Transformational Teaching and Mentoring

In this 4th installment of this blog series, we share contributions by alumni of the Curry School’s Mentor Teacher Training Program, funded by a grant through the Virginia Department of Education. The Curry School partners with local school divisions to deliver a graduate course at no cost to their highly recommended teachers. The course focuses on ambitious, evidence-based coaching and mentoring practices that facilitate high-quality teaching practice. While enrolled in the course, these mentors refine their practices while developing the skills of future teachers’ in their classrooms. In this post, mentor Karen Purnell shares her perspectives about the course and about the importance of facilitating trust.

For your reference, this link is the first in this Ambitious Instruction Blog:

In our spring course for mentor teachers, we wrestled with the idea of coaching and mentoring as ways of being. But how do we facilitate pre-service teachers’ evolving ways of being professional educators? What does it mean for our own ways of being mentors? These are difficult questions. Yet these are questions that I have been pondering throughout this course. A fundamental component in this process is building trust. This is key for transformational coaching: our goal is to facilitate transformation from pre-service to competent, independent professional.

To build trust, it is important to be a good listener. Upon reflection, I find that I am an impatient listener. As a natural born problem solver, I want to solve the problem and be done with it. Transformational coaching changes a person’s way of being. And to do that, the teacher needs to learn to be reflective of their practice. A mentor teacher should facilitate this through empathic listening. Professor Pam Tucker visited our class to engage us in an activity on empathic listening as teacher-leadership. It was very difficult at first to participate in the activity. As she prompted us to seek first to understand, diagnose before prescribing, and to avoid projecting our own home movies onto other people’s behaviors, she reminded us that the greatest need we all have is psychological survival and safety.

I really want to prescribe before I diagnose! It is so easy to give advice based on our own experiences. What I am learning, is that my experience is not the same as others, and frankly when another teacher is in the throes of a crisis, they do not want to hear about my experiences. They need someone to validate their experience and to empower them to respond meaningfully. To truly enact transformational change, it is important that we begin to recognize ways within ourselves to change.

Setting the example for pre-service teachers by building a culture of trust and reflection can help to develop these relations with students and increase student engagement. Teaching is not so much about doing, but about being. It is about being benevolent, honest, open, reliable and competent, to paraphrase Tschannen-Moran. These are the ways in which we build relations with not only other teachers, but also with our students. We explore language, nonverbal communication, and emotions, and how these affect relationships, performance and results.

Reflecting upon my leadership practice, I am learning to not be the number one problem solver. Instead, I guide my practicum students to take a step back and decide what changes need to be made and why. I find myself stopping and rephrasing questions. I am still an impatient listener, and I still want to solve all of their problems, but I am now finally realizing that for the change to be long lasting and effective it has to come from within. And that is what I truly believe it means to cultivate a particular way of being. In order to effectively facilitate pre-service teachers’ pedagogical and professional growth, I have to also be willing to transform my own behavior. Though that is often hard to do, it is making me become more reflective of my practice which in turn will benefit those I mentor.

Guest Author

Karen Purnell

Alumni of the Curry School’s Mentor Teacher Training Program

Suspension Is No Longer the Only Tool Educators Have to Address Discipline Problems

A student yells at a teacher, engages in an altercation with a peer or is continually late to class. For decades, under a zero-tolerance framework, the result has been the same: detention, suspension or even arrest.

This strict, exclusionary approach has fostered a school climate across the nation that has over-emphasized discipline, built barriers between students and teachers and disrupted learning.

Over the past five years, we have begun to see a shift in the paradigm with a mix of new approaches to school discipline. For example, those very same student actions are now increasingly followed by a “restorative circle,” where the students work together to repair the harms done and make things right for all involved.

Through this process, school leaders are able to not only agree on a more proactive, restorative response to discipline problems, but also empower students to build positive relationships, make smart decisions and hone their problem-solving skills.


Some schools are adopting restorative circles within a broader context of proactive approaches, like the school-wide positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) framework, which establishes the climate that can help students achieve social, emotional and academic success. Restorative practices can work in concert with PBIS to promote a school climate defined by empathy, understanding and peaceful mediation.

That type of climate, according to a joint 2013 study from the National School Climate Center and Fordham University, can also pave the way for increased student motivation and achievement rates—as well as decreased dropout rates, substance use and incidences of violence. Instead of fading into the background or struggling to manage their emotions, youth constructively respond to conflicts and leverage a comprehensive support system.

Some school districts have embraced this new paradigm over the past eight years, phasing out zero-tolerance policies with these transformative and proactive approaches to school discipline. The results coming in from across the country over that time have been impressive. Read the remainder of this post on the Education Post blog.

Guest Author

Catherine Bradshaw

Catherine Bradshaw, Ph.D.

Associate dean for research and faculty development at the Curry School

Shaping Teacher Preparation for the Future

Congress took unprecedented action  [March 9, 2017] to sweep away significant regulations issued by the US Department of Education. The decision to overturn the rules guiding implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) garnered most of the headlines and overshadowed another significant retreat on accountability: the repeal of the Department’s teacher preparation regulations, which marked the sad end to the latest chapter in an effort to assess the quality and impact of teacher preparation programs. Just a few days later, the Administration released its budget blueprint, which calls for a massive $9 billion cut to the US Department of Education, including elimination of federal Title II Part A funding for teacher preparation and professional development, the $2.25 billion in grants that support states and districts to recruit, hire, train and support teachers.

Taken together, eliminating the teacher prep regulations and the devastating budget proposal not only signal a retreat from a meaningful federal role in accountability for teacher preparation, but now also an elimination of the funding needed for states and districts to do something meaningful themselves.

Predictably, some of the usual suspects in Washington marked the decision by Congress to overturn those regulations – rules that would have held those of us who lead teacher preparation programs accountable for the educators our programs produce – as a victory.

The Obama Administration’s teacher prep regs were not perfect but, as I’ve written before, the opposition to the entire effort represented a new low in the teacher wars. And the final version of the regs represented a great improvement over earlier efforts, creating an opportunity for us to build a system that could pave the way for teachers to have an increased impact on student learning.

But this cannot be the end of the story. We have a responsibility to continually improve the teaching profession and ensure that our educators are prepared for success in the classroom, particularly for the students that are in need of the best instruction. To achieve this goal, we need to know if our teacher preparation programs are effective – and if not, how to make them better. Our institutions need to be held accountable to ensure their graduates have the tools to make a difference in student learning. READ THE REMAINDER OF THIS POST ON THE HUFFINGTON POST BLOG.

Guest Author

Bob Pianta

Bob Pianta

Dean, US Novartis Professor of Education

More Effective Practicum Experiences

LOCAL MENTOR TEACHERS who coach our students during their practicum semester are now offered an opportunity for a new graduate course at Curry focused on increasing their effectiveness. Through the course they learn about instructional coaching best practices and then can apply new skills each week with practicum students in their classrooms.

“This approach allows mentor teachers to take the theory learned in class and put it into practice, refine their skills and then come back and reflect on their experiences in the next class,” said Curry field placement coordinator Adria Hoffman, who is also the course instructor.

The course provides training in the MyTeachingPartner coaching model adapted for preservice teachers but also covers adult learning theory and research on professional development.

“We are countering the perception of teaching as an innate ability or a calling and equipping our school partners with tools for providing individualized feedback to Curry students placed in their classrooms,” Hoffman said. “They can then help our teacher candidates refine their practices and positively impact student learning.”

The course is funded by a grant from the Virginia Department of Education specifically for Charlottesville City and Albemarle, Nelson and Fluvanna County teachers and is available to them at no cost. Participants are recommended by their school administrators and must complete an application to the Curry School for the course. This spring semester, only the second time the course has been offered, it is filled with 25 mentor teachers.

“Multiple teachers told us last spring that it was the best professional development they have ever had,” Hoffman said.

See also our series of great reflections by mentor teachers taking this course:

Ambitious Instruction: Teacher Preparation at Curry
Beverly Kerr

Teaching as Specialized Work
Gwendolyn Page

Excellence Every Day in Teacher Mentoring
Nikki Franklin (M.T. ’04 Elem Ed)

Guest Author

Adria Hoffman

Adria Hoffman, Ph.D., Field Placement Coordinator

M.Ed. '05 Soc Fdns

The Curry School – AATF Connection

As a former student at UVA, I have always been very dedicated to impacting education in the local Charlottesville community. My passion carried over from the classroom and into my current work with a local education-focused nonprofit. Being a student in the Curry School gave me early exposure to the awesome schools in the area, and I am elated that I have the chance to lead a nonprofit that works with potential teachers, novice teachers and veteran teachers in this community.

African American Teaching Fellows of Charlottesville-Albemarle, Inc. (AATF) is a registered 501 (c) (3) incorporated in 2005 with a mission to recruit, support, develop and retain a cadre of African American teachers to serve the Charlottesville City and Albemarle County public schools in Virginia. Our fellowship enables African American college students to pay for college, develop into premier teachers, establish a sense of collegiality with one another, foster connections to the community and succeed in obtaining and retaining a teaching position. Read more…

Guest Author

Tamara Wilkerson

M.T. '12 Foreign Language Ed