Wilkins, Quinzio-Zafran co-edit guide offering advice, support to new teachers

Book cover of ”The New Teacher’s Guide to Overcoming Common Challenges: Curated Advice from Award-Winning Teachers.”Elizabeth A. Wilkins, coordinator, Graduate Career and Professional Development for the NIU Graduate School and professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and Anna M. Quinzio-Zafran, an adjunct instructor in the department and 2015 alumna of the Ed.D. in Curriculum Leadership program, are celebrating the recent publication of ”The New Teacher’s Guide to Overcoming Common Challenges: Curated Advice from Award-Winning Teachers.”

Published by Taylor & Francis Ltd., the practical, hands-on guidebook offers support for a teacher’s first years in the classroom by presenting strategies to overcome 10 common challenges.

Featuring quick access to timely advice, and contributions from National Board-certified teachers, National Teachers of the Year and other educators, the tips are applicable across a range of educational settings, including rural, suburban and urban.

Among the 130 authors are Lydia Gerzel-Short, assistant professor in the Department of Special and Early Education, and 21 alumni and current NIU graduate students: Monica Boehle, David Carroll, Soyini Chism, Julia Stearns Cloat, Deb Coberley, Sara Curran, Will Dwyer, Katelynn Giordano, Kelli Hamilton, Amy Howerton, Adam Larsen, Amie Livengood, Brendan McCormick, Judy Matuszewski, Jeanne Okrasinski, David Perrin, Vicki Phelps, Aaron Sitze, Calla Stroh, Raven Talley and Rashad Talley.

Wilkins and Quinzio-Zafran recently answered questions from the College of Education’s Ed News.

What inspired you to create this book, and why is the topic so important to you?
We started talking about developing a guide for new teachers in 2017. We listened to what our students in induction and mentoring were expressing as struggles for new teachers. We listened to other educators who worked with early-career teachers. And, we listened to beginning teachers themselves, who shared their personal struggles as they moved from student-teaching assignments to their first jobs. Across the different groups of voices, we realized that we kept hearing about the same topics, no matter the setting. New teachers face common challenges whether they work in rural, suburban or urban schools. We purposely developed the New Teacher’s Guide around the 10 most-common challenges that educators experience. We designed the guide as inspiration to become part of the larger movement to support new teachers as they enter the profession. We encourage new teachers to share their concerns and celebrate their successes with others who want to shape the future of teaching.

Elizabeth A. Wilkins
Elizabeth A. Wilkins

How did you choose the 10 challenges that the book addresses?
Our process unfolded by thinking about what a teacher needs to consider once they have secured their first position. So, using a school calendar, we identified events that teachers prepare for that are stressful. Then we convened a task force of educators who work in teacher education or induction and mentoring programs from all regions of the United States. This group further developed the calendar, and we began to see that topics could be grouped together in a variety of ways. Our next step was to interview many early-career teachers and students completing their clinical experiences. They provided us with insight on aspects of teaching that were difficult for them along with a strong desire within them to connect with others in order to share ideas and contribute to the teaching conversation. We determined that we wanted the book to have information that could be used by teachers of all age groups and would have material that reflected rural, urban and suburban school settings. We reflected on teacher stressors and needs that were identified by our advisors, and determined that we could develop 10 big ideas, treating them through a number of lenses.

Chapter 1 covers teaching during a pandemic; how crucial has that skillset become while COVID-19 persists. How will those tools improve the effectiveness of teachers moving forward?
In March, teachers pivoted quickly to create curriculum-based lessons for online teaching and learning in a matter of days. Many teachers had little to no experience with distance-learning techniques. Curricular resources used in face-to-face situations did not necessarily translate smoothly to online learning. Learning gaps were exacerbated due to lack of access to effective WiFi, hardware and resources at home. PK-12 students were experiencing trauma with their normal turned upside down. Although teachers found time during the summer to add to their online pedagogical skill set, the pandemic continues to create challenges: online only, hybrid, F2F or combinations of these three. As teachers have learned more about remote-teaching skills, there have been positive shifts in how to engage students. However, when teachers return to full face-to-face teaching, we hope that they will continue to use some of these strategies in classrooms since some students have flourished during this time, while others require more in person instruction. Given the inherent challenges, early-career teachers need a community of support more than ever before. The New Teacher’s Guide provides them with support, not only in tackling the common challenges but also in providing an online community where downloadables are available along with social media connections to educators willing to help them.

Anna Quinzio-Zafran
Anna Quinzio-Zafran

Why did you seek these 130 voices to share their experiences and advice, and how did you select the authors?
The 130 voices were chosen through a call for proposals made in July 2019. Using our connections to professional organizations and social media channels, we solicited curated advice in the form of manuscripts and associated downloadable resources based on the 10 topics. We then reviewed the submissions and selected the best curated advice to be included in the book. We were excited to receive submissions from across the U.S. and internationally. The 130 voices represent 28 states and four countries. And, of those 130 authors, 22 are NIU COE alumni or soon-to-be alumni. If you count Anna, that makes 23 associated with this book! Now, that’s a pack of Huskies!

What did their willingness to participate
tell you about educators working today?

Teachers, by nature, are helpers. They want to share what they have learned through their experiences with others. They know all too well the challenges inherent in teaching. The recent pandemic has only added to the complexities. As we can more easily connect with one another based on our needs and interests, there are more opportunities for grassroots communities of educators to emerge in support of each other. Through these communities, new teaching practices and resources can be shared and perfected.

What did you learn from editing this book?
We learned that all kinds of educators contribute to the teaching conversation when supporting early-career teachers. Our authors represent classroom teachers, department chairs, principals/assistant principals, curriculum directors, assistant superintendents, educational consultants, and teacher educators. While sharing feedback with the authors over multiple rounds of editing and getting to know them through that process, they collectively share a deep, unconditional desire to help early career teachers.

What do you hope the book accomplishes?
We hope this book and its wider online community brings teachers together to have professional conversations. We designed this book to leverage a high-tech, high-touch approach to foster and build a community of practice around new teachers. Having the guide gives readers access to participatory events such as Twitter chats featuring the hashtag #newteachersupport, Instagram challenges, Facebook Q-and-A live events with authors, webinars that feature associated challenge topics, short podcasts and social media infographics that act as reminders of important ideas in succinct and practical ways. We are excited that there is interest in translating the book for Swedish and Chinese audiences, which would increase the scope of the work.

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