A Research-Informed Way to Support First-Year Teachers - ASCD
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May 27, 2021

A Research-Informed Way to Support First-Year Teachers

Leadership
Professional Learning
The Research-Backed Support First-Year Teachers Need - thumbnail

As faculty in a teacher preparation program, one of our roles is to facilitate the process of shepherding the next generation of educators. Our interest is rooted in the growing trend of early-career teachers leaving the profession within the first five years (Sutcher et al., 2019). To combat high teacher attrition rates, the Hawai'i Department of Education established an induction and mentoring program for each new teacher to receive support during their first three years of teaching (Hawai'i Department of Education, n.d.).

We have focused our recent research on one interesting aspect of the transition for new teachers: the influential role of the induction mentor teacher in a teacher's first year. Through a case study approach, we looked at the in-depth experiences of seven recent graduates from our teacher preparation program, collecting interview and focus group data throughout their first school year. Our findings show that induction mentor teachers' support plays an important role in keeping high-quality teachers in the profession.

The Starting Line: On Their Mark, Get Them Ready

We found that beginning teachers hold onto their previous TPP experiences when navigating through their new school with new colleagues. They use their background knowledge to make connections to their new school environment. During their program placement, participants had expressed increased comfort in knowing the school culture and practices. However, when the beginning teachers at new schools, a new school culture was one more thing they needed to learn.

For induction mentors, bridging previous and current experiences helps beginning teachers feel like they are a part of the team. Induction mentors can engage in conversations with questions such as:

  • What were your experiences at other schools?

  • What practices from your mentor teachers’ style helped your growth?

  • What suggestions do you have for our collaboration?

  • What instructional practices from your previous experiences can be modified into your assigned grade?

Beginning teachers said they felt reassured when their induction mentors took an interest in their prior experiences, connected them with other school faculty, and familiarized them with the school culture and protocols.

The First Lap: Remind Teachers of Their Training

Teacher candidates learn how to be reflective practitioners by describing, comparing, and critically analyzing their experiences with a veteran colleague (Jay & Johnson, 2000). In the teacher preparation program, young educators were accustomed to having support and guidance in this reflection cycle with a field supervisor or with peers on a routine schedule. Yet while first-year teachers remembered reflective practices to be worthwhile, they often failed to utilize this strategy in a busy school year. Since there was no built-in structure for reflection with the induction mentor, our beginning teachers had little time or were unmotivated to continue reflecting.

To help beginning teachers, induction mentors can continue a similar cyclical reflective process once the school year begins, such as the basic observation cycle (pre-observation conference, an observation, and post-observation conference) that is often applied in preparation programs. The induction mentor can establish a protocol for beginning teachers to contemplate their experiences in ways that are constructive and non-evaluative.

In the pre-observation conference, induction mentors can discuss observation around specific aspects of pedagogy, such as lesson clarity or increasing student engagement, rather than asking the beginning teacher to think about the success of an entire lesson (Borich, 2016; Soslau & Alexander, 2021). Beginning teachers said that zeroing in on one to two concrete practices will create more immediate results. After the observation, these specific aspects may serve as discussion starters to help new teachers reflect thoughtfully and set professional goals that the induction mentor can support.

The Second Leg: Getting to the Halfway Point

At some point in the school year, our beginning teachers reported feeling incompetent or overwhelmed. Some reflected on those feelings, while others deflected. Just like the saying misery loves company, it was easier for beginning teachers to share their feelings of failure when their peers expressed similar thoughts—they felt validated and more comfortable when they knew they were not alone. Our focus groups during the teacher preparation program gave them a space to do so. Having multiple perspectives from various people increases the likelihood of connecting with others, as opposed to confiding in only one colleague who may not have similar experiences. One participant shared, “It’s hard to reflect when the person you’re reflecting with is not on the same level or thinking of something totally different. It doesn’t really work.”

Much like our focus groups, induction mentors can bring together a small group of new teachers to share ideas, mitigate feelings of isolation and failure, and promote solution-oriented mindsets. By hosting monthly discussions, beginning teachers or teachers new to the school can actively address each other’s successes and challenges with the hope of increased collaboration and confidence in teaching. As one novice teacher shared, “I was lucky enough to find that other person because she was feeling the same way as me. It was the sink or swim kind of feeling.”

The Third Leg: It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Our research revealed that beginning teachers can demonstrate proficiency in their instructional practices and teaching responsibilities. However, how a mentor perceives their abilities often led to induction mentors believing that extra support was not needed. One teacher participant shared, “I have an instructional evaluator who became very absent throughout the year. She felt that I was good enough not to really have to worry about me, and I stopped getting observed regularly. She thought things were just all hunky-dory when I don’t think they always were.”

Soon after the school year started, many new teachers were left alone. Misperception of a person’s qualifications is not an ideal situation for any teacher. Whether veteran or novice, teachers always reach a point when they need clarification, support, or motivation from an external source. Induction mentors must regularly check on and actively engage with their beginning teachers.

Though mentors may feel some beginning teachers are proficient or do not need informal observations or conversations, another approach is to set up regular meetings and ask about their overall wellness, students’ progress, or instructional practices. Recurring discussions allow opportunities for new teachers to feel heard and supported. Induction mentors want to keep in mind that beginning teachers are not shielded from stressors or instructional slumps, even if they look like they have it all together.

Across the Finish Line: The Cheering Section

Induction mentors have specialized instructional skill sets and the temperament to nurture other educators, including in-depth content knowledge and a repertoire of instructional strategies. Yet, our research suggests that many induction mentors spent more time serving as the cheering section for new teachers rather than mentoring and providing their expertise. Beginning teachers expressed a desire to learn in more hands-on ways with their induction mentors, such as observing them delivering a lesson with their students. Induction mentors should not be afraid to convey their extensive knowledge.

Seeing an expert in action allowed our beginning teachers to home in on their practices and switch to a can do mindset. One participant said the experience of observing her induction mentor demonstrate a lesson in her classroom gave her another perspective of different instructional strategies and how students would respond.

As beginning teachers progress through their first year of teaching, a tremendous amount of growth occurs. Through active reflection and daily interactions with others, their teaching practices and perspectives evolve. How schools and induction mentors support these developmental stages for early-career teachers is a vital part of retention.

References

Borich, G. (2015). Observational skills for effective teaching: Research-based practices (7th ed.). Paradigm Publishers.

Hawaii State Department of Education. (n.d.). Induction and mentoring. Hawaii State Department of Education. Retrieved from https://www.hawaiipublicschools.org/TeachingAndLearning/EducatorEffectiveness/InductionAndMentoring/Pages/home.aspx

Jay, J., & Johnson, K. (2002). Capturing complexity: A typology of reflective practice for teacher education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 18(1), 73–85. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/S0742-051X(01)00051-8

Soslau, E., & Alexander, M. (2021). The comprehensive guide to working with student teachers: Tools and templates to support reflective professional growth. Teachers College Press.

Sutcher, L., Darling-Hammond, L., & Carver-Thomas, D. (2019). Understanding teacher shortages: An analysis of teacher supply and demand in the United States. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 27(35). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.27.3696

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