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Grant Wood AEA’s New Program to Keep New Teachers in the Profession

Iowa code 284.5:  “1A beginning teacher mentoring and induction program is created to promote excellence in teaching, enhance student achievement, build a supportive environment within school districts and area education agencies, increase the retention of promising beginning teachers, and promote the personal and professional well-being of teachers.2The state board shall adopt rules to administer this section.”

Retention rates of new teachers has fallen to 65-50% after their first 5 years. This fact, along with the new legislation, proves new teacher mentoring programs are a necessity. Much like with the legislation of No Child Left Behind, however, the structure of these programs are left up to the state’s discretion. With thousands of new and veteran teachers, what is the best way to administer this kind of support?

The Grant Wood AEA team led by Kim Owen and Emily Thompson researched this question and discovered the New Teacher Center (NTC) in Santa Cruz, CA. “What we found out was that they’ve been doing this work for 20+ years. Ellen Moir, the creator, had all of these intelligent, enthusiastic educators go out into the world of teaching. They contacted her within the first year of teaching and said, ‘I can’t do this.’ She developed this model that we’re using now called the full-release mentoring model,” explains Owen.

This is the cycle of enhanced achievement the NTC implements  with their model.

This is the cycle of enhanced achievement the NTC implements with their model.

The numbers from the NTC were impressive. Retention rates of 85-90%, even after 10 years of teaching. “About 7 years ago,” Owen said, “I contacted the NTC and said, ‘we would really like to learn more about your program and how we might be able to bring that here to Iowa’.

Consortium Model:

Last year the Cedar Rapids Community School District tried out the NTC model with success. This year, after Owen applied for and received a validity grant, participation shot from 1 to 16 districts. With this grant they were able to reimburse the districts the salaries of those teachers lent to become coaches. In turn, the schools could hire replacement teachers while the coaches were completing their 3 years of being a mentor.

There are two other locations testing the full-release model with the grant, (Chicago and Broward County, Florida) but Grant Wood AEA’s Mentoring and Induction Program is the only consortium model.  “What’s really exciting about a consortium is that in our setting with a lot of our rural districts, one year they might hire 1 new teacher, the next it might be 10,” Owen explained.

The consortium model permits a syndication of mentors and new teachers to be assigned and allocated as needed, which is particularly useful in those smaller districts. “They really couldn’t fully release one of their teachers not knowing how many new teachers they would have. By building a consortium we now have 16 districts working with us,” Owen explained

Within the 16 participating districts there are 108 new teachers and 8 induction coaches. “The coaches in this role right now are full-release and they’ll be in that role for 3 years,” said Owen. The current coaches will spend their first two years with the same new teachers and coach a different new teacher on their third year. After this, they will return to the classroom.

Through the Eyes of a Mentor:

The coaches are selected through a rigorous process. According to coach Lindsay Hobson, it was the most intense interview she had ever been through. She said, “all of us that were hired really want to change education for the better. I think [Grant Wood AEA] wanted to make sure that they got reflective teachers who were still curious and really persistent in doing what’s best for kids. There were a lot of different components.” Reflectiveness, curiosity, and persistence are the three key traits sought after in the mentors to be instilled in the new teachers.

Once selected, the mentors are put through courses that train them on how to coach the new teachers. These courses take place during the duration of their 3 years. At the start of the school year the mentors are paired with their new teachers, averaging about 14-15 per mentor.

Coach Lindsay Hobson uses this graph with her new teachers. She said right now they are around the disillusionment phase, and she shows them this diagram to convince the teachers they will get back to anticipation.

Coach Lindsay Hobson uses this graph with her new teachers. She said right now they are around the disillusionment phase, and she shows them this diagram to convince the teachers they will get back to anticipation.

What does a day in the life of a coach look like? Hobson visits 3 or 4 teachers a day, and travels to their different schools. As far as time requirements, she explains, “it’s supposed to be 60-90 minutes per teacher, per week, but it’s usually more than that once we talk and work through all of the things that they want to work through and problem solve.” She also started online interactive journals with her teachers to keep steady communication on days they do not meet.

The NTC model emphasizes collecting measurable data in order to track progress of teacher and student achievement. Hobson has integrated the lesson of ‘how to use data’ with her teachers. “You get back lessons and quizzes, but what are you going to do with it now? How are you going to let it drive your instruction?” She asks her teachers. “It’s the idea of not just powering ahead, but making sure kids learn it.”

Hobson has found that like students, new teachers are all in different stages of progress. “It’s completely different with each teacher. Some need a lot of time and some don’t. I try to make what I’m doing value added, not just make the time quotient.”

Though it has only been since August, results are already being seen. When asked in what areas she has seen growth in her teachers, Hobson said, “Everything. Classroom management and confidence for sure, and figuring out the best ways to reach their kids. They have all made growth, which is reassuring if we’re trying to get them to stay.”

“I will say, not having a classroom has been hard,” Hobson confessed. However, being part of progress in this integral program has been rewarding.  “I think about how my teachers are doing things now that I didn’t do until my 5th or 6th year of teaching. I think [this program] is absolutely necessary for first year teachers when I compare it to my old experience.”

Evolution of Educators:

This program is transforming education not only through new teachers reaching higher levels of achievement, but it starts an evolution of improving educators throughout the entire system. It opens communication between administrators, teachers and coaches; conversations that are not always had.

Hobson admits that while at the time she didn’t notice it, looking back now she remembers high teacher turnover. With this program, however, she’s seeing the evolution occur first hand. “I have no doubt that if I go back to teaching, I will be a 100% better teacher. I really felt like I won the lottery by getting this position because I’ve been exposed to and am learning so much.”

Owen explained of the coaches after their 3 years, “the idea is that they’ll cycle back into their districts. They’ve had all of this training on how to coach someone and have seen 15 or more different classrooms across multiple districts. They’re learning while they’re out there, then they’ll go back into the classroom and be teacher leaders in their buildings.”

Is it really worth the time to take these teachers out of the classroom? The answer is yes. “It’s not only beneficial to those new teachers, we’re actually helping build a culture of coaches and teacher leaders across years of experience,” Owen explained. “In a nutshell that’s where we are.”

Why Retain Teachers?

Retention of teachers is paramount to the discussion of transforming our school system. Lots of ink and legislation are spilled around the idea of rooting out “bad teachers,” when the real problem is that teachers are leaving the profession in droves before they ever emerge from their professional chrysalises.

This turnover means that students are subjected to young and often energetic teachers who make the exact same mistakes that those who recently quit made during the previous several years. While energy and teacher passion have been shown to increase student achievement and efficacy, there’s a lot to be said for a program that tries to bestow some veteran knowledge into the energetic.

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