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New Teacher Center: A More Authentic Approach to Teacher Appreciation

By Kyle Thornton

Published 05-23-22

Submitted by Cisco Systems, Inc.

students on laptops
Photo credit: New Teacher Center

With the mission of forging greater educator effectiveness and equity, non-profit New Teacher Center (NTC) has been working for two decades on establishing a comprehensive professional learning program. With Cisco’s support, NTC launched their innovative Responsive Relationships Program. This program drives quality learning experiences and protects teachers and students from the effects of stigma and bias, has already served thousands of students, and continues to flourish in its second school year.

In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Day, we sat down with NTC Interim Co-CEO and Chief Operating Officer, Arthur Mills IV, to discuss everything NTC, from their unique coaching-driven model to how the role of education plays a key role in an inclusive future.

Teachers have needed high-quality wraparound support. It’s more critical than ever in today’s COVID/post-COVID climate. How is NTC’s coaching-driven model positioned to give teachers what they need and deserve?

Arthur: The thing that’s most exciting for me is that NTC is disrupting and humanizing educator professional learning. I’ve been a practitioner in a local school district, leading human capital work, and I’ve seen the challenge and opportunity that exists there. NTC is creating space to be more thoughtful around each individual educator, where that person might be in their teaching career, and what type of support works best for them.

We’ve heard stories upon stories of teachers receiving a ‘peanut butter spread’ approach: Where everybody shows up and listens to the same thing for a half a day. That approach is just not relevant to improving individual students’ experiences. It’s not only dehumanizing, but demoralizing for everyone.

At NTC, we feel we have a better way. Having more agency, more flexibility, and with our proven coaching model, NTC offers proof points to equip teachers with the support they need, with coaching as the lever for positive shifts in practice. This model helps us bridge the gaps between the art and the science of teaching, and it’s essential that NTC works to empower teachers to build up that relationship between teacher and young person — elevating it to its deserved space.

How does NTC’s Responsive Relationships program celebrate the humanity of students and educators? Why is this critical for student success?

Arthur: The student-affirming, relationship-building strategies of NTC’s Responsive Relationships program allow students to feel seen, heard, and encouraged to thrive. And teachers are more equipped to address unintentional biases and reduce adverse disciplinary actions, which derail the optimal learning environments that we know makes a difference for students.

Research shows, when a student feels heard, seen, and valued, they engage with their classroom on a deeper level. And when that student-teacher relationship isn’t present, it becomes more difficult for that young person to access what they need to learn. There are ways, with Responsive Relationships, to dive deeper. We provide real-time coaching support for our teachers, who don’t normally get this level of training and support within their educator prep programs.

In the day-to-day of a student, teachers can emphasize empathic teaching styles and methods, and through that, affirm that young person’s identity. So the child feels that the classroom can be a safe space to be themselves; to test, to try, to learn, to fail, to struggle, to constructively struggle — all those things are critical. And through this relationship, the teacher creates asset-based pedagogy — and we’re excited to continue pushing that forward.

We appreciate all the things that teachers do every day. What role does education play in helping to build a more inclusive future?

Arthur: Education is the passport to future opportunity.

Education is so powerful that it changes the lives of families and communities. It is crucial that all young people have equitable access to an optimal learning environment. And that is at the crux of what we do at NTC.

In a sense, inclusion is a bit of a behavior. Consider how to include folks who have been systemically underrepresented or marginalized. It’s an intentional decision. We’re hopeful that, through our work, all educators will be more thoughtful and intentional — even beyond their natural disposition.

How young people build their critical thinking skills, and their ability to problem solve, and their appetite for learning — all of that comes from the safe space built within the relationship they have with their teacher — and to be honest, all the other educators within the ecosystem.

Education needs to steep in a new way of inclusion. It needs to be intentional. Because the outcome of that intentionality is what drives the safe space and the optimal learning environments that we want for all young people as they journey through their education experience. As a student, you want to feel like your teacher cares not only about my learning, but about me as a human being.

What skills do teachers of today need when working with their students? How do we build sustainable, deep scaffolds for educators to continuously grow and improve their craft?

Arthur: A teacher’s necessary skills should go beyond just having deep content knowledge. Teachers must assess how they can focus on and cater to each of their students individually. They need to leverage individualized instruction so that every student can have meaningful access to the curriculum.

Teachers also need a greater opportunity for authentic collaboration amongst adults. To share, reflect, and adjust their practice in real-time. And feel safe doing that. Having those kinds of conversations amongst professionals is important.They need Emotional Intelligence to understand the experiences, joys, and fears that young people bring to the classroom every period, every day, every hour — and know what that looks and feels like.

What can readers of this piece do to support teachers’ emotional and social well-being in their community that’s not surface-level?

Arthur: For those not in the education space, who want to empathize with what teachers experience in this moment: You must listen attentively and authentically around creating sustainable supports for educators.

Amplifying teachers’ voices is central in the work that we do every day, as much as we center on advancing students’ equity. For us, the classroom teacher is the true unit of change and opportunity in the education ecosystem. That relationship between a teacher and a student, when at its best, can be magical.

We all have levels of influence within our circles and networks, and levels of awareness of the current realities. There’s an opportunity to make sure that the narrative is inclusive across the landscape. You get to better outcomes and better solutions that are more sustainable, and everyone wins when you make the space for respectful dialogue.

Learn more about Cisco’s partnership with New Teacher Center.

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