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June 1, 2020
Vol. 77
No. 9

Finding Time for New Teachers to Thrive

By being more strategic about new teachers' schedules and supports, schools can stave off burnout.

Professional LearningSchool Culture
Finding Time for New Teachers to Thrive (thumbnail)
Credit: June 2020
Three years ago, Kimberly Thornhill was seeking a new challenge. An experienced daycare worker with an undergraduate degree from University of Louisiana-Monroe, she was looking for a way to have an even greater impact on young people. Did she have what it takes to become a teacher?
"I was terrified I wouldn't be good enough," Thornhill told my organization, Education Resource Strategies (ERS), recently. "I felt tremendous pressure to be the best possible teacher for my students—because they deserve it."
Today, Thornhill is recognized as one of the best teachers in Richland Parish, Louisiana, named 2019 New Teacher of the Year for the district and 2020 Teacher of the Year in her school, Rayville Junior High. Her path from anxious rookie to model educator was shaped by her participation in a pilot program run by the Louisiana Department of Education that focused on rethinking how teachers use their most precious resource—time—in pursuit of student success.

A "Shelter-and-Develop" Model

The vast majority of incoming teachers in the United States are asked to independently lead classrooms without the benefit of well-supported preservice teaching experiences. The transition from classroom learning to classroom leadership contributes to significant rates of burnout. In fact, based on our analysis of teacher attrition patterns across hundreds of schools in districts where ERS has worked, 23 percent of novice teachers (those with less than three years of experience) leave their schools each year—nearly twice the rate of their more experienced colleagues.
The Louisiana pilot in which Thornhill participated was launched in 2017 in eight rural school systems serving primarily low-income students. Because these districts face persistent teacher shortages, the pilot was structured to create novice teacher experiences that, by restructuring teacher time, would reduce burnout, accelerate teacher development, and increase teacher retention. The pilot group partnered with my team at ERS to help build the new "shelter-and-develop" model for rookie teacher support.
"Shelter" refers to strategies that simplify the regular teaching job—fewer preps (unique classes taught), students, hours teaching, or outside-the-classroom responsibilities. "Development" refers to strategies that create more space for rookie teachers to learn their craft—observing master teachers, participating in collaborative planning, practicing skills, being observed, and receiving feedback. See Figure 1 for an overview.

Figure

el202006_rosenberg_fig1.gif
Investment in shelter and development for novice teachers matters. Academic research and our own analysis of effectiveness data outlined in our report Growing Great Teachers (2018) show that a strategic shelter-and-develop model could have a greater return on investment for student achievement than common strategies like traditional teacher professional development or academically focused summer programs. Other strategies, such as sustained 1:1 tutoring or radical reductions in class size, may offer greater potential impact—but at a much higher financial cost and, especially in districts with persistent recruitment challenges, with limited practicality.

Shelter and Development in Practice

The Louisiana pilot, including Thornhill's experience at Rayville Junior High, offers a roadmap for leaders in other districts who aim to increase retention of new teachers. Leaders in Richland Parish worked for a year with our team at ERS to design a "shelter-and-develop" model that worked for them, including new schedules, teacher teams, and operating norms to provide rookie teachers with the support needed to become successful. Ultimately, the Richland pilot included opportunities for both solo and co-teaching, as well as solo and collaborative planning under the guidance of a mentor teacher and lead coach.
Rayville Junior High launched their model in the 2018–19 school year with two rookies—Thornhill, who arrived through an alternative certification program, and another early-career teacher. The two educators were paired with mentors, or guiding teachers, who were already considered highly effective. Rayville's model also involved hiring a full-time lead coach who facilitates collaborative planning and develops mentors during their individual planning sessions on a weekly basis. The lead coach also assists and supports rookie teachers during "solo lead teach time," when the rookie is leading her own classroom. (See Figure 2, on p. 76, for a scheduling breakdown.)

Figure

el202006_rosenberg_fig2.gif
"My instructional coach was with me three hours each day," Thornhill reflects. "We had an hour of planning together and [then] she taught a two-hour block class with me. She taught me how to lesson plan, modeled how to teach lessons, and showed me how to handle difficult situations in the classroom. Because of my instructional coach, I was able to see what effective instruction looks like and base my own teaching off what I learned from her."
This model gave Thornhill the space to learn how to become a great teacher while allowing her more concentrated time with her students—and she still receives ongoing support from her mentor and instructional coach in her second year.

It's About Time

At Rayville Junior High, the most significant shifts occurred at the school level. We call this the work of Strategic School Design—the deliberate use of people, time, and money to enable a coherent set of research-backed educational approaches. Leaders that follow a Strategic School Design approach set a vision based on student needs and align resources to that vision.
To support the new model, Rayville leaders made decisions about time that deliberately deviated from status quo practices. Among other actions, they:
  • Created daily double-blocks for planning for rookie teachers and their mentors. Three days each week, these double periods were designated for collaboration between each novice teacher and their mentor. On the other two days, the teachers and mentors had concurrent individual planning blocks, which they often voluntarily used to plan together.
  • Reallocated teaching time to balance rookie lead teaching and co-teaching with mentors. Traditionally, a Richland teacher would teach six periods out of seven each day. In the shelter-and-develop model, each rookie taught two periods per day with their mentor and three periods per day independently—a total of five periods of instruction.
  • Assigned the school's assistant principal to teach two periods daily. To cover the additional periods—one for each rookie with a lighter load than in a traditional model—the AP picked up two teaching periods.

Designing Schools to Support Rookie Teachers

No matter the approach, system leaders must ensure that rookie teachers get opportunities for both shelter and development. This means they need:
  • A school leader who is deeply invested in their development and willing to break down traditional one-teacher, one-classroom structures in service of strengthening rookies' skill and impact.
  • Mentor teachers who are similarly invested in developing rookie teachers and have the capacity to provide high-quality instruction and serve as expert coaches, with support grounded in the curricula being taught.
  • Staffing models that reduce "teaching loads" (i.e. the number of students or preps) for rookie teachers, and create space for deliberate cycles of observation, reflection, and practice.

Shelter and Development Works

The pilot in Louisiana, with its deliberate reallocation of teaching and planning time, just concluded its second year. The feedback received thus far has been overwhelmingly positive. For Thornhill, the model of providing rookie teachers with shelter and development has made all the difference. With fewer periods to teach, the allocation of mentor time for co-teaching, and significant daily blocks of individual and collaborative planning time, some of the pressure of the first year has been relieved.
"The support I've had through the rookie pilot has 100 percent made me a better teacher and has kept me in the teaching profession," says Thornhill. "Without it, I would not have experienced any of the successes I have had as a new teacher."
End Notes

1 Rosenberg, D., & Hawley Miles, K. (2018). Growing great teachers. Education Resource Strategies.

David Rosenberg is a partner at Education Resource Strategies, a national nonprofit that helps district, school, and state leaders transform how they use resources to ensure excellence and equity for all students. Rosenberg leads ERS' Human Capital Practice and is a coauthor of the reports Growing Great Teachers and Igniting the Learning Engine.

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