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Hollyhock Fellowship at Stanford develops connections and practice of early-career teachers

September 29, 2017
Melissa Scheve at a Hollyhock Fellowship workshop
Melissa Scheve, standing, at a professional development session for Stanford Hollyhock Fellows (Photo: Marc Franklin)
The program for educators in high-needs schools is expanding to include leadership training.

A professional development program at Stanford Graduate School of Education to support early career educators strengthen their core teaching practices and professional connections so they are inspired to stay in the classroom has received a new round of funding.

The $5 million gift from an anonymous donor to the Center to Support Excellence in Teaching (CSET) provides support for three new groups of teachers in the Hollyhock Fellowship. Teachers in the fellowship work in underserved high schools and are supported with year-round coaching, team development and professional networking. This gift also enables new programming to advance leadership skills among fellowship alumni.

Stanford GSE Dean Dan Schwartz said supporting educators early in their careers is essential to sustaining a strong, engaged teacher workforce. Research shows that nearly half of all teachers leave the classroom within five years, and in schools serving families from a low-income background, the turnover rate is even higher.

"We know that students do better in stable schools," Schwartz said. "Our aim is to help teachers get the supports they need to stay in the classroom, grow in their profession and bring their accumulating expertise to the children."

The Hollyhock Fellowship Program welcomed its first fellows in 2014. The teams of high school teachers selected for the program receive two years of free professional development through CSET. Fellows meet on the Stanford campus during two consecutive summer sessions and then continue their development through the school year via online coaching.

The fellowship includes accommodations and meals during the two weeks on campus plus a stipend during the school year. So far, nearly 375 fellows hailing from 114 schools and 26 states have participated.

"Chronic teacher turnover drains school resources and impacts student learning,” said Melissa Scheve, who directs the Hollyhock program at CSET. "Teachers who participate in the Hollyhock fellowship commit to two more years of teaching at their school site, which mitigates some of the opportunity gaps that occur when students consistently experience a new teaching staff every year at their school."

To be eligible for the fellowship, teachers have to come from high schools where at least 50 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-fee lunch. The teachers apply in teams of three to five, teach science, math, English, or history and must have the support of their school leadership. "This helps sustain the learning that happens here and gives a better chance that it will be exported school wide," Scheve said.

Teaching for equity

The program includes specific focus on understanding equity in classrooms and how equity plays out in teaching, learning, structures, and policy in ways that impact students positively or negatively.

Janet Carlson, director of CSET, noted that “addressing issues of equity in meaningful and honest ways empowers teachers to consider their practice and their school policies in light of the students they teach. In this way, teachers can work so all students have access to rigorous academic experiences.”

"Teachers leave the profession because they don't feel empowered to do what's needed for their students and they don't feel a sense of control over their own careers. We want to help fill those gaps. We give them a network of others like them - a community - and we give them the most up-to-date research on effective instructional practices for complex teaching environments," Scheve said.

Tholeathcus Raiford, a science teacher at Smithfield-Selma High School in North Carolina, is in her second year of the fellowship. During the Stanford campus workshop this summer, she said the network she's built with other teachers across the country has given her a community to collaborate with and learn from.

"I don't want to be just a 'sage on the stage,'" she said. "I know the content but I want my students to become active members of their education, to really think about what they're learning and why. At Hollyhock, I've learned to pull myself out of lecturing. I'm now a facilitator of great discussions and learning."

George Hickey, an English teacher at Hillcrest High School in New York, said the fellowship has given him strategies to work with his students "without ripping our hair out!"

"I work in a school where it's difficult to be a student. They come with a lot of other things going on in their lives. I now have a platform for how to manage that so they can learn what they're expected to," he said.

In addition to supporting new cohorts of teachers, the new funding provides an opportunity for the project team to pilot test a leadership development program for eight to 10 alumni of the two-year fellowship. The Hollyhock Leading Fellows’ Program is for a subset of graduated fellows to return for a third year to develop as leading teachers back at their school site and in their regions. They'll be prepared to lead professional development emphasizing core practices and equitable instruction.  

"It's a way of scaling the impact of the program to an even wider pool of teachers," Scheve said.