Leaving Finland

Lake Jyvasjarvi I have never lived anywhere for 5 months other than Jyvaskyla, Finland. As my Fulbright journey concludes, there is so much to still digest. It will take months, if not years, to truly assimilate all the learning. Before I left Southern California, I wrote about the what I would miss the most from home and what I  looked forward to experiencing in Finland. It is safe to say I met my goals. Top 7 Goals 1. Discussing Education Helsinki Workshop Through professional development programs, Fulbright Finland connected teachers with scholars and researchers, for the purpose of putting inquisitive minds together. The Making Democracies Resilient to Modern Threats seminar provided participants with fascinating research and presentations. 2. Nordic Model Bus station in Espoo What does an efficient and earnest country look like?  It looks like Finland. Yes, people pay higher taxes, but get so much in return. I for one appreciated the well-maintained ro

Retaining Teachers in South Central

The problem in many South Central schools is teacher turnover. When teachers come and go from students' lives, it increases the instability they may already face growing up in a challenging environment. The instability always affects their academic performance and, we believe, their self-worth.

L.A. Academy, under the direction of Principal Maria Borges, instituted a comprehensive new teacher support program three years ago that reduced teacher turnover from 35% to .02% last year. Arne Duncan, the new Secretary of Education, has espoused the need to recruit and retain talented teachers, and our school is ground zero of this mandate. How did we do it? It really wasn't that hard. Here is what we did:

1. New teachers receive a welcome rolling start cart full of supplies on their very first day at LAAMS.

2. A flyer is distributed with the pictures and names of new staff members so they can be recognized and greeted by the rest of the staff.

3. We hold a Meet 'n Greet during lunch, where we serve free pizza to all teachers who are encouraged to come meet the new staff members. Below are pictures from the one we held the July 2, 2009.

4. We hold an administrative New Teacher Meeting where administration (or a guest speaker) covers important topics such as ISIS, discipline, recognizing child abuse, etc. We keep the meetings relevant and if we finish early, we go home early.

5. A monthly calendar with important meeting dates, as well as dates where off track teachers will be on campus to support them, is published the first of each month.

6. We hold the New Teachers Roundtable where no administrators are allowed and we serve the snacks listed above. At this meeting, new teachers can feel free to vent or to ask questions they may be embarrassed to ask in front of administrators. But first, each participant is required to share one challenge and one success they faced in the classroom that week.

7. The Principal hosts a New Teacher Welcome Brunch at her home with delicious food, and lots of Sunday brunch beverages.

8. 100 days of Z time were allotted for successful, veteran, off-track teachers to come in, monitor and support new teachers through classroom observations, debriefings, and demo lessons. Release time is provided for new teachers to observe other teachers in their area of need.

9. New teachers are inundated with support from their hallway neighbors, team leaders, department chairs, coaches, new teacher support staff, and administration.

10. New teachers are encouraged to participate in the New Teacher Holiday Performance that we hold during our holiday feast in December. Past performances included Ms. Sanlin playing her bass cello, Mr. Queen rapping, and Ms. Pier singing and dancing.

11. Several celebrations are held in colleagues' homes, at El Cholo and at bowling alleys to promote bonding, team-building, and friendship.

12. Evaluations are given at the end of each year to all new teachers where they must answer questions like:

-what was most challenging about your first year?
-if you could choose the topics of the new teacher meetings, what would be your top 5?
-list 10 do's and don'ts for next year's new teachers

13. Personalized certificates are given to commemorate the new teachers' completion of their first year of teaching with categories such as "Least Likely to Fall for Student Excuses" and "Most Likely to be Found at El Cholo's on a Friday". Yes, we like to have fun with this.

Other than the Z time (which in tough budget times like today can be changed to on track teacher support during conference periods), most of these initiatives cost very little or don't cost anything at all. What we have created is a system where new teachers have no choice but to be supported. It is a culture that makes teachers want to stay because they enjoy the students (this is made possible by increasing understanding of them during Roundtable discussions) and appreciate working with their colleagues.

We would have enjoyed the benefits of our labor this year had it not been for the massive layoffs, but hope to survive these tough times by sticking together and protecting our school community.


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