Independent Schools Partner with CASTL’s MTP Team to Expand Teacher Professional Development

Published on 11/19/13 in News » Articles

Researchers working with the Curry School of Education’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) have partnered with Pace Academy in Georgia and Norfolk Academy in Virginia to pilot MyTeachingPartner™ (MTP™), the evidence-based system of professional development supports for teachers. 

In the MTP consultancy, a trained coach observes teacher practice through videotaped classroom instruction. The coach then provides constructive feedback focused on enhancing student learning through improved teacher-student interactions. This is the first time MTP has been implemented in an independent K-12 school setting.

Pace Academy Head of School Fred AssafThe seeds of the first partnership took root at the 2012 U.Va.-Penn State football game when Fred Assaf, head of school at Pace Academy in Atlanta, Georgia and a Curry School of Education alumnus, discussed MTP with Curry School of Education Dean Bob Pianta and CASTL Director Jason Downer.

“At Pace, we focus on attracting the very best teachers and developing them to their full potential, so when I saw the work CASTL was doing in public schools, I wondered what this would look like in an independent-school setting,” Assaf said. “The program seemed very different than what we had offered in the past in that it was completely peer-driven. It really is professional development for teachers, by teachers.”

“The program seemed very different than what we had offered in the past in that it was completely peer-driven. It really is professional development for teachers, by teachers.”

According to Assaf, he needed to ensure that teachers were receptive to the model because of the peer-driven nature of MTP and the autonomous professional development culture at Pace. In order to provide his faculty with a better sense of the insights to be gained through MTP, Assaf sampled ten classrooms across grade levels, videotaped classroom interactions and then sent off the recorded lessons to MTP researchers for their notes. “I was struck by the quality of the feedback we received,” Assaf said. “I thought to myself – they could really help us.”

With his own staff and school leadership on board, Assaf approached Dennis Manning, headmaster at Norfolk Academy, to see whether he would be interested in concurrently implementing MTP at his 1-12 school in Virginia. “We thought that extending the partnership to another independent school would provide a great opportunity to verify the results of the pilot year,” Assaf explained.

Norfolk Academy Head of School Dennis ManningAssaf found Manning and the Norfolk Academy staff to be more than willing participants, as they were already considering the benefits of professional development through videotaped classroom interactions.

“Last summer, our faculty read Tony Wagner’s Creating Innovators and had a 2-hour workshop with him,” Manning explained. “Wagner cites videotaping instruction and critiquing it in academic teams, departments or grade level groups as one of the most valuable professional development approaches he’s seen in schools.  The MTP approach resonated with us as a way to improve instruction and thus benefit children, our primary charge here.”

In addition to continuing the work they had done with Wagner, the MTP program fit within Norfolk Academy’s professional development philosophy while expanding opportunities for cross-pollination through the model in which teachers are able to serve as coaches.

As Manning explained, “We use a professional growth model here and have done so for years. It is a goals-and-objectives process with strong support for continuing education, but it keeps us in silos. The beauty of MTP is that collaboration is at its core.”

Over the summer, MTP specialist Marla Capper trained a total of 10 teachers from the schools to serve as coaches during the school year. Assaf observed, “I was amazed the teachers came out of these all-day trainings feeling really energized and excited about the work.”

The trained coaches are now engaged in observation cycles with other faculty, and although the schools are only midway through the pilot year, teachers already report improvements in their practice.

Jacqueline Evelyn, a first grade teacher at Norfolk Academy, said, “In the short time that we have been involved with the MTP program, I feel as though I have become a better teacher…This program has brought the emotional connection to each child to the surface. I am more aware of my relationships with each current and past student.”

Pace Academy Teachers Reviewing Video

“In the short time that we have been involved with the MTP program, I feel as though I have become a better teacher…This program has brought the emotional connection to each child to the surface. I am more aware of my relationships with each current and past student.”

Middle school history teacher Asher Rolfe cited the individualized yet non-evaluative nature of the coaching relationship as a standout feature.

“I think the MTP program offers us a chance to improve our teaching in a way that is very personal without being threatening…The program’s focus on observation and intentionality, as opposed to correcting deficiencies, offers a welcoming tone to this model of professional growth that could otherwise be uncomfortable.”

Similarly, fifth grade Pace Academy teacher and MTP coach Rebecca Rhodes recognized the overall tone of the process as the model’s strength.

“I appreciate the positive nature of the approach, and how it pushes teachers through reflection and not correction.” She has also been surprised by the extent to which MTP has influenced her teaching. “I find myself thinking about the dimensions and the domains, and I try to incorporate them into my practice.”

This has also been an enriching experience for CASTL researchers.

“The eagerness and insight with which these teachers have adopted the MTP approach has sparked conversations within our research team about how we might adapt our model even further to capitalize on the peer-driven approach,” said Christopher Hafen, research scientist and principal investigator on the project.

Hafen also acknowledged that the work of MTP specialist Marla Capper has been instrumental to the pilot’s initial success.

At the conclusion of the pilot year, Assaf hopes to expand the number of participants at Pace Academy and encourage other independent schools to use MTP.

“We hope that it becomes contagious,” said Assaf.

Manning’s perspective is similar.

“We hope we’re starting a professional development brushfire here – we’d love to see videotaping of instruction become normal practice and central to our professional growth program,” he said.

By: Kate Miller-Bains

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