ACE logo

Supporting Our Teachers

Monday, April 08, 2019 by Francesca Varga

Supporting Our Teachers - ACE Higher-Powered Learning

I can’t tell you how many times “I’ll be there for you…” gets stuck in my head after watching an episode of Friends. But as cheesy as the song may be, its message rings true. People thrive on relationships and support.

In this post, we talked about our teachers and the positive feedback they have given us so far. Because teachers thrive when they feel challenged and supported, we try to balance the two in our work. Read on to learn about the four steps we take to make sure our teachers feel supported.

Higher-Powered Learning - Supporting TeachersBegin by Listening

Before any real growth can occur, we have to establish trust. First and foremost, our team values people. And from simple beginnings–starting off as strangers–we have made friends with our teachers as we have walked alongside them this year. (We have also picked up a few great food recommendations and fun things to do around the city, but we won’t get into that too much right now.) We start each individual meeting by asking how our teacher is doing, and then we simply listen.

“Why waste time? Why not get right to the point?” you may wonder. The answer is simple: because people matter. By simply listening and observing things such as tone and body language, we are able to gauge how our teachers are doing. A good mantra to remember is “Happy people are productive people!” By taking a few minutes to figure out where our teachers are emotionally, we are able to move forward more effectively.

"It is important to acknowledge tough times and roadblocks, but it is crucial to gently nudge your teacher forward and not allow them to stay stuck."

Balance the Gentle Nudge and the Listening Ear

Although we would all love to have sunny days and blue skies every day, realistically, life happens. And when the storms come, sometimes all we need is a listening ear and a sense of direction. Same with our teachers. Some days, they need an encouraging, enthusiastic push….and other times, all we can do is listen and offer support. It is important to know where your teachers are emotionally so you can balance the push with the listening ear.

But remember, growth (small or large) must always occur. Even on the cloudy days when our teachers feel stuck, our job is to help them “see the light” and actively move out of the figurative mud. Sometimes growth looks like a suggested challenge or next step. Other times, it looks like a listening ear and guiding questions that allow a teacher to find clarity. It is important to acknowledge tough times and roadblocks, but it is crucial to gently nudge your teacher forward and not allow them to stay stuck.

Thorough and Thoughtful Professional Development

Professional development (PD) is at the heart of our program’s growth. When planning PD, it is important to ensure it is thorough and covers all key aspects of the program. But you must also make sure the material is broken into small pieces and linked together. Yes, planning effective PD takes a lot of time. But without the “front loading” and careful planning, your program will not be sustainable. Timing is everything. Strategize agendas carefully, giving just the right amount of time per activity. We have also found that built-in work time is always appreciated and makes PD more meaningful for our teachers.   

Collaboration and Communication

There is strength in numbers, and nothing is better than a support system of peers who are on a journey with you. Collaboration is necessary for the sustainability of any program. Our teachers are able to lean on one another for support, brainstorm and share ideas, and learn from each other. You will never have all the answers for your team, but chances are, at least one person will have a solution or good idea.

Because our teachers are spread between schools, we have had to deliberately and strategically create time and space for them to collaborate. Technology and video chats have made this collaboration much easier, but we also strive to get everyone physically together at least twice a year for interactive, in-person professional development. It is so much more fun when you get to collaborate in-person with like-minded peers. Plus, yummy lunch and snacks are always an added bonus!

We are still at the beginning phase of our journey, and finding balance is always a challenge. But by walking alongside our teachers and constantly striving to be better ourselves, we have already witnessed incredible growth. It is so exciting to see where our journey continues to take us, especially now that we are getting to know our teachers so much better!

About the Author

Francesca Varga

Francesca Varga

Francesca Varga served as the Associate Program Director of Blended Learning for the Higher Powered Learning team and the Alliance for Catholic Education. 

Francesca came to ACE after teaching for nine years from Penn High School where she served as an English teacher, instructional coach, and team leader. Prior to that, she served as a high school English teacher at Schmucker Middle School and Washington High School in South Bend, Indiana, where she focused her practice serving at-risk and underrepresented populations of students.    

Francesca is originally from New Mexico and earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame in English and her teaching license from Saint Mary's College. She earned her Master of Education in Curriculum and Design from Indiana Wesleyan University, and her Administrative license through Ball State University.