“The second I walked through the doors, I had a mentor that had monthly meetings with me and did informal check-ins to build a relationship with me to provide support,” she said. “I feel like the program that was set up through NHA offered a lot more of the lessons and the conversations were a lot more applicable to what I needed.”
The program Gorman found so successful included wing-specific school leaders, known as deans, whose primary role is to facilitate teacher growth and development. This made such an impact that Gorman is now a lower elementary dean at Peak Charter Academy, another NHA partner-school, where she can pass on the knowledge and mentorship that was once so impactful to her.
The unique teacher training approach used by NHA partner-schools isn’t limited to first-year educators. It is a continuous approach each week throughout the school year, helping teachers grow while giving them instructional strategies and action steps that improve student learning, and it is made possible by each school’s deans.
“There’s no other district that I know of that has the dean model,” said Zack Perfitt, NHA’s director of school leadership development. “The purpose of the dean model is to coach teachers one-on-one. There’s no end to that. From being new until someone moves on, they have one-on-one coaching from their dean every week. That’s where we see most of the new teacher development.”
NHA partner-schools have used instructional coaching for years. The model employs a constant cycle of feedback focused on teaching strategies and learning outcomes. Essentially, the program highlights teacher success for helping students achieve their academic goals, which aligns with NHA’s mission of challenging every child to achieve. This is done through weekly feedback sessions that help a teacher celebrate successes and identify improvement areas.
Gorman said the frequency of instructional coaching doesn’t mean a dean is hovering over a teacher. It allows the dean to tailor the coaching to the individual, whether it’s dealing with student behavior, parent communications, classroom management, or curriculum.
“That's what really sets us apart and what allows the support to be so much more meaningful and purposeful,” she said. “It was very much based on my own individual needs. That relationship piece was the biggest thing, and that’s what we focus on here.”
In addition to the dean model, teachers at 24 NHA partner-schools have been part of a new teacher mentor program that is in its second year. Jessica Angle, manager of new teacher development, said the goal of this program is to have teacher mentor specialists work with teacher leaders or mentors instead of directly working with teachers.
“We’re focused on helping them become great mentors to truly influence change and the teachers that they’re mentoring,” Angle said.
In addition to the academic aspect and instructional coaching, the mentor program coaches teachers on emotional resiliency. The goal is to help teachers recognize their emotions and react in productive ways during times of distress.
“We’re focusing on helping teachers build the emotional intelligence to build those resiliency skills that will help them overcome all of those challenges,” Angle said, adding there’s more to teaching than just mastering course content.
NHA helps its teachers build a strong classroom culture before the school year begins with New Teacher Summit (NTS). The three-day regional event also gets teachers prepared for teaching specific subjects.
Teachers have praised the planning put into NTS and information they receive through pair work, table discussions, instruction, videos, and activities. It’s a lot of information to pack into three days, so NHA also provides an ongoing support plan that includes modules for each area.
Regardless of a teacher’s experience, the time and tools provided by NHA partner-schools give them room for professional growth and assist them as needed.
“I will always sing the praises of NHA when it comes to support,” Gorman said. “I never don’t feel like I have enough here, especially when you’re a new teacher getting your feet under you. I am forever grateful for what I had in the start.”
About Peak Charter Academy
Peak Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Apex, North Carolina, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes over 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.
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