The Making of a Windward Teacher
Sandra Schwarz, Director of Windward Teaching Training Institute, 2011
In “The Missing Foundation in Teacher Education” (1996), Dr. Louisa Moats, a renowned researcher in the field of learning disabilities, declared, “Until we recognize that teachers do not naturally acquire the kind of expertise in language structure that is required of them for remediating and preventing reading problems, we will neglect to provide the necessary training.” Fifteen years later, a report from the International Dyslexia Association reaffirms Moats’ assertion stating, “Teaching language, reading and writing effectively, especially to students experiencing difficulty, requires considerable knowledge and skills. Regrettably, the licensing and professional development practices currently endorsed by many states are insufficient for the preparation and support of teachers and specialists….The majority of practitioners at all levels has not been prepared in sufficient depth to prevent reading problems, to recognize early signs of risk, or to teach students with dyslexia and related learning disabilities successfully.”
Tragically, teaching candidates in undergraduate and graduate education programs are still not receiving adequate instruction in the foundations of language. To address this gap, The Windward School provides its teachers with a detailed and explicit background of knowledge in the structure of language. The School has designed a teacher-training program that is comprehensive, demanding and extremely effective in closing the knowledge gap between research and teaching practices. Professional training at Windward is an ongoing program that begins before a teacher steps into a classroom and continues as long as a teacher remains on the faculty.
Teachers, even very experienced ones, begin their careers at Windward as assistant teachers. The hiring of assistant teachers starts with an exhaustive recruitment process. Candidates are culled from a large pool of applicants. College career centers, job fairs, online advertisements, employment agencies, private referrals and unsolicited resumes are all sources of applications. Every resume is read and analyzed for proper credentials and special talents, skills and interests. When a candidate is chosen for an interview, a team of administrators meets with the candidate, explains the Windward program in depth and analyzes the candidate’s answers to questions. A thorough reference check is completed before a candidate is offered a position. In choosing potential assistant teachers, administrators
look for candidates who possess strong language skills, a passion for working with children with learning disabilities and the dedication necessary to becoming a teacher. A future Windward teacher must also have patience, a strong work ethic, an intellectual curiosity and an appreciation for being part of an organization that transforms children’s lives.
Hundreds of resumes are read and many interviews are conducted, but only a chosen few candidates are selected to begin the process of becoming a Windward teacher. Prior to assuming primary teaching responsibilities, assistant teachers must successfully complete a one to two-year training period. First year assistants are enrolled in a highly structured assistant teacher program that provides a balance between coursework and practical application. The goals for assistants in the program are:
- To become knowledgeable about the elements and structure of spoken and written language
- To participate in Windward Teacher Training Institute (WTTI) workshops and courses
- To develop formal lesson plans and teach lessons that are observed by coordinators and administrators
- To participate in staff development sessions
- To assist the mentor teacher with the classroom program
- To discuss educational/instructional strategies with the mentor teacher
In order to reach these goals, assistants are enrolled in Windward Teacher Training Institute core courses: Preventing Academic Failure, Teaching Basic Writing Skills and Language, Learning and Literacy. These courses reflect the research base of the Windward program and provide the foundation of knowledge about language. Assistants are also required to read selected articles that describe the body of research that
supports the Windward program. Before the school year begins, new assistants attend one day of new faculty orientation designed to familiarize them with the School and its mission and then join the rest of the faculty for an additional three days of orientation and training.
Assistants are assigned a mentor teacher with whom they work throughout the year. Mentor teachers also have responsibilities related to the training program that include explaining curriculum and instructional strategies, modeling effective classroom management techniques, providing guidance related to interactions with students, parents and others within the school community, explaining lesson planning and providing explicit feedback on an assistant’s professional growth.
The School is committed to providing new assistants with many varied opportunities for professional development, and as such, all new assistants meet as a group for weekly seminars. Designed to support and encourage new staff members, the seminars address a variety of topics related to Windward’s culture, its language arts and content area programs, questioning techniques for classroom use, lesson planning strategies, the use of technology within the classroom, classroom management strategies, and characteristics of our student population. Staff development sessions for the entire faculty are offered every Friday afternoon. These sessions, designed to improve teaching strategies and keep faculty up-to-date on new research findings, may include presentations by the School’s faculty members or consultants, divisional meetings to address teacher-generated topics, as well as presentations by experts on medications, diversity and behavioral issues.
In addition, speech and language pathologists work closely with assistants to provide instruction in the diagnosis and remediation of students’ specific expressive and receptive language deficits. The Language Arts Director and curriculum coordinators present staff development sessions that are consistent with research-based strategies for delivering effective language-based lessons. Throughout the year, assistants also attend weekly curriculum staff development meetings and are expected to take an active role in these professional discussions. Mentor teachers and members of the administrative team observe assistants, both formally and informally, on an established schedule.
Reflection by the assistants on these observations and input from observers help to improve an assistant’s teaching style and refine teaching techniques. The evaluation of assistants supports their training and insures that assistants are delivering the Windward program as prescribed.
During the summer, in addition to WTTI courses and workshops, an intensive training program for assistants is designed and implemented through the WTTI. This is an in-depth, seven-day program structured to present a consistent message about the School’s unique student population and teaching model, with a special emphasis on lesson preparation and delivery of a direct teaching model. Another WTTI designed staff development activity for assistants is the Windward Practicum. Each August, before the opening of school, selected Windward students are invited to take part in reading, writing and math courses designed to strengthen their skills in theses areas. The summer classes are two hours a day for two weeks and are taught by Windward master teachers and assistant teachers. Students receive instruction for the first hour and assistant teachers receive intensive staff development in the multisensory structured language program during the second hour.
To further their professional development, assistant teachers are encouraged to take part in the Windward Summer School Program. This four-week program consists of classes in math, reading, writing, science, study skills and organizational skills for both Windward students and students from other schools. Serving in this program allows assistants the opportunity to observe master teachers delivering selected aspects of the Windward program.
During their second year, assistants are enrolled in a more structured program which includes additional observations, lesson planning and attendance at advanced WTTI courses. Teaching assistants who have exhibited expertise in delivering classroom lessons may be assigned some part-time classroom teaching responsibilities. Administrators and curriculum coordinators continually mentor and coach assistants during this time.
Being a Windward teacher means that professional development is never completed. The entire teaching staff, including the most senior members of the faculty, is observed by coordinators and administrators and receives ongoing coaching and feedback on daily classroom instruction. It is the expectation that all teachers maintain their knowledge of Windward pedagogy by retaking the core reading, writing and language courses at the WTTI at least every five years; most teachers enroll in WTTI classes every semester. To further support ongoing learning, the WTTI maintains a collection of professional books and periodicals that faculty members read to stay current with ongoing research in the field of learning disabilities.
Experienced Windward teachers may choose to pursue an advanced certificate in structured multisensory language by completing a rigorous academic program. This program, which requires 100 hours of WTTI coursework and a year-long supervised practicum, is nationally accredited by the International Multisensory Structured Language Council (IMSLEC). The WTTI is one of five institutions in New York State that has received this accreditation.
Windward is a learning community that supports continuous growth in comprehensive knowledge and skills for all faculty members. This is evidenced in the intensive training and outstanding staff development activities that are created by Windward faculty, as well as the time and attention that are given to all faculty members to insure that they develop into and remain knowledgeable and effective teachers. Reporting on the training program at Windward, the evaluator for IMSLEC stated: “Your teacher training program is truly outstanding and could serve as a model for other private schools... The professional preparation program at Windward is outstanding. The bar is set very high!”
The making of a Windward teacher is a well thought-out, demanding and intensive training program. Assistant teachers are expected to work diligently to acquire the expertise it takes to be a Windward teacher. Assistants quickly learn that teaching is a craft that takes an incredible amount of study, practice and reflection to perfect. It is the School’s mission to develop a faculty that is expert in teaching children with language-based learning disabilities. Windward students deserve nothing less.