Innovative Educator Spotlight: Jeremy Reich is the first educator to be featured in this monthly series. He spoke with us recently about student-centered learning and the importance of teacher mentors.
Jeremy Reich has a few ideas about innovative education. As the project coordinator for Future Ready Schools NJ he runs a vast, state-wide initiative. FRS-NJ helps school districts assess how well their students are prepared for success in a changing world.
But Jeremy wasn’t always so passionate about education. “In my elementary school they gave out pink slips for skipping homework. A while back, I found some of my old elementary school folders and it was full of these pink slips.”
It wasn’t that he was lazy. He just didn’t feel connected to the learning experience. “I was just coasting through my education at that time. It was really because I had no say in what I was learning or how I was learning.”
How Student Agency Can Increase Engagement
Jeremy’s experiences in school have influenced his work with FRS-NJ. He believes that providing students ownership is essential for creating powerful learning experiences. “The potential is there now, and really the capacity for so much more is possible.”
He also sees value in the way teachers are learning from each other via social media. “When I was a student, all the classes were in rows. Now you see pictures on Twitter that show how flexible seating and the use of technology has empowered students. The important thing is that the teacher isn’t standing all day lecturing.”
“There’s still so much left to be solved, but 10 years ago you could not even see any solutions on the horizon. That shows we are always making progress. Politics and processes aside, the important thing is to empower kids to learn with agency, and for their educators to have the support and tools to make that happen.”
Teacher Mentors Are Key to Success
We asked Jeremy about the importance of teacher mentors in transforming education. “Mandatory…is the short answer.”
“Even in my 5 years in education I’ve seen such a shift from ‘let’s get tech in the classes ASAP to a much more thoughtful approach to the why, the how, the support needed. If you take a piece of technology, or learning style or learning practice, and you sit there and tell educators ‘go figure it out and make magic happen.’ Sure, some people will figure it out but they won’t be happy about it. Then there are the people who need the bridge and the consulting. The potential will be dampened without that bridge.”
He sees the use of social media, especially Twitter as a way for educators to learn about best practices and stay up-to-date.
“Just being open and out there whether you are sharing with others what you’re doing in classrooms, or you’re just taking in what’s happening in other classrooms.”
And while he feels conferences and presentations are part of an overall solution, they can’t be the entire solution. “Events, conferences, etc can be great experiences…but what happens the next day. The bouncing of ideas between people the sharing of struggles is where progress starts.”
“When it comes down to it the coaching, training, mentoring, is all mandatory. You are not doing it right without it!“
How Future Ready NJ Supports Schools
Jeremy believes that school change, even on a broad scale, is possible. And his work with FRS-NJ has the potential to be a significant part of that success.
“Future Ready Schools New Jersey is one of 30+ state leadership programs across the country. Our mission is to take the future ready framework and translate that to impact on schools on the district level. Schools have really latched onto this because it serves as a common language.”
“The potential is there now, and really the capacity for so much more is possible. We want to empower kids to learn with agency and for their educators to have the support and tools to make that happen. I’ve had so many people come up to me and say ‘the amazing thing about this program is that even though it’s no small lift, it’s something that’s really really worth it.’”
“Having this statewide, nationwide community opens up so many new avenues and potential benefits. That’s something we can do right now, even with technology to the side. If edtech completely stagnates for the next 10 years, we can accomplish a lot with what’s already available.”
Teacher Mentors and the Future Ready NJ Indicators
While the FRS-NJ indicators emphasize the importance of technology, they also acknowledge that there is no substitute for the importance of teachers in the classroom.
“As I look at how education will progress over the next ten years, the ideal is to view the educator as the empowerer, facilitator, and supporter. I think this is both ideal and possible in that time frame. There will always be room for improvement. If you hit a spot and say ‘we’re done, we don’t have to do anymore,” something is very seriously wrong. That’s never a real thing.”
The Future Ready NJ indicators echo Jeremy’s belief that teachers and teacher mentors are a crucial ingredient in any school initiative. The FRS-NJ “Culture of Innovation, Collaboration, and Empowerment” indicator states, “Staff should be empowered, encouraged, and given the flexibility to experiment with different and novel pedagogical approaches to improve their practice and the student experience.”
Morris Plains: A Teacher Mentoring Success Story
As districts move to measure their progress against the standards, Jeremy still wrestles with one big question. “How do we ensure that our educators have all the infrastructure and training they need.”
He feels that Morris Plains school district provides a model for an effective teacher mentorship program. “They were able, because of their small size, to move their daily schedule in order to include a teacher mentorship program. Every week, teachers have the opportunity to check in with an administrator.”
“They have the opportunity to learn and that is so rare. They are ahead of the game because their size allows them to be. The question is how well this would translate to larger districts.” Hopefully, that is where Future Ready comes in. By providing schools and districts with an objective framework for measuring their growth, Jeremy and the Future Ready New Jersey program are helping all districts, large and small, take the first steps.
Jeremy Reich is the project coordinator for Future Ready School NJ. Learn more and connect with him on Twitter @Jeremy_P_Reich
Taking the Next Step
Teacher mentor programs are most effective when educators take ownership of their own professional development. A good mentor, like a coach, can support educators in creating a personalized growth plan.
Teachers who reflect on their practice gain increased benefits from teacher coaching. Our Guide to Reflective Teaching includes self-assessments and planning guides to help educators get the most out of their work with instructional coaches and teacher mentors.