DeNelle West

As told to Valerie von Frank 

Gwinnett County is helping new teachers learn what it means to be professional educators. We use Charlotte Danielson's framework for teaching to be able to define outcomes for new teachers and to link together the district's mentoring, coaching, and professional development processes in a way that helps teachers, especially new teachers, become more thoughtful practitioners. 

We begin with an orientation, where we discuss culture, our formal evaluation process, and the content curriculum. To address specific teachers' learning needs, we do a needs assessment. We ask what they want -- lesson study, courses, a mentor. We also do an anonymous survey to find out where they feel they need more support. We dissect that information and then design professional development around the framework. 

The components of the framework are classroom environment, planning and preparation, instruction, and professional responsibilities. New teachers have opportunities for 50 hours of courses to explore these areas. Each area includes four to five components that help teachers understand best practice. We help them understand the expectations and understand where they are in terms of being able to do this effectively. The work builds in a reflective piece that allows teachers to set reasonable goals and next steps for what they need to change in their practice. 

We model for teachers the application of the content in these areas so they can plan how to use a strategy in the classroom. We then offer classroom coaching support for follow-up. Even some teachers who have not participated but have seen the effects of coaching on their colleagues have asked for individualized coaching for themselves. 

Beginning teachers ready for deeper exploration, for inquiry and to work collaboratively, work in lesson study. This approach blends content and pedagogy, and challenges teachers to really think about how students learn and how they can improve their teaching. 

We also help experienced teachers become mentors. To prepare mentors to work with beginning teachers, we provide a higher level of the same content to allow veterans to reflect on their own practices and identify areas from the framework where they, too, may need additional support. We then show them how to mentor a teacher, what good mentoring would look like in the classroom, and how to identify what support a new teacher might need. 

The district has four staff development coaches and numerous curriculum area coaches. To prepare coaches to work with beginning teachers, we have a program built on Learning Forward's standards and Innovation Configurations. Coaches earn an endorsement after taking courses that include studying the teacher's role, the role of the school-based staff developer, professional development standards, coaching practices, and the design and practices of learning communities. 

We align all staff development to make sure we have consistency in expectations for teacher performance. By aligning everything we do with the framework, our school system clearly communicates how staff development can help teachers to continually grow as professionals. 

When we think of teacher outcomes in terms of professional development, we think of what change we want to achieve -- a change in teacher knowledge, change in teacher practice, a change or impact on student achievement. Having a framework guides our work. It gives us a road map for where we're heading. 

DeNelle West is coordinator of teacher development for Gwinnett County (Ga.) Public Schools.