Are You Leaving New Teacher Development to Chance?

Many schools are gearing up for a new year and likely welcoming new teachers who are motivated, nervous and need a lot of support to be successful.  As novice teachers enter the profession and welcome classes of students who will count on them this year and in years to come, their development can’t be left to chance. Do you have a plan for how to induct them into your grade level, school or district?

Teachers, unlike most professionals, are often inducted into the profession without a sufficient transitional period that allows them to practice their teaching skills prior to undertaking the many extra responsibilities that the job requires. For many new teachers the support system is often not strong enough to help them implement the ideas and knowledge that they learned in college.  Often beginning teachers struggle without mentoring or curriculum support. As a result, more than a third of beginning teachers leave the field in the first three years, and almost half leave within five years (Strong & Ingersoll, 2011).  Here are some suggestions for how you can help support your beginning teachers to help them thrive, not just survive their first year.

Clarify the Role of a Mentor

Many new teachers have lots of mentors both formal and informal their but they aren’t always as effective as they could be based on their interactions and expectations of the work. Ingersoll and Smith (2004) found that teachers who were provided a mentor from the same content area in their first year of teaching, including planning and collaboration, were less likely to leave the profession after their first year. Effective mentors help teachers develop an explicit vision of good teaching and learning and have skills and strategies to help teachers get there such as inquiry-based questioning, frequent observations and feedback, and models of desired learning experiences. The guidance of an experienced teacher can allow new teachers to make decisions as part of an experienced team, rather than in isolation. Incorporating mentoring, coaching and critical dialogue in the teacher’s day can increase students’ understanding and achievement, as well as teacher job satisfaction.

Picking and Supporting the Right Mentors

Quality teachers with a wealth of experience and content knowledge exist in many schools and are often the most untapped resources. But before you go knocking on doors to find mentors for your beginning teachers consider that not all teachers are well suited for the role.  In addition to being exemplary teachers, mentors should be good observers and coaches.  They should have a genuine love of learning and want to help new teachers to be successful.

Beyond these dispositions, to do this work well, mentors need to be prepared and supported to learn about mentoring strategies and develop their own practice.  Administrators must also provide resources (i.e time, professional learning) and systems to enable mentors and teachers to make the work a priority and hold everyone accountable for doing so.

Focus on Learning and Teaching

I have heard too often some version of “as long as the room is not on fire…” in response to new teacher effectiveness and believe this sentiment does a disservice to our teachers, students and the culture of learning in schools. Although developing relationships is foundational to this work, effective mentoring focuses on learning and teaching.

New teachers should be expected to show growth in their teaching and be supported by structures that include feedback, reflection, and analysis of the impact of their teaching on student learning. Learning to teach is a process, not a function of a teacher preparation program or induction experiences.  To embed this work in the school day a major recommendation is to create time for teachers of the same subject to continuously plan, analyze and reflect on student learning.  This continuous cycle will support new teachers to develop an understanding the curriculum and how to design effective learning experiences.

Meet Them Where They Are

Needs of beginning teachers are varied and do not always align with school wide goals.  School leaders can ease the burden of their new teachers (and experienced ones too) if they are deliberate about professional development and meeting time.  New teachers may not always benefit from school wide professional development (especially if they don’t see the connection to their classroom) and would be better served by small focused sessions that can help prepare them for upcoming events such as report cards, parent-teacher conferences and protocols, including safety policies and discipline procedures, to better enable them to meet the expectations placed on them.

As you welcome your new teachers this year I hope that you will set high expectations for their professional growth and student achievement and provide the support to help them get there.  Our kids deserve it!

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