trellis supports the enactment of the “gold standard” in teacher education and professional learning for secondary STEM teachers in California.

Our focus is on creating the research-based, practice-focused, long-term programs for the recruitment, education, support, retention, and development of outstanding STEM teachers. We recognize and applaud the many incredible, existing experiences for teachers at all points on the professional spectrum, but we believe that the field must go a few steps further to bring these kinds of experiences meaningfully together: In partnership with teacher preparation providers and school districts, Trellis supports the development of a cohesive trajectory of experiences for new teachers that spans the moment they choose the profession to their 6th full-time teaching year. The design and implementation of this model follows five guiding principles, outlined briefly below. Please contact us for our detailed White Paper on the Trellis model and a full list of references.


Guiding Principle 1. BUILDING A Trajectory of Learning

Linda Darling-Hammond’s charge to the field – “Let’s get the smartest people we can. Let’s get them the best, most comprehensive, intensive training we can possibly organize for them, and then let’s keep them in the profession” ­– implies that the ways we educate and support teachers as they progress in the profession must be thoughtfully and tightly connected to one another. But because recruitment, credential, induction, and professional development programs currently operate as separate entities, no trajectory of learning exists. This means the theoretical, clinical, reflective, and collaborative experiences teachers participate in are wholly dependent on what a provider can offer in a given amount of time, and not on what is best for teachers at specific points in their professional learning. The first guiding principle of the Trellis model is a cohesive, long-term vision of professional learning.

Key Ideas:

  • Focus on the first five years of teachers’ work in the classroom because it is such a critical period in their development as professional educators.
  • Formal, six-year commitment to the profession that includes one, subsidized internship year (unpaid, pre-service teaching) and five full-time teaching years (paid, in-service teaching), and that spans a teacher’s decision to become a teacher to their completion of National Board Certification and their mentoring of a Trellis Year 0 apprentice.
  • Connected foci, activities, and products of each of the four Trellis program phases tied to exemplary features of teacher education and professional learning and are based on learning, rehearsing, enacting, and analyzing developmentally-appropriate core practices (see Guiding Principle 2).

Guiding Principle 2. A FOCUS ON Core STEM Teaching Practices

Teacher education should move away from a curriculum focused on what teachers need to know to a curriculum organized around core practices, in which knowledge, skill, and professional identity are developed in the process of learning to practice.
— Grossman, Hammerness, & McDonald, 2009

Teachers are not as effective as they can be when leaving pre-service programs, and their improvement stagnates after year 2. As described in Guiding Principle 1, teacher educators, induction support teams, and professional development providers tend to focus on doing anything and everything they can to support teachers for the time they have them, making many of their efforts diffuse, short-term, and not predictive of demonstrable teacher learning. These facts raise at least two critical questions for us about effective teaching and effective teacher education: (1) What are the most effective teaching practices for STEM disciplines? and (2) When should STEM teachers learn them? The second guiding principle of the Trellis model is the identification and stratification of core teaching practices for effective, ambitious STEM teaching, especially as specific to a teacher’s pre-service work, first few years of teaching, and third year of teaching and beyond.

Key Ideas:

  • Teachers must be exposed to and develop core teaching practices in developmentally-appropriate and discipline-specific ways.
  • Core practices for each STEM discipline will define cohesive trajectories along which teacher learning and expertise progresses.
  • Learning should be fixed, not time; all teachers should develop expertise in all core practices of his or her discipline, in time frames and forms that make most sense for them.

 Guiding Principle 3. GUARANTEED, expert mentoring

With the Common Core, teachers are once more being asked to unlearn an old approach and learn an entirely new one, essentially on their own. Training is still weak and infrequent, and principals…remain unprepared to offer support. Textbooks, once again, have received only surface adjustments, despite the shiny Common Core labels that decorate their covers…Left to their own devices, teachers are once again trying to incorporate new ideas into old scripts, often botching them in the process.
— Why Do Americans Stink at Math?, Elizabeth Green, New York Times Magazine, July 2014

Striking the right balance between professional learning experiences and clinical work in schools – at all points on the professional continuum – is critical: we know that the more consistent and meaningful the work teachers do in schools is, the more they learn and the more effective they are in their own classrooms later on. Mentors play a critical role in this work. The third guiding principle of the Trellis model is rich, long-term, mentored experiences in secondary STEM classrooms.

Key Ideas:

  • New teachers should engage in iterative, mentored cycles of learning about, rehearsing, enacting, and analyzing core STEM teaching practices in every year of their professional work that target personal pedagogical goals and reflect progress in meeting or exceeding the California Teacher Performance Expectations, the California Standards for the Teaching Profession, and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

  • All secondary STEM teachers should have trained, skilled mentors in their pre-service, first, second, third, and fourth years in the classroom, especially those working in schools serving the most underserved and least resourced students.

  • Being an effective STEM teacher mentor requires training in content-agnostic and STEM-specific best practices in teacher mentoring and active participation in a professional learning community of mentoring.

  • When teacher mentors are most effective, their ability to facilitate STEM learning develops alongside the ability of their mentee(s).

  • Skilled mentoring for early career teachers must be a shared priority of teacher preparation programs and school districts.

  • Mentoring an early career teacher should be an expected, supported, and high-status component of a teacher’s professional trajectory in the profession.

Guiding Principle 4. Rigorous Standards for Potential, Progress, and Effectiveness

There are specific fields, such as mathematics, science, special education, and teaching of English as a second language, which have real shortages [in teachers] and where strategic recruitment incentives are needed. Unlike medicine, where the federal government funds medical schools to grow programs in high-need fields and provides service scholarships for candidates to go to into these fields and practice in high-need locations, there is currently no such national policy in teaching. Usually, preparation standards are lowered instead, which contributes to higher attrition, thus exacerbating rather than solving the problem. It is critical to develop programs…that increase the probability recruits will succeed and stay in the places they are needed, rather than adding to the revolving door of in-and-out recruits.
— Linda Darling-Hammond

Contributing to the low status of the teaching profession is the fact that the standards for entry and retention are lax and not necessarily based on a teacher’s ability to help students learn or progress toward that ability. While the top-performing education systems in the world (e.g., Singapore, Finland, South Korea) recruit, develop, and support their top students as one of a few, central strategies, only 23% of all U.S. teachers come from the top third of undergraduate programs, a mere 14% in high-poverty schools. Some credential-granting institutions in the state require only that candidates hold a valid undergraduate degree and can pay for the program to be admitted. Teacher tenure rates after year 2 are close to 100%, as are the number of teachers evaluated as “satisfactory” with little or no other feedback. Districts that have implemented performance-based tenure policies have met with vehement pushback from teachers’ unions. The fourth guiding principle of the Trellis model is rigorous standards for a teacher’s (a) entrance into the profession, (b) progress in becoming an outstanding STEM educator, and (c) demonstration of his or her teaching effectiveness.

Key Ideas:

  • Great teachers are not born; rather, great teachers are committed, reflective, critical, and ambitious. The Trellis exposure, recruitment, and admittance process is based on the qualities of people who have the potential to become great teachers.
  • The best teachers are the harshest critics of their practice, actively engaging in ways to measure and describe what they are doing well and what they need to improve related to student learning.
  • Teachers will self-evaluate and be evaluated in many different ways, over time, and specifically in ways that give them specific, qualitative feedback for how they can improve.
  • Meeting or exceeding generic standards for teaching is not enough; the most effective STEM teachers will also be able to demonstrate progress in the skillful enactment of core STEM teaching practices.

Guiding Principle 5. STEM teaching as an act of Social Justice

Teaching - especially the teaching of STEM subjects in middle school and high school - is a sociopolitical act of social justice. The students in the most underserved and under-resourced communities in California have the least access to STEM courses and are disproportionately propelled along pathways into upper division STEM courses, college, majors in STEM disciplines, and ultimately, STEM careers, than other students. As a result, students growing up in poverty and students of color are far less likely to work in STEM fields (including STEM teaching!) than other students. This broken school-to-STEM-innovation pipeline affects all of us. The fifth guiding principle of the Trellis model is ensuring Trellis mentors and teachers - and ultimately all those involved in public STEM education - are committed to a more equitable and just STEM education system.

Key Ideas:

  • Ensuring the Trellis Mentor Fellow and Trellis Teacher Scholar communities are ethnically, culturally, linguistically, kinesthetically, and sexually diverse.

  • Building partnerships with school districts and schools that serve majority populations of underserved, under-resourced, and/or historically marginalized students, including majority populations of students of color, students living in poverty, and/or students learning English as a second (or additional) language. 

  • Ensuring all members of the Trellis community actively engage in courageous conversations around race, poverty, culture, language, ability, sexuality, otherness, inclusion, and identity, and engage their collaborators, administrators, colleagues, mentees, students, parents, community members and others in these conversations in consistent and vulnerable ways.