New teachers need a master’s support

By: and | June 27, 2017

David Krulwich, principal of the Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science, says new teachers are too often left to fend for themselves, without the benefit of an artisan-apprentice relationship.

Teaching is a craft and, as with any craft, neophytes should ideally work alongside the experts and artisans to soak up knowledge and experience along the path to mastery.

David Krulwich, principal of the Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science, a college preparatory school serving grades 6 through 12 in the Bronx, says new teachers are too often left to fend for themselves, without the benefit of an artisan-apprentice relationship.

Krulwich and co-author Kenneth Baum, discuss how the mentorship method of passing on expertise can be applied to our schools today.

In their book The Artisan Teaching Model for Instructional Leadership (ASCD, 2017), they describe the intensive collaboration among teachers that helps develop the broad range of skills needed to become artisans who know how to help every student achieve.

The key to the artisan teaching model is the teacher team leader. Many schools have programs for identifying outstanding teachers, but you’re looking for something more?

Yes. It’s not always the greatest teacher who is automatically going to turn out to be a team leader. We do want somebody who’s been very successful teaching, obviously. But we also want someone who enjoys the collaboration and really gets very engaged in discussing lesson ideas with other teachers.

We want someone who, after they’ve been a member of a team for a few years, gradually steps into the leader role by being the person who pushes back on a lesson idea and engages the whole group in an interesting discussion.

On the other hand, there are some great teachers who don’t really want to be the one to critique another teacher or push the group to come up with new and better ideas.

You ask a lot of your team leaders, more than might be expected of other teachers. Yes?

I think that’s right, absolutely. The way our system is designed, teachers are learning about the process from the very beginning. They’re working on these teams already, and there are benefits from working on the team. So yes, there is extra work that they do, but they have someone else sharing the work.

Our newer teachers collaborate back and forth on the lessons, and get the benefit of someone mentoring them and sharing ideas. Generally, people who become team leaders have already gotten so much from the system that they don’t see it as a huge extra amount of work.

Artisan-model teachers collaborate on lesson plans and other tasks. But collaboration needs consensus. How do you handle someone who has different ideas from what the group does?

It’s not easy for people to work in a group and it doesn’t always just magically work perfectly. There is a veteran teacher in the room who has been very successful and has an understanding of what we think good teaching looks like, but at the same time, if a new teacher wants to share an idea, they have complete freedom to do that.

There’s no reason a good team leader wouldn’t want input from lots of people or want to hear new ideas. So in our teams, when they’re all functioning well, everyone feels like they can contribute. I think, certainly, there is an element of accountability.

If one person on a team in our system thinks, “Well I want to do rote memorization of facts,” then the team leader is going to explain that that’s not what we believe in, that’s not what great teaching looks like. And they will have some accountability and pushback. But if an idea fits what we believe in, there’s no reason everyone wouldn’t embrace it.

Different teachers might share a lesson and still have a different style, and they might present it a bit differently. What we’re aiming for is the balance, where everyone has input as long as they also get support and accountability.

One of the key principles of the artisan model is time—you describe a four-year program. For schools that are pressured to produce results, time is a luxury. How can they effectively replicate what you’re doing?

True, it’s not a quick process. If someone’s looking for a quick fix then I think they’re doing things that aren’t going to be successful. If you just do a huge amount of test prep to get a test score to go up a little bit one year, it’s not going to last. You’re not training teachers effectively that way.

Our model does takes a long time to replicate the team leaders and develop a system that grows throughout the school. But you could start small, with one or two teams, and choose to address your biggest weakness. Our model is flexible enough to allow you to devote huge resources to one or two teams to start out.

If a school is struggling in math and it is a high school that needs to make significant changes right away, you could start focusing on ninth-grade algebra. That could be the place where you provide real deep support for those teachers, and you would see a big impact very quickly.

You suggest that, to be most effective, you should start the artisan model with new hires so it becomes their norm. What about teachers who have been in the field for a while?

A lot depends on the person. For veteran teachers it can be a big change. Teaching is a very isolating career sometimes, so if a teacher has been accustomed to working on their own and planning lessons without working with others, then it can be a big change. And we’ve certainly had some veteran teachers who don’t want to want to make that shift.

But when a veteran teacher is really proud of their expertise and enjoys working with others to share lessons, they get to be a mentor to newer teachers who might benefit. For newer teachers I think it just fits much more naturally. One of the biggest problems in education is the lack of authentic and deep support for new teachers.

This is an obvious fit for new teachers, but for veterans it’s probably going to be very different.

An integral part of the model is developing an internal locus of control. Explain how that applies.

The idea of locus of control is not just about growth, but about teachers believing that they have the power and the ability to do great things in their rooms. There are some people who think that when a student is not learning, it’s something that the student is doing wrong. Or they’ll say it’s something that is wrong with the curriculum, or with the system in general.

But when the teachers can adjust something they’re doing, their classes are going to work better. And if they can figure out how to change something to impact kids, that’s the trait that really corresponds to their growth as teachers.

You write that the artisan teaching model also has an effect on reducing bad behavior.

Yes, I do think so. You can go to any school and find groups of students who are behaving extremely well in one classroom with one teacher, and students who are not behaving as well in another class with another teacher. And I’m not saying that to blame teachers.

We believe the vast majority of misbehavior happens when a student is bored by a lesson that’s too easy or frustrated when the lesson is too hard and they are confused about what to do. Teachers progress over time, they learn techniques and strategies to be more engaging to get students interested in what they’re doing.

Our model really is based on that idea. If students are engaged in work that’s interesting to them and they think it’s relevant to their lives, then those students will be able to handle more difficult work. They do better on tests and they learn more. They also behave better at the same time.

If kids are doing rote test-prep material, or things that are just not interesting to them, that’s when a big part of the misbehavior happens.

Obviously, there are students who have personal issues, whether at home or elsewhere, who need additional help beyond what a teacher can provide, and we need guidance counselors and we need support from administrators at times.

But we believe that the same types of things that can get students working and engaged are the things that make behavior better.