Bay’s Teaching Fellows Program

By Lori Cohen, Dean of Faculty

Teaching Fellows Origins

When I began teaching at The Bay School in the fall of 2005, I was inspired by all the curricular and pedagogical freedom I had. Bay was a place where I could experiment, teach what I imagined students most needed without the strictures of standardized tests and scripted curricula. It was a magical time to build a school and design programs that would shape the future of Bay’s student experiences—all in service of our mission and values.

What we were doing at Bay in those first years was so innovative and empowering, in fact, that I wondered to what degree we could be offering teachers what we offered students: a growth-oriented, meaningful, challenging experience that allowed one to learn by doing with guidance along the way. And at that point, I started contemplating what teacher development might look like at our school; eventually, the seeds of that idea became a proposal for our Teaching Fellows program.

It would be several years before our “Teaching Fellows” program launched, and like many of Bay’s programs, we spent several years researching, developing, and refining our ideas. In Design Thinking protocols, one first needs to “ideate”—to get all the ideas out there before prototyping and settling on something that sticks. Starting in 2009, Bay ideated on a whole host of ideas related to teacher preparation and development. A small committee of us completed extensive research, talked through viable and sustainable possibilities, looked at other schools’ approaches to teacher development, and visited a range of school sites (including Shady Hill School in Cambridge, MA, a paragon for the kind of work we wanted to do at Bay). By the spring of 2011, I presented our findings to the Board of Trustees, and we had created a prototype of a program that would provide newer-to-teaching individuals with a supportive, gradual introduction to teaching in a nurturing environment. By the fall of 2013, we had launched our first Fellows program with two teachers, one in Humanities and one in Science. This year we celebrate our fifth year of the program (having graduated seven Fellows in total), and we’re proud of how powerful this program has been both for our Fellows, our colleagues, and our students.

Why a Fellows Program?

When we first presented the idea of a Fellows program, there was some confusion about how something like this program best served our students. After all, why would we put our newest teachers in front of our students? The truth of the matter is independent schools don’t require certification for teachers, and consequently, newer teachers often are given untenable teaching loads with no prior experience or training. At Bay, however, we value gradual growth and optimal conditions for our least-seasoned educators. All new-to-Bay teachers receive mentoring and attentive on-boarding in their first year at the school, and our Fellows even more so. Through teaching a reduced course load and working under the consistent and careful guidance of the Teaching Fellows Coordinator, our Fellows receive weekly observations, coaching and feedback, professional literature and conversation on all facets of teaching, and they serve as a member of collaborative course teams so they can learn about curriculum development, lesson design, and teaching skills from their colleagues. If anything, our Fellows exit the program beyond ready to teach a full load and contribute actively to their school communities.

Supporting Lifelong Learning for All

The program officially launched in the fall of 2013, and since that time, we have “graduated” our seven Fellows to institutions across the nation, abroad, and even to our teaching family at Bay. From the humanities to science to math to world languages, our Fellows span the gamut of experiences and backgrounds, and all our departments have had the opportunity to contribute to the growth of someone excited about teaching and learning.

The benefits of our Teaching Fellows program are mutual. Newer teachers receive guidance and support while our students learn from someone who has a team behind them—making learning an empowering experience for all. Our Fellows co-advise alongside more experienced advisors, observe classes taught by their peers, meet weekly with the Teaching Fellows Coordinator, are observed by the Coordinator, Dean of Faculty, and department chairs, and work skillfully on curriculum side-by-side with their peers. This collaborative experience serves as a model for students and allows everyone—adults and students alike—to be engaged in learning that transcends the walls of the classroom, fostering a love of collaboration and growth.

We’re at a time in our society when the Baby Boomer generation is retiring, creating a greater need for teachers to enter the profession. The past several summers, public schools have scrambled to populate their institutions with new teachers, many of whom have never set foot in a classroom nor have received the adequate preparation to do so. While independent schools have smaller populations and more school-specific hiring practices, we, too, are feeling this need to nurture the next generation of educators. While our Teaching Fellows program may not be able to answer the call of our larger society, we can offer a model that serves to benefit and elevate the profession as a whole, and as a result, help our students to unlock their individual and collective potential with the guidance of those most prepared to serve them well.