Skip to content
ascd logo

May 1, 2016
Vol. 73
No. 8

Stepping Up Support for New Teachers

The high rate of attrition among new teachers has serious consequences for everyone. Here's how one district responded.

premium resources logo

Premium Resource

Stepping Up Support for New Teachers- thumbnail
Although nothing out of the ordinary, my first year of teaching was almost enough to do me in. The demands will sound familiar to novice and veteran teachers alike: planning lessons from scratch, learning curriculum, managing large classes, making photocopies, and pleasing administrators, parents, and students. And the grading—the endless grading. I irrationally avoided sleeping at night because I dreaded waking up and going back to school the next day. I owed a lot of money on my newly acquired master's degree in education, but working at a coffee shop for the rest of my life sounded pretty appealing.
Yet by the year's end, I had not only survived, but had also experienced tremendous growth and the joy of successful teaching. I emerged feeling confident and passionate in my choice to become a teacher, thanks to the support of a good coach.

New Teacher Attrition: A National Epidemic

As awful as I felt that first year of teaching, I wasn't alone. National estimates on teacher attrition vary by researcher, but by some estimates, as many as 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within their first few years (Breaux & Wong, 2003; Ingersoll & Strong, 2011; National Center for Education Statistics, 2015). The consequences of this turnover are vast. High attrition means many schools have large numbers of inexperienced, unsupported teachers—teachers who struggle to provide the level of instruction they hope to provide. Districts must spend scarce funds on recruitment and replacement costs.
In the district where I teach—Springfield Public Schools in Missouri—each year from 2000–2003, we lost 31 percent of new teachers by the end of their first year of teaching. Seventy percent of new teachers who started teaching in the district had left by the end of their third year. Things were looking pretty bleak for students, educators, and the community.

Turning the Trend Around in Springfield

By the time I started teaching in 2006, things were different for new teachers in Springfield's schools. For me, that difference was embodied by a warm-hearted, sharp-minded coach named Kathy Jo Wimberley. Kathy Jo showed up in my room almost every week, either to collect data for me about what was happening during instruction or to sit and talk with me about whatever was on my mind. Some days we would talk about simple matters like desk arrangement; other days, we'd venture into the deeper waters of my reasons for choosing to teach in the first place. Anything I told Kathy Jo stayed between the two of us, and she always responded to my expressions of concern, hope, and despair with an empathetic, nonjudgmental calmness. With her support (and the encouragement of my family and some great administrators), I grew into a confident, effective teacher. Eventually, I also became what Kathy Jo was to me: a STEP UP coach.
STEP UP (Supporting Teachers, Examining Practices, Uncovering Potential) is the beginning teacher induction program in Springfield Public Schools. Anita Kissinger, Pam Hankins, and Virginia Crawford, district leaders of professional learning, launched the program in 2004 to address the alarming rate at which we were losing new teachers. They first spent two years reviewing the literature about new teacher support, visiting successful programs, and surveying principals and teachers in our schools. They created a list of outcomes for the induction program, one of which was to reduce first-year teacher attrition to 10 percent.
The program's budget includes payment for full-time coaches and additional pay to honor the time new teachers commit to their learning. At administrators' request, the superintendent and school board approved funds to launch the program. Funding also came from Title IIA, and administrators reallocated some money from the district's staff development funds to prioritize training for teachers with the least experience.
Over the years, STEP UP has ranged from a five-year to a two-year program, but the goal has always been the same: to support new teachers so that every student in our district has an exemplary teacher.
The numbers speak for themselves. Over the past three school years, an average of only 9 percent of teachers left our district at the end of their first year, compared with the 31 percent, on average, who left in the years leading up to the program's launch. Of the beginning teachers who were hired after the inception of STEP UP, an average of 26 percent left the district by the end of their third year of teaching, compared to the 70 percent who were leaving as reflected in the baseline data. In practical terms, that means that more students have been taught by experienced teachers. Let me share how STEP UP works.

Supporting Teachers

Coaching works as the foundation of new teacher support, helping beginning professionals develop their talents. Through a rigorous application and interview process, skilled teachers are chosen to become full-time STEP UP coaches. New coaches attend Cognitive Coaching training, and experienced coaches serve as their mentors.
Every teacher who is new to the profession is matched with a coach. Because trust plays such an important role in successful coaching, each teacher continues meeting with the same coach throughout his or her first two or three years of teaching if possible.
STEP UP coaches adhere to the Cognitive Coaching model, which places priority on each teacher's ability to become a "self-directed" practitioner "with the cognitive capacity for excellence" (Costa & Garmston, 2016, p. 15). Although STEP UP coaches provide specific guidance on occasion, we always approach each conversation acknowledging the teacher as a resourceful expert in his or her own classroom. Coaches keep all conversations confidential, with the rare exception of legal or ethical issues.
Equally important, STEP UP coaches are nonevaluative. Rather than hearing judgments or inferences from their coaches, new teachers receive nonjudgmental data (such as a script of the questions students asked or video footage of a lesson) and hear questions that prompt them to reflect (like "During tomorrow's lesson, what criteria might you use to know how well students are understanding the topic?"). Teachers make their own decisions on the basis of this feedback. (Costa & Garmston, 2016).
Coaches work with anywhere from 24 to 42 teachers per school year, traveling among buildings in our large district to meet with teachers before school, during planning periods, and after school and to visit their classrooms as they teach. New teachers are also connected with a new teacher liaison, an experienced teacher in their building who answers site-based questions and helps them become a part of their new school community.
The trusting relationship that develops between new teachers and their coaches allows the coaches to personalize learning to each teacher's needs. Although the frequency of formal coaching conversations varies, the average is every other week during the first year of teaching, with unscheduled classroom visits in between. During teachers' second year in the classroom, coaches schedule conversations and visit classrooms about once a month.
Coaches often start a conversation by asking "What's on your mind?" so teachers can direct the conversation to whatever issue is most pressing in that moment. The teacher might want to reflect on a successful (or not-so-successful) lesson to learn from the experience, or want to talk through a lesson or activity he or she is planning. Other times, teachers need a sympathetic ear as they grapple with student behavior, collegial interactions, or organizational challenges. Whatever the topic, the goal of a STEP UP coach is to leave a teacher feeling more resourceful and self-directed than before the conversation started.
For instance, during one visit with an elementary teacher I was coaching, the teacher shared student work from a recent social studies lesson. She was discouraged: "These responses don't show any understanding of what we've been learning. I know they're capable of more than this. There's obviously a major disconnect."
We talked about the problem from a few different angles, until I asked, "Think about when you've felt really effective teaching these students. What are some strategies you've used?"
I'll never forget the amazed look on her face. After a few seconds, she said, "Help with reading! They just need reading comprehension strategies to make sense of the text." She launched into a detailed description of how she could redesign her social studies lessons using her literacy knowledge to provide the instruction her students needed. She had the answers all along; she simply needed a coach to ask the right questions.

Examining Practices

Currently, STEP UP is a two-year program provided to all teachers who enter the district with no more than one year of teaching experience. During the first year, STEP UP coaches facilitate training centered on classroom management. Teachers receive two days of training before the start of the school year and have follow-up sessions several times throughout the year to meet their in-the-moment needs.
Teachers in their second year of STEP UP focus on learning instructional strategies (specifically, cooperative learning) to create an engaging classroom. Again, training is offered during the summer and then throughout the school year to extend teachers' skills. These two years of training give teachers a toolbox of strategies to meet their students' needs, including building relationships, using proximity, crafting focused learning goals, and creating effective student teams.
The trainings expose new teachers to educational theory and models of best practice they may not have encountered during their teacher preparation. However, we recognize the important role coaching plays in classroom implementation. Research by Joyce and Showers (2002) shows that 95 percent of teachers who participate in professional development training could transfer that training to their classrooms when peer coaching was provided. As new teachers carry their new knowledge back to their classrooms, they have the crucial support of STEP UP coaches to help them along the way.

Uncovering Potential

Teachers who participate in STEP UP begin their career with a solid foundation on which to build the rest of that career. STEP UP alumni include building principals, district leaders, a teacher of the year, and many talented classroom teachers who work hard to serve the needs of their students. Because these educators were supported during the difficult first few years, they now have the power to uncover the potential of the hundreds of students they interact with each day.
Districts struggling with new teacher attrition may want to consider creating a program like STEP UP. Here are some tips for launching and sustaining such an effort.
  • Study your district's situation and needs. Learn from the success of other programs. Create a thorough plan, including how you'll measure success, before launching the program.
  • Hire the right people as coaches! Be specific about what the job entails in the job posting and interview. Include performance events, such as responding to hypothetical e-mail scenarios, as part of the interview process.
  • Train coaches in Cognitive Coaching. It's worth the time and budget commitment. Prioritizing teacher learning and coaching within a budget shows that your system values it.
  • Consider multiple funding sources as you create and maintain your budget.
The life of beginning teachers in Springfield's public schools continues to shift while the district pivots to meet the needs of our 21st century students. Moves toward 1:1 technology integration and project-based learning have brought excitement and energy to our schools, but also mean that our new teachers need more support than ever. Regardless of the changing demands of education, new teachers who receive support through thoughtful induction and coaching programs like STEP UP will grow into the exemplary teachers their students deserve.

Breaux, A. L., & Wong, H. K. (2003). New teacher induction: How to train, support, and retain new teachers. Mountain View, CA: Wong Publications.

Costa, A., & Garmston, B. (2016). Cognitive Coaching: Developing self-directed leaders and learners (3rd. 3d.). Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield.

Joyce, B., & Showers, B. (2002). Student achievement through staff development (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Ingersoll, R. M., & Strong, M. (2011). The impact of induction and mentoring programs for beginning teachers: A critical review of the research. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 201–233.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). Public school teacher attrition and mobility in the first five years: Results from the first through fifth waves of the 2007–08 beginning teacher longitudinal study. Washington, DC: Author.

ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

Let us help you put your vision into action.
Discover ASCD's Professional Learning Services
From our issue
Product cover image 116035.jpg
The Working Lives of Educators
Go To Publication