Ready for teacher residency? 4 keys to success

Lindsay USD believes the very best educators for our performance-based system come from its community of graduates
By: | June 4, 2021
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Amalia Lopez

Amalia Lopez

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are significant new streams of state and federal funding for establishing teacher residency programs.

At the federal level, President Biden is calling for investments of $2.8 billion in “Grow Your Own” programs and year-long, paid teacher residencies, which have a greater impact on student outcomes, teacher retention, and are more likely to enroll teacher candidates of color.

For innovative and learner-centered school models like ours at Lindsay Unified School District in central California, one of the greater challenges to recruiting teachers is that traditional credential programs prepare teacher candidates for traditional classrooms—leaving innovative systems to fill the gap.

We realized that developing our own residency program would allow us to not only prepare effective teachers, but also retain novice teachers after they enter the classroom, provide more financially feasible pathways for future teachers, increase the number of available and diverse applicants in our hard-to-staff area, and importantly, support district graduates in returning to the community to teach.

Lindsay USD is deeply committed to investing in the community and we believe the very best educators for our performance-based system come from our community of graduates, so we wanted to design our residency program to specifically reflect a “grow your own” approach.

National research highlights 4 key characteristics

As we began to design our program and choose a residency partner, we asked the national nonprofit The Learning Accelerator to conduct a literature review and interview various systems, residency programs, researchers, and educators to identify key tenets of effective residency programs, as well as the steps required to ensure their successful implementation. Leaning heavily also on research from the Bank Street College of Education, here’s what we learned:

1. Strong partnerships. For a residency program to be successful, the school system and residency provider have to work closely together to address system-level needs. The partnership has to be a reciprocal experience that leverages the mission and outcomes of both organizations in a way that enhances each culture.

Because residents commit to teaching in the local system after graduation, the process of co-designing and implementing the residency ensures that the resident experiences their learning within a school-based context and gains an opportunity to begin building relationships within the school community.

2. Extensive coursework and clinical experience. Residency providers must collaborate with the school system to co-design a curriculum that prepares residents with content and cultural and systems knowledge relevant to the school setting.

Because residency programs span a full academic year, residents receive more experience, feedback, mentoring, and responsibility than in traditional pre-service, student-teacher programs, thereby engaging in deeper learning and developing the instructional skills for more innovative practices.

3. Financial sustainability. Lindsay USD wanted to design a residency program with financial sustainability in mind. Our research showed that by providing financial supports such as tuition credits, living stipends, and even the opportunity to earn additional income through substitute teaching or serving as a part-time paraprofessional, residency programs have the potential to attract candidates from more diverse backgrounds who may not otherwise be able to afford such an experience.

4. Ongoing support. During (and often after) the residency program, residents should receive mentoring and coaching from an expert educator in the school—helping to develop residents’ and novice teachers’ knowledge and skills as well as reducing new teacher attrition. Beyond the one-on-one support, strong residencies also cluster residents into cohorts both within the university settings and school sites.

Because members of cohorts share similar academic and clinical experiences, they benefit from a built-in support network as well as additional opportunities for collaboration.

Residency in reality: Additional benefits

Residency models offer additional, unanticipated benefits. Residents embedded on school sites for clinical practice create more “hands on deck” during school events, recess, and classroom instruction. They offer additional connections for students and ensure more individualized time for support.

Additionally, many mentor teachers who host residents reflect that the experience of teaching alongside a resident can improve their practice. It can help them be more intentional, organized, and strategic about their thinking, planning, and lesson implementation. The experiences foster a growth in professional practice for these mentor teachers that they had not found elsewhere in other professional learning experiences.

Learn more

The full research report we sponsored on how to build effective residency programs is openly available and free to use. This resource can help districts build their own approach to residency to ensure it meets the needs of their system and ensure that their pipeline of teachers are both ready and supported when entering the school year.

Amalia Lopez is the director of special projects at Lindsay USD in California and one of the chief authors of the Robert Marzano publication about the district’s educational transformation, Beyond Reform: Systemic Shifts Toward Personalized Learning. She was the 2020 ASU+GSV Innovative educator of the year.