someone else. Her new role helped her grow as a classroom teacher as she continued and modeled the importance of reflecting with her new mentee teacher. And with her growth, my mentoring focus shifted; she was becoming a teacher leader.
Yes, I am proud to have played a part in Kim’s development; however, in order for any teacher to grow and develop, other structures need to be in place. The culture of the school must create an environment where teachers feel successful and know that their everyday tasks make a difference. There has to be a sense of empowerment for teachers that they have a voice for making and being part of change. These factors are the foundation for talent to emerge. Once talents are identified, there needs to be appropriate professional development for them to grow, such as providing mentoring training to teachers like Kim to become effective mentors.
In reality, a school’s culture is not always ideal. Each school and its environment is different. How can we build a student-centered culture driven by teachers?
How can we close the gap to ensure that schools are closer to reaching that ideal culture in order to recognize and to develop talent?
The culture of a school is the responsibility of all stakeholders. We all need to take an active role in creating an environment where educators and students can thrive and evolve in our different capabilities and talents. In order for this to happen, teachers, administrators, and Hawaii Department of Education (HIDOE) must do their part.
Teachers are the best at seeing growth in each other. They understand the struggles and will seek solutions from each other. When their colleague overcomes an obstacle, whether it is connecting with students to improve class management or to tweak an existing lesson to pique their students’ interest, they know firsthand what it takes to find and implement a solution. As teachers, we need to continue to encourage and praise each other for our innovation as well as our tenacity to persevere. This is crucial in helping each other to develop our talents. Being encouraged by administrators to recognize each other’s talent can also help provide that culture of support that is needed for teachers to thrive.
According to data collected during the 2017-2018 school year from Hawaii DOE teachers, administrators can best support them as leaders by modeling excellent people and leadership skills themselves. Having administrators be present and be part of the learning community builds trust with their teachers. Creating an environment where leadership can happen at any level encourages collaborative leadership instead of mere compliance. To recognize and reinforce talent, having administrators be present in a teacher’s everyday environment like in the classroom or any teacher-led extra-curricular event will help them further understand the capability and potential of a teacher. And importantly, administrators must celebrate teachers for the impactful work that they do. These steps provide a sense of empowerment that is needed for teachers to feel valued and heard.
Lastly, the HIDOE should provide specific and relevant professional development and support for both administrators and teachers. Administrators should be provided with continuous opportunities to build their own skills in identifying and developing talent. Identified teachers can and will continue to grow and hone their craft if provided with specific training and professional development. In addition, making it a priority to provide ongoing mentoring for both administrators and teachers in this symbiotic journey will reinforce and strengthen their dedication and commitment.
As we look at our existing system to improve our practices, this investment of time and money is a needed step to find and develop talents in our teachers. In doing so, we are equipping everyone to reach our main goal in education: to develop our own students’ talents so they can be successful and positively impact our world.