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Cultivating pedagogic excellence in teachers

Summer 2015

This article first appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of HaYidion, Prizmah’s magazine, on the theme of Excellence. Reprinted by permission. 


Cultivating pedagogic excellence in teachers clearly impacts students, schools and the field of Jewish day school education. While no two Jewish day schools share the exact same goals and approaches for educational content outcomes, all schools do share the same goals of reaching and teaching all of their students. Helping teachers grow from good to great to excellent can be achieved when a number of conditions are in place to support teacher growth. At the core is a school culture of learning, innovation and collaboration, along with school leaders who invest in and support teacher growth. Standards-based peer coaching or mentoring is an essential component as well.


At the Jewish New Teacher Project (JNTP), we have spent over a decade helping beginning teachers in Jewish day schools increase their effectiveness, confidence and commitment to teaching through intensive standards-based mentoring. Our New Teacher Induction program is based on the proven, validated work of our parent organization, New Teacher Center (NTC), an award-winning national organization leading the field in new teacher and new principal support in public schools across the country.


We define excellence in teaching not as an endpoint, but rather as a process. Beginning teachers strive to master techniques such as classroom management, effective lesson planning, and differentiation. Veteran teachers, even after mastering these basic elements of teaching, continue to learn and grow, to innovate, and always strive to be better. In a recent blog entitled “Highly Effective Teachers are Never Done Learning,” Liam Goldrick, director of policy at New Teacher Center, writes, “The truth is that great teachers aren’t born and are never completely ‘made’—but continuously develop over the course of their careers. There is no such thing as a finished product when it comes to highly effective teachers. Talented, experienced teachers are reflective, curious and persistent. Like their students, they are learners, too.”


Excellence in teaching doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We have learned in our work partnering with more than 100 Jewish day schools across the country over the past decade, and through research in the field, that the following elements foster the cultivation of excellent teachers—teachers who are committed, innovative and constantly growing.


Supportive School Leadership


Teachers thrive in an environment where the message from the school’s leadership is, “We want you to succeed, and we will do everything we can to help support your success.” Principals can contribute to a teacher’s success in many ways, from establishing and consistently implementing a vision, to setting policies, providing resources, developing curriculum, etc. Paramount to communicating this message is the creation of a positive culture of support, with formative as well as summative assessment and opportunities for professional development. That includes being present in teachers’ classrooms via formal and informal observations, providing feedback, and setting aside time for teachers to create goals and reflect on practice. As Paul Bambrick-Santoyo writes (“Teacher Evaluation: What’s Fair? What’s Effective?”), “The key driver of teacher development isn’t accurate measurement of teachers’ performance. It’s guidance on exactly how to improve.”


Culture, Climate and Working Conditions


Positive school culture, climate and working conditions are fundamental to fostering the achievement of excellence. All members of a school community respond to an environment which is supportive, optimistic, productive, and in which there are positive presuppositions about student and staff potential to learn and grow. A culture in which there is open communication, positive relationships and high expectations creates an ongoing learning community. The following are some aspects of a positive culture.




In Talk About Teaching, Charlotte Danielson writes, “The first, and some would argue the most important, characteristic of a school making progress toward improved student learning is that the leader has established an atmosphere of trust: trust among teachers and between teachers and administrators.” Trust, indicated by the willingness of teachers to be vulnerable and open, is a foundation for growth. In an NTC survey on working conditions in the nation’s schools entitled Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL), data indicate that one of the highest predictors of student achievement is the level of trust and mutual respect at a school.




Collaboration and collegiality are also at the core of a learning and growth environment. Teachers don’t function best in isolation. Few professionals do. Collaborating around best practices, student work, student interactions and more creates a community of learners and an environment of sharing, expanding vision and perspective. De-privatizing teacher practice is empowering and validating, encourages risk-taking and results in growth. Teachers need permission and a safe framework in which to experiment with ideas, receive feedback, and examine their practice in deep and open ways.


Ongoing Professional Development and Reflective Practice


Teachers cannot advance in their pursuit of excellence unless they are stimulated and challenged by new learning. In Improving Schools from Within, Roland Barth writes, “Nothing within a school has more impact upon students in terms of skills development, self‐confidence, or classroom behavior than the personal and professional growth of their teachers. When teachers examine, question, reflect on their ideas and develop new practices that lead towards their ideas, students are alive. When teachers stop growing, so do their students.” Professional development that is job-embedded, consistent, ongoing and relevant empowers teachers to own their own learning and direct their own growth. As a result, teachers gain self-confidence and perceive themselves as professional educators. Not only do students feel the impact, but the dialogue among faculty is transformed.


Standards and Goals

Alice: Which way should I go?

Cat: That depends on where you are going.

Alice: I don’t know.

Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


A set of professional teaching standards (such as Danielson, Marzano, or a school’s own set) provides both a roadmap and a destination for teachers. Teaching standards are a clear, objective articulation of what excellence in teaching looks like and sounds like in its highest form. Pedagogic standards also provide teachers and supervisors with a shared language and understanding of expectations as well as the basis for performance evaluation.


Professional teaching standards, along with a process for setting professional goals, can help advance teacher practice, which in turn advances student learning. Teachers benefit from knowing what to strive for in order to reach mastery and excellence. Teachers can self-assess on the standards, identify areas of strength and growth, and set goals. Based on the standards, teachers can target areas they would like to develop and strengthen. They can measure their own growth against their own goals. These goals can serve as a frame for supervisors as well as for colleagues to use during observations to collect data and offer feedback or evaluation. Attainment of early goals contributes to a feeling of success and empowers teachers to set new goals for further growth.


Intensive Mentoring and Peer Coaching


Colleagues’ support of each other’s practice is a key component of cultivating excellence in teachers. Peer mentors or coaches can develop and nurture reflective, problem-solving, collaborative habits of practice. A mentor or coach can help teachers—and especially beginning teachers, as we’ve seen in our work—strive toward excellence by guiding them through the transition from being a reactive instructor to a reflective instructor.


To work optimally, peer mentoring/coaching pairs need dedicated time and space for self-assessing professional practice on a continuum of professional teaching standards, goal-setting, discussing classroom observations, collecting and analyzing observation data, sharing feedback, reflecting, and looking at student work. This, of course, aligns with the need for a positive, growth-oriented school culture and having a set of teaching standards and goals toward which to strive.


These elements of fostering teacher growth apply to teachers at all stages of their careers, from beginning to veteran teachers. In practice, utilizing a standards-based peer mentoring program can play out differently among teachers with different levels of experience.


Beginning teachers, even those with formal teaching degrees, do not yet have the experience necessary to cultivate excellence in their classrooms. Regardless of the preparation and support that many teachers receive before they begin their first job, nothing compares to the actual on-the-job learning that takes place in the first few years of teaching. It is during these critical first years that teachers develop habits of practice that endure throughout their careers. As we have seen in our work, a set of teaching standards against which to self-assess and set goals for growth, coupled with an intensive mentoring program based on weekly classroom observations and data collection, can accelerate a beginning teacher’s practice exponentially. Beginning teachers are hungry for support and crave feedback. Providing beginning teachers with a safe space to reflect on their practice accelerates their learning, improves their teaching practice, and gives them a sense of belonging, resulting in higher levels of motivation to stay in their jobs and strive for excellence.


More seasoned teachers often have already set their habits of practice, yet many recognize that there is always room for improvement and growth. Especially with new educational trends such as the use of technology in the classroom and Common Core, even the most seasoned teachers have learning opportunities and growth edges. With experienced teachers, it is especially important to communicate a message of positive support for learning without criticizing current or past practices. Mentoring may take the form of Instructional Coaching, which is less time-intensive and tied to new content acquisition or the shifting of established pedagogic practices.


Pedagogic excellence in teaching is a process, not endpoint. Both novice and seasoned teachers alike can strive for and achieve excellence by engaging in iterative learning cycles of goal-setting and reflection. Supportive school leadership, an environment that cultivates and rewards inquiry and learning, and standards-based peer mentoring are essential ingredients for fostering teacher growth. When these elements are in place, not only do our teachers benefit, but, most importantly, so do our students.


Amy Golubtchik Ament is associate director, Yael Adler Bailey is communications director, Nina Bruder is director, and Fayge Safran is senior program director at JNTP, the Jewish New Teacher Project of the New Teacher Center.


Suggested Resources: Teaching and Learning


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Cultivating pedagogic excellence in teachers


Judith Talesnick

Program Consultant

Lisa Peloquin

Senior Instructional Designer and Coach

Lisa Peloquin is a Senior Instructional Designer and Coach at JNTP, where she focuses on content development and materials preparation for JNTP’s Early Childhood and Administrator Support Programs.. Lisa holds a B.A. in Psychology, with a concentration in child development, from Penn State and a Masters in Education from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is currently working on her Ph.D. in community psychology, with a research interest in understanding how school communities can impact educational equity. Lisa can be reached at

Tavi Koslowe

Program Consultant

Rabbi Tavi Koslowe is a Program Consultant at JNTP, where he provides coaching to early career administrators through the Administrator Support Program. Tavi has been a teacher and educational leader for the last twenty years in lower, middle, and high school settings. He is currently serving as the High School Dean at the Leffell School in Westchester, NY and the co-director of The Idea Institute, where he supports teachers, administrators, and school leaders in furthering educational practice in Project Based Learning. Most recently, Tavi served as the Judaic Studies Principal of The Idea School in Tenafly, NJ and has held other school leadership positions at the Ramaz School in Manhattan, NY and Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, NJ. Tavi participated in JNTP’s Teacher Induction and Administrator Support Programs. He can be reached at

Eva Broder

Program Consultant

Eva is a Program Consultant for JNTP, where she facilitates professional development training for early childhood mentors. Eva has served as a teacher in private schools throughout the NY area for over 15 years. During this time, she has provided support as a teacher mentor, working with individuals and groups to enhance their teaching practice, and has facilitated and trained teachers in the use of Professional Learning Communities. Eva currently works as a School Consultant for Professional Development at the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach (HALB). She holds a B.A. in Psychology from Yeshiva University and an M.S. in Special and General Education from Bank Street College. Eva trained as a mentor with JNTP in 2017-18. She can be reached at

Evan Weiner

Associate Program Consultant

Evan Weiner is an Associate Program Consultant at JNTP, where he facilitates mentor training. He has been involved with Jewish Education for over 20 years. Evan began his connection with JNTP as a new teacher and eventually became a mentor himself, mentoring teachers in both General and Judaic Studies departments. He has been an educational leader in both formal and informal educational settings, and has brought his JNTP training to elicit the best in his staff partners. Most recently, Evan served as Judaic Studies Principal, Curriculum Coordinator, and Instructional Coach at Ohr Chadash Academy in Baltimore before joining the JNTP staff. Evan participated in the YOU Lead Educational Leadership Program and JETSIsrael Edtech Incubator Program, and he holds an M.Ed. from Azrieli School of Education. Evan can be reached at

Rachel R. Harari

Associate Program Consultant

Rachel Harari is an Associate Program Consultant at JNTP, where she co-facilitates new teacher training. She is also an Associate Lecturer at Columbia University and a middle school English Language Arts teacher at Yeshivah of Flatbush. Rachel is currently working on her PhD at Teachers College, Columbia University, within their Educational Leadership program. Through her work as a Department Chair for six years at Magen David Yeshivah High School in Brooklyn, New York, Rachel was inspired to study the role of the high school department chair in Modern Orthodox schools in New York City. Rachel received her M.S. in Special Education from Brooklyn College, and her B.S. in English Education from New York University, where she published her research on mathematics anxiety in elementary school students: “Mathematics Anxiety in Young Children: An Exploratory Study.” Rachel is a 2016 recipient of The Covenant Foundation’s Pomegranate Prize, which recognizes emerging leaders in the field of Jewish Education.

Lauren Katz

Director of Development

Lauren Katz is JNTP’s Director of Development, where she oversees the organization’s fundraising efforts and marketing and communications initiatives in an effort to advance JNTP’s mission and strategic goals. Lauren’s portfolio includes strategic planning, donor cultivation, engagement, and gift acquisition. She has an extensive background in Jewish non-profit management with a specific focus on fundraising and development, most recently serving as the Director of Marketing & Communications and Alumni Relations at SAR High School for over four years and at the Ramaz School for seven years as the Director of Alumni Relations. In addition, Lauren worked at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and UJA-Federation of MetroWest, NJ in the campaign and planning and allocations departments. Lauren holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Michigan and attended the University of Michigan School of Social Work and Jewish Communal Leadership Program. Lauren can be reached at