All of our students deserve well-trained teachers, but high needs schools often struggle to retain teachers, especially in math and science. I was lucky to work for 18 years with a remarkable group of teachers at Bret Harte Middle School in Oakland. Nine years ago, our science and math departments were struggling with turnover, so we applied and received a state grant to improve instruction. We assigned each new teacher an experienced colleague to serve as their informal mentor, and we met several times a month to share and learn together. We conducted lesson study, developing lessons together, then observing one another teach. We looked hard at our assessment practices, and learned to do formative assessments.

There were several keys to making this work. 1. Classroom teachers were in charge. We set the direction of the project, and we chose the tools we would use to collaborate. We had a vision for what we needed and we owned the process. 2. Our principal, Mary Hamadeh, was supportive but not prescriptive. She encouraged us to apply for the grant, but she did not attempt to micromanage it. 3. We brought in resources from partners in the community. Local experts in Lesson Study from Mills College joined us and shared protocols so we could learn from their experience. 4. We focused on evidence of student learning. Our work with Lesson Study and formative assessment had all of us looking at how we knew what our students were actually learning. 5. We shared expertise and built collegiality. We had some outstanding experienced teachers who generously shared their best lesson and assessment ideas with their colleagues. Even beyond that, we built a community of mutual support that sustained each of us when times got tough during the year.

As a result of this work, we were able to retain all our teachers for several years, and our math scores rose for four years in a row. Many of our experienced teachers also helped peers across the school district. This approach has been revitalized in TeamScience, a district-wide science mentoring program devoted to retaining teachers, and developing the leadership of experienced teachers, now in its second year.