Ascend’s Teacher Planning and Development (TPD) initiative affords teachers weekly opportunities to engage with their grade-team colleagues in the deep study of content, to study and assess student work, and to collaborate on the design of highly targeted, data-driven actions. Thoroughly prepared and supported, Ascend teachers bring confidence, passion, and purpose to their lessons.
Leaders and teaching teams implement four types of TPD meetings for each unit study, each with a different focus, to ensure engaging and effective instruction. Teachers meet in grade teams for deep content study, teasing out and amplifying the big ideas in upcoming units of study; collaborate on developing rigorous lesson plans; practice and receive peer feedback; and conduct reviews of student work to inform instruction and assessment design.
Every Ascend teacher benefits from a skilled coach, a dean of instruction deeply familiar with Ascend curriculum and practices and focused on a grade span (in lower schools) or subject (in middle and high schools). The coaching relationship fosters growth in content mastery, pedagogy, and culture, tailored to the teacher’s individual goals. Regular classroom observations provide opportunities for real-time feedback, while coaching sessions focus on discrete action steps that advance larger goals of practice. Live coaching allows teachers to make rapid gains and is a treasured part of the Ascend professional culture; students understand that their teachers and leaders are, like them, always looking to improve their craft.
Every Friday, students are dismissed early and schools hold professional development workshops targeted toward each school’s problems of practice, such as developing roadmaps of questions in Shared Text in lower school or the implementation of restorative practices in high school. In most schools, teachers are afforded one Friday a month without scheduled professional development—time for one’s own work or simply to take care of personal obligations.
Great ideas spread fast at Ascend. When one school’s faculty devises a smart solution to a problem, other schools, in their quest for excellence, are eager to tap it. Formal and informal mechanisms support this culture of collaboration. Teachers arrange to share excellent lesson plans. Directors of instruction regularly convene, led by network curricular staff. In day-long “implementation visits,” instructional leaders observe and thin-slice exemplary implementations of programs like Number Stories and Shared Text, guided by expert facilitators. In annual Town Halls at each school, network staff engage faculty concerns, solicit detailed ideas for improvement, and report back on actions resulting from previous listening sessions. In a lively exchange, teachers throughout the network frequently offer feedback to the Ascend curriculum team on units and assessments. Their detailed suggestions are often immediately realized. Teachers feel engaged and heard, and a culture of continuous improvement is fostered.
Strong school leadership teams are critical to creating an environment for great teaching. Ascend dedicates substantial resources to coaching and training school directors and deans to become highly effective instructional, cultural, and organizational leaders.
Each school director is supported by a managing director whose role is to help the school achieve its academic and organizational goals, including developing and cultivating enduring relationships with students, teachers, parents, and stakeholders.
The directors of each network curricular subject team (for instance, English and math) regularly meet with school directors and deans of instruction to observe program implementation, determine goals, identify targeted areas for improvement, provide professional development resources, and highlight areas of strength to share with other schools across the network.
Ascend is known for the quality of its teacher and leader training programs. Each July, our Institutes for new leaders and returning leaders build the leadership, instructional management, and coaching skills of Ascend school leadership team members, including school directors, deans of instruction, and deans of students. Supported by the network’s academic and curriculum teams, these highly dynamic, expertly led sessions prepare leadership teams to launch a successful school year—and reach new heights of student achievement.
During our Institutes for new teachers and returning teachers, Ascend leaders and outside specialists facilitate interactive workshops devoted to building and strengthening teachers’ skills in implementing the Ascend liberal arts curriculum and the unique Ascend culture. Ascend prides itself on the quality, rigor, and effectiveness of these sessions. Teams of leaders and teachers plan and prepare to ensure a strong start to the school year, with the schools' goals in sharp focus.