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TAP Master and Mentor Teachers: Making an Impact on Instructional Leadership and Students in the Classroom
Chicago Public Schools, Illinois
Of the three million teachers across the country, some are happy remaining in the classroom for their entire careers, while others have the desire to transition into an administrative role. But what about those who want more responsibility and/or a leadership role, but at the same time, want to remain a teacher? Traditionally, schools do not offer positions with significant leadership opportunities that allow teachers to remain in the classroom. The Teacher Advancement Program (TAP)™, however, does, through its career path continuum and teacher-led professional development and accountability system. This is one of the reasons why more teachers are moving to campuses implementing this comprehensive school reform model. And what's more, they are not only staying, but thriving.
Chicago Public Schools, the nation's third largest school district, is one of the places where TAP is helping to attract and retain talent in some of its highest-need schools. With over 400,000 students, nearly 85 percent of whom come from low-income families, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan—now U.S. Education Secretary—brought TAP to some of the city's high-need schools to build strong teaching capacity where it was needed most. With a significant grant from the federal Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), Secretary Duncan collaborated with six other partners, including the teachers union, principals and administrators association and philanthropic organizations, to implement TAP.
After just two years, TAP has changed the way educators are approaching instruction. In TAP schools, in addition to career (or classroom) teachers, master teachers (known as "lead teachers" in Chicago schools) and mentor teachers are part of the structure to coach teachers, facilitate strong ongoing professional development and along with the principal, contribute to the overall instructional leadership of the school. For the first time, teachers are working together weekly in "cluster groups" led by master and mentor teachers to meet, plan and discuss the best strategies to meet individual student needs. The TAP Instructional Rubric—a set of content-neutral research-based best practices—serves as a guide for all teachers to excel and receive regular feedback on improving their instruction. This intensive professional development system provides a vehicle for master and mentor teachers to coach career teachers while deepening and refining their own craft.
To Master Teacher Carol Ann Kendrick at McCorkle Elementary, it was the support found in TAP that inspired her to advance along the career path. "TAP's support in the school is what made me want to even be a mentor teacher, then master teacher, so that I can provide the support to teachers who may not know where to get it."
Michelle Corpus and Kesa Thurman, master teachers at Multicultural Arts High and Harold Washington Elementary, respectively, attribute TAP’s career path and development for helping them improve even more.
"TAP can really reinvigorate your career," said Corpus, who was a career teacher before becoming a master teacher. TAP’s powerful opportunities have made her become more reflective about her practice. "TAP is wonderful to catapult teachers out of the 'box,' especially inner-city public school teachers. We are not made from the same mold. We are constantly changing and learning, and want the best for our kids."
Being a TAP master teacher allowed Kesa Thurman to improve her conceptual understanding of instructional practice and impart her learning to others. "I actually left one school where I had been for eight years because I felt that, in terms of professional development, I had hit a glass ceiling," she said. "The professional development wasn't useful, given in isolation and you never went back and revisited what you learned. If that square peg doesn't want to go into that round hole, just carve it out a little bit and keep using the same thing. Then TAP came along, with its professional development right there—job-embedded. You can't walk away from it because it is always walking with you! Now I am getting the bigger picture."
With the TAP structure in place, master and mentor teachers provide a crucial link between making an impact on educators and students in the classroom and sharing leadership duties with the principal to make sure everyone is unified behind the school’s goals. Veronica Griffin, formerly a master teacher at Westcott Elementary and now instructional specialist for Chicago TAP, expressed that this is the win-win she had always wanted.
"What better way to help one another and the students but by supporting teachers in the classrooms?" she asked. "TAP is perfect for me because it is still school-based and I have interaction with the students, while still allowing me to have that leadership role outside my own classroom. I really wanted what I see in TAP—that cohesive unit all striving for the same goal."
Added Kendrick, "Pre-TAP, once teachers left their classrooms to go into administration, that was it. They lost that connection to what was going on in the classroom. Being a mentor or master teacher, you continue to be connected to the classroom. You understand what teachers do and feel what they’re feeling because you are still connected to those students."
What's more, the opportunity of having mentor and master teachers to strengthen instruction as a whole has retained teachers in these schools.
Denise Makowski, master teacher at Cameron Elementary, summed up TAP's impact: "For the first time this year we only had two teachers leave, and it was because they were going out of state. Cameron has never had that before the last couple of years. TAP has brought cohesiveness and a lot of energy to our school. We are all talking about the same thing: good instruction."
And good instruction is the common language for new and veteran teachers alike, wherever they fall along the career path. TAP consistently proves that with the assistance of highly talented mentor and master teachers, new teachers can become great and veteran teachers can become even better. Early reports from an ongoing study by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., show that TAP's comprehensive support structure is making a positive impact on teacher mentoring and retention in Chicago Public Schools. Teachers in TAP schools receive more mentoring support than teachers in non-TAP schools, and TAP has increased retention of teachers in schools by five percentage points.
"I would say to new teachers: Please come!" Westcott Master Teacher Kathleen McMahon said. "They are learning new things and bringing a sense of excitement. I would welcome new teachers to the profession and would hope that they would look into TAP."
Rachel Hodgeson, Mentor Teacher, Lowery Intermediate School, Ascension Parish, Louisiana
"Because I teach students on campus just as they do, teachers know I am 'in the trenches' alongside them, and that has earned me a certain respect and has opened classroom doors that might have otherwise been closed . . . We have all grown exponentially through working in a TAP school, and our students reap the benefits daily."