Three-member team supports division’s newest teachers

Story updated Nov. 25, 2016 - Asked about his first year of teaching, assistant superintendent Mark Thiesen recalls, “The first three or four months were a blur. My peers, my administrator and the school team got me through.” Recognizing that first-year teachers need help, Pembina Hills Public Schools created a team of seasoned teachers who will give the division’s newest teachers guidance and support during their crucial first year of teaching. “Our goal is to set them on the right course for the rest of their career with our school division and as they work with our students,” said Thiesen.

While its formal name is New teacher supports team, coordinator Paddy Zadunayski and teachers Colleen Teske and Lindsay Schatz refer to themselves as Lead Teachers. UpdateSince we published this story on Nov. 1, 2016, Lindsay Schatz has resigned from Pembina Hills Public Schools. We will see Lindsay around as she is planning to sub. We wish her all the best on her new adventures. 

Each team member brings a breadth of experience to the role
Paddy Zadunayski has been in education for 32 years, specializing in Elementary Education with a Masters degree from the U of A in Early Literacy. She has completed reading specialist courses. Her focus is on Universal teaching strategies to support reading interventions and elementary classroom practices.

Colleen Teske brings six years of high-school classroom experience and time spent as an AISI Collaborative Learning Coach and school counsellor to the role. She has a Masters degree in School Counselling and has spent a considerable amount of time designing and implementing UDL practices following the Three Block Model. She is looking forward to building strong learning communities that meet the social-emotional needs of all learners and providing supports to the division’s Family School Liaison Workers, Success Coaches and school counsellors.

Being fairly new to teaching, Lindsay Schatz offers empathy and assistance to new teachers because, not too long ago, she experienced those initial challenging years in the profession. She specializes in Division 3 and 4 and is well-versed in Google apps and add-ons. She has extensive strategies to share in the realms of classroom management, lesson planning and self-care.

The team’s complementary skills in combination allow them to respond to a variety of needs amongst beginning teachers. They work as a team or one-on-one depending on what the teacher wants to accomplish. “Job one is to help our newest teachers establish the floor skills, said  Zadunayski. “By providing them with a network of support,  we can ensure quality instruction, authentic assessment to support student learning, building positive rapport and relationships with students and getting to know their learners in a meaningful way.”    

Q. How important is it to establish one-on-one relationships with new teachers?
A. One-on-one relationships are key to making sure our new teachers thrive within their first couple of years. Various studies, such as those from the New Teacher Center and the University of Pennsylvania, indicate one-on-one connection is imperative during the first years of teaching (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011) (Goldrick, 2016). Mentorship and programs like ours increase retention of new teachers and have improved the overall well-being of new teachers and, by effect, have improved overall student experience in their classes. Face-to-face interaction with the new teachers allows for open conversation and immediate at-hand help when it would otherwise be put aside due to the busyness of the new teacher's schedule. Building these initial relationships helps our teachers feel comfortable asking any question, regardless of how trivial it may seem. It also assures the teachers that we are here for them, regardless of what they need.

Q. How have team members connected with the new teachers?  
A. We started the year by hand-delivering care packages to the new teachers. This was an opportunity to meet our new teachers face-to-face.  Since then, we have helped them with everything from getting their teacher pages up and running, preparing for Parent-Teacher interviews, building units and lessons and consoling them as they struggle to balance their personal and work lives.

Q. How will you keep in touch with the new teachers and how will you work with them?
A. We have established a New Teacher Forum through Google Classroom where we share take-aways and tips. The team has made frequent visits to each school, visiting each new teacher's classroom, providing face-to-face interaction. As the year unfolds, the new teachers are becoming more comfortable emailing us requests and asking for in-class modeling/interaction. 

Q. What kind of help can the team provide to new teachers? 
A. Unit and lesson planning, connections to other staff within their building and the division, helpful PD sessions, lesson plan formats and how to build quality rubrics, formative assessment tools and designing inclusive classrooms and warm, caring learning communities. Beyond working directly with each new teacher, the team will also facilitate connections between buildings and across grade levels. “Establishing valuable professional relationships is essential for new teacher well-being and retention,” said Zadunayski.

Q. What are your team’s goals for this year?  
A. Our hope for this year is that we move our new teachers beyond "surviving" into  “thriving" within their classroom, creating an improved experience for our new teachers and their students. We also want to encourage our new teachers to recognize the unique skillsets they bring to their colleagues and to validate the contributions they make to Pembina Hills Public Schools.

Q. Are there supports available to teachers who aren’t as new? 
A. Inspired by Pembina Trails School Division in Winnipeg, we are offering monthly EdLabs which are open to all teachers. EdLabs will see teachers spend a day working with the Lead Teacher Supports team. We plan to move the EdLabs from school to school, to give teachers an opportunity to visit other schools and to give equal opportunity to all schools in the division. Our next lab is Nov. 23 at Barrhead Composite High School.

Q. What about literacy and its importance to PHPS?
A. Literacy is critical to student success as it stretches beyond Language Arts instruction to all subject areas. We are supporting three literacy initiatives: ensuring the fidelity of Early Reading Intervention; fostering the growth of Leveled Literacy Intervention and reaching more readers at risk and introducing the Reading Readiness Screening Tool to all Kindergarten and Grade 1 classrooms.