In our work with school districts, we emphasize how important it is to support new teachers. After three years at Education Resource Strategies (ERS), I can attest that ERS walks the walk on professional learning by providing really effective support to new staff. As I’ve grown from a fresh-from-college consulting analyst to a seasoned associate, I have always felt supported and challenged.
In any new job, the first few months are spent learning about how everything works. In addition to getting your feet under you, the starting months are important for learning about your "work" self—i.e., identifying your working style, interests, strengths, and areas for growth. Building self-awareness is the key to self-improvement.
ERS recognizes that professional learning can positively affect how team members feel about their work, the quality of their work, and the impact on our district partners. So the organization offers three tiers of support: organization-wide activities, role-specific training, and individual growth opportunities.
ERS offers two key organization-wide professional learning activities: an annual two-day retreat and monthly lunches where we engage in specific content and skill-building exercises. During our last retreat, we focused on “Conscious Inclusion.” We spent time understanding and mitigating unconscious bias and built consensus around actions we could each take to build an inclusive working environment.
In monthly “ERS Lunches,” teams share a problem of practice or teach detailed content to the rest of the organization. In our November ERS lunch, we learned about math and English language arts (ELA) shifts in the Common Core standards. We broke out into groups to experience a lesson in close reading as students in a common core-aligned ELA classroom. I learned just how challenging the rigorous curriculum was, and I understood why it was so important to support teachers to ensure they deliver this content through high-quality instruction.
Every September, ERS’s new cohort of consultants experiences New Hire Orientation (NHO). This intensive two-week period gives new hires a high-level overviews of ERS’ work and the training they need to hit the ground running. One important feature I remember from my NHO experience was the opportunity to meet and interact with nearly every member of the organization to ensure that we felt comfortable reaching out to anyone.
After the orientation is over, every new hire is assigned a buddy who acts as an informal resource for low-stakes conversations during your first year at ERS. Buddies are typically in the same professional role, which is helpful when you want to raise questions and voice challenges related to your work. The members of my cohort also became an ongoing informal base of support for one another, and my cohort remains one of the most important resources I have at ERS.
The third tier of support is individual-specific, and I think this is where ERS really shines. ERS structures all individual support around feedback that informs each employee’s areas of strength and areas of potential growth. As an analyst or associate, most work is delivered directly to a manager or supervisor, and we receive frequent job-embedded feedback from our project manager that we can incorporate into our work immediately. We believe that this type of specific, real-time feedback drives development most effectively.
Each ERS team member also takes part in the Goals & Development (G&D) process. This is an ongoing process of professional development that involves semi-annual goal setting and reflection of progress against role-specific competencies. We are assigned a coach who helps us set personal goals and priorities to build on each year. We then meet with our coaches roughly every two weeks to review progress toward those goals. Coaches are our advocates in the organization and are the first line of formal support. They coordinate yearly cycles of review to look back on our accomplishments and, using the competency rubrics, evaluate whether we are ready for promotion. Coaches also know our interests through conversations and can help match us to work or projects that interest us most.
These supports enable taking on greater responsibilities and “stretch” assignments—those that are a challenge and push skill development. In one of my stretch opportunities, I facilitated a group of school district Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) in conversations around our school funding work. The role required me to lead a conversation with high-level district administrators, and I could do it because I was given the support necessary to prepare and facilitate successfully.
Just like new teachers need training to have a greater impact on their students, we at ERS focus on growth and development so that we can continually improve our service to our partners. Throughout my time at ERS, I have appreciated the combination of strong organizational and individual supports that have helped me to grow as a professional and to be able to effectively work toward our collective mission: to ensure that every student succeeds in school.