Fast Start Goes Back to School

Six months ago, we shared early lessons from Fast Start, our updated approach to teacher training. Our goal in rethinking our training program was to support more novice teachers to be effective, even in their first years. Our strategy was pretty simple: focus on a narrow set of essential teaching skills, while infusing lots of authentic practice and ongoing, actionable feedback. In other words, train teachers explicitly to master fundamentals rather than leaving them to discover them over time through trial and error. 

Fast Start, of course, was originally designed for our Teaching Fellows—alternatively certified teachers recruited by TNTP. But as we’ve talked with district and school leaders across the country about this work, we’ve heard a lot of musings about how the basic principles of Fast Start—focus, practice and feedback—might be applied in other contexts, such as district-wide new teacher induction, to support the development of teachers who take all different routes to the classroom. A partnership with Pinellas County Schools in Florida has given us the chance to test this out.

Pinellas County Schools, which employs more than 7,000 full time teachers, is working to ensure all of their new special education teachers, known as Exceptional Student Education (ESE) teachers, hit the ground running this year. There’s a good reason for this: Special education students in Pinellas fall behind their general education peers, with a little over 20 percent of ESE students scoring proficient on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in both reading and math, compared to about 60 percent for the overall student population. The district has boldly named this problem and is working hard to close the gap.

Part of their strategy focuses on training, supporting and retaining great ESE teachers. We’ve been impressed by the tenacity of Pinellas’ leaders, and by their willingness to veer far from the status quo as they think about how to better prepare their special educators to meet the needs of all their students. To help them double-down on their challenge, we worked with them to roll out a customized version of the Fast Start pre-service training for their new ESE teachers.

This partnership represented a radical new investment in new teacher induction by Pinellas. Like most districts, Pinellas has historically set aside a couple of professional development days for new teachers—assuming that teachers’ prior training programs will have adequately prepared them for the classroom. The district training has been viewed as a supplement, designed to focus on district-specific content or curricula. Instead, we collaborated with Pinellas' leaders to design a four-week training, including three weeks of teaching practice during the district's summer school sessions. Here’s how the principles of Fast Start played out in this new setting:

Focus: The new teacher induction program focused on three core teaching skills: student engagement, academic ownership and essential content. We made the tough call not to cover other important topics and skills like classroom set-up, curricular choices or parent communication. It wasn’t easy to give up working on those skills, but four weeks isn’t enough time to cover everything, and we’ve found that certain skills are more critical for teachers to have mastered by day one. By the end of the training, teachers were able set clear and consistent expectations for their students, work the clock to maximize every minute of learning, and maintain a positive tone and culture in the classroom through precise praise—in time to meet their students on the first day of school.

Practice: New teachers practiced specific “teacher moves” (a term coined by Mike Goldstein) multiple times every day. They practiced during skill-building sessions with their peers. They taught full lessons to summer school students daily, which helped them integrate skills and see how kids respond and adjust on the spot. Most of these teachers had never—even in their undergraduate teacher preparation programs—had the chance to practice teaching in such a focused way. We worried initially that the teachers and staff might be hesitant about practicing, but they embraced it, taking risks and honoring the process of constant development in service of becoming the best teachers possible.

Feedback: New teachers in training received daily, direct feedback. Teachers heard feedback like, “Your directions included five steps—that's too many. Narrow it down to three and number them when you give them.” That kind of specific feedback helps new teachers know exactly what to do to improve. And the part-time coaches and instructors hired to lead this work, most of whom are full-time Pinellas teachers, also received feedback on their coaching, so teacher-leaders within the district had the opportunity to develop their instructional and coaching skills, too.

The teachers who successfully completed the summer training all started in their own classrooms in mid-August. As coaches and collaborators with principals and teacher-leaders charged with giving new teachers ongoing support, we’ve followed these teachers into their classrooms and are excited to see that they are off to a strong start.

For the past few years, we’ve been asking ourselves: What does it take to ensure new teachers start strong? In the past, this question applied solely to our Teaching Fellows. Now we’re looking forward to exploring how to apply the question—and the answers, as they become increasingly clear—to a broader group of teachers. 

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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