Paul Dean was observing a fifth grade class at KIPP West, a charter school in West Philadelphia, when he saw it. As the teacher prepared to introduce a new concept, she leaned toward her students and got quiet before she started to speak in a soft, slow voice. All the students leaned forward in anticipation—and so did Dean. This is what he was looking for: the tools that the best teachers use to focus and motivate their students.
High quality teaching has consistently been shown to outweigh any other factor when measuring student achievement. Conversely, poor teaching, even for one year, has significant negative long-term effects on students.
“This is a performance profession,” says Dean, himself a former English and science teacher. Together with Bobby Erzen, a fellow Teach for America member, Dean founded Jounce Partners to identify these effective techniques and to replicate them in classrooms across the country. “Little changes in teaching style can make a big difference in students’ academic performance,” Dean says.
Through Jounce’s program of high-repetition practice of key teaching skills, and very specific criteria for execution of those skills, teachers get better by learning, practicing and performing the most effective teaching techniques. In addition to working directly with teachers, they train both current and future school leaders to use this model to accelerate their teachers’ skill growth, and to commit more time to teacher development as a school priority. As teachers across the school develop these skills, a climate of consistency is created where students understand teacher expectations and respond accordingly.
“Research—and experience—says that the quality of the teacher in the classroom makes a huge difference on the students’ success,” Dean says. “And we found that teacher quality isn’t a fixed thing; it can improve quickly if you have coaching.” The Jounce coaching model emphasizes short, frequent coaching sessions with immediate feedback in the classroom and high-repetition practice of specific skills like “lean-in/get quiet.” “We want these skills to be automatic for the teachers,” he says.
The model was a success for the teachers and students of KIPP West, says former school leader Greg Leap. “I saw classrooms transformed because Jounce showed teachers how to engage their students in a thoughtful, respectful way.” With assistance from The Barra Foundation, Jounce will further test its model in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Tennessee and Washington, DC.
Maura Schiefer had been teaching for a two years when she was first introduced to the Jounce model at KIPP West. “I hadn’t been taught how to engage the students,” the fifth grade teacher recalls. “It was trial and error.” With Jounce, she received frequent coaching in the classroom—or even walking down the hall. “We’d practice the techniques as we walked, even if we only had three minutes.”
“I had no idea how much really small details can effect everything that goes on in the classroom,” Schiefer says now. “When I execute the skills really well, I see a difference in my students and how they engage with the lessons.”