If you walk through Rayville Junior High School in rural Richland Parish, Louisiana, you might see something not uncommon—two teachers in the classroom. But this isn’t your typical student teacher, paraprofessional, or inclusion specialist scenario. One is a full-time, first-year teacher working on her certification through an alternate, or post-baccalaureate, pathway, and the other is his or her mentor. It is clear the teachers have planned this lesson collaboratively, and they trade off facilitating instruction or circulating among the small groups in the classroom.
Many schools across the country provide new teachers with mentors for support. But often, the relationship is little more than “in name only,” without an opportunity for real partnership and growth. To address this, eight school systems in rural Louisiana are piloting new models that protect time during the school day for new teachers and mentors to work as a team: co-teaching, collaboratively planning, and conducting observations with time for feedback. New teachers have, on average, one hour every day to work with their mentors, tripling the amount of mentoring these teachers typically receive.
These eight school systems are part of a pilot run by the Louisiana Department of Education. While Louisiana has a robust mentoring program to support its undergraduate residents who are it a traditional certification pathway, until now there was little support for full-time, first-year teachers who are still working on their alternate certification. Over the course of the 2017-2018 school year, these school systems and their schools worked with advisors from Education Resource Strategies (ERS) to design new schedules, teacher teams, cultural norms, and trade-offs needed to provide rookie teachers with both “shelter” (i.e. reduced workloads) and “development” (i.e. opportunities for learning, practicing, and feedback). ERS has collected modified versions of the tools we used with Louisiana school leaders into a “new teacher support toolkit” that any school system or school leader can use.
In this school year, the school systems are piloting new designs across 16 schools with 38 candidates. While every pilot looks different, some common themes are emerging that may apply to expanding this work to all new teachers.
Being a new teacher can feel overwhelming—rookies are often learning on-the-job as well as completing certification coursework at night or on weekends. The theory of action behind new teacher supports is to make the job of a new teacher more sustainable by sheltering them from the full set of responsibilities while they are still building foundational skills and developing their expertise rapidly through frequent mentoring and coaching. The goal is for schools to grow their new teachers into great teachers who are retained for many years.
This combination of shelter and development is crucial. Without shelter, schools may develop great teachers, but they may not stay, thus negating the investment. And without development, schools may retain their teachers, but they may not be effective teachers. This pairing of shelter and development looks different in every school system. Many school systems combined shelter and development by scheduling daily time for new teachers to co-teach with their mentor. Co-teaching shelters the new teacher from the full workload of prepping for a class, and also develops the new teacher’s skills as she learns from observing her mentor and from getting frequent feedback on her own teaching.
The pilot is still early, but we are seeing signs that combined new teacher supports of shelter and development are having a positive impact in Louisiana. In a survey of new teachers in the pilot, the response was overwhelmingly positive. “The feedback that I receive is perfect for implementation in my classroom,” one new teacher commented, “I am very pleased with my mentors.” Another asserted that her mentor’s “help has been invaluable.” “It is a big help and relief when my mentor shows up and helps me out,” another commented.
Implementing new teacher supports can benefit all teachers in a school by changing the school culture. Leaders and teachers in West Carroll Parish Schools were pleasantly surprised by how the adult culture improved after implementing a support program. As one school system’s lead coach described, “Our school is changing to be more welcoming to new candidates. We hear teachers saying to each other 'It's okay it didn't work today, try it this way tomorrow.’ [We aren't just hearing this] from the mentors." Richland Parish Schools experienced similar changes. While some teachers were initially “jealous of the support” offered to new teachers, Richland Parish School’s talent pipeline lead described, “now I have people who have been teaching 10 years asking if our lead coach can come model in their classroom.”
School systems differentiated their new teacher support in several ways to make their programs more successful.
Every school system’s pilot looks different, to work in its unique context. School systems received no funding beyond startup costs, so each one had to get creative to ensure that overall, support would be cost-neutral.
Across the eight pilot school systems, new teachers receive from one hour a week to over three hours a day of mentor time. The structures to afford support also vary by school system. Most school systems increased class sizes in order to make their designs work. Some repurposed instructional coach positions or creatively leveraged their federal funding sources such as Title I and Title II.
Some school systems differentiated their new teacher mentoring based on the needs of specific candidates. For example, new teachers in Richland Parish Schools spend a different amount of time with mentors based on their experience levels. One teacher had no previous experience and spends every day with her mentor, while a teacher in her third year of her certification program meets with her mentor one period per week. In Grant Parish, school leaders differentiated how the new teacher mentoring time is used. As Grant Parish Schools’ Talent Pipeline Lead described, “I have three different teachers and three different problems. The mentor focuses based on their key problems.” This looks like classroom management modeling for one teacher and collaborative lesson planning for another.
The goal of support is for rookies to build their skills, becoming more independent over the course of the year. In Pointe Coupee Parish Schools, new teachers spend their time with their mentor differently over the year as they master skills. As Pointe Coupee Parish Schools’ Chief Academic Officer describes, “Everything is about collaborative planning. These teachers come in and don't know anything. We use planning to teach them the curriculum and can use our mentors to help them deliver that content. Co-teaching is second. They have to see what we are expecting them to be able to do. With the co-teaching, then we move into a gradual release model where then eventually we are doing feedback and observation.”
Successful support involves matching the needs of the candidates with the strengths of the mentor, and that can require coordination across a school system. The content expertise of mentors at a school does not always match with the subjects where there are vacancies new teachers are filling. In Bogalusa City Schools, the solution is for the mentor teacher to travel from the high school to the middle school each day. In Richland Parish, leaders created a new school system lead coach position so these expert mentors have protected time to travel throughout the district to support candidates.
School System-wide supports are not just about getting mentors to candidates, but also about creating supports beyond the mentor. In Pointe Coupee Parish Schools, new teacher supports are a school-wide effort. The Chief Academic Officer described how their pilot school’s veteran teachers have embraced their new teachers and how these candidates feel comfortable reaching out to many teachers for support, creating a support network and an inclusive culture.
It may feel daunting to radically change the new teacher supports your school system provides, but this work is not only doable—it can be done without an influx of funding. These rural school systems have limited budgets and frequent staffing turnover, but with creativity and leadership they have succeeded in changing the new teacher experience. Staffing their schools with a stable pipeline of effective teachers is a priority for these schools, and they reallocated resources in order to create the new teacher supports needed to hopefully help their teachers stay and make a difference for kids in rural Louisiana parishes. This pilot is still in its first year of implementation, so we are still awaiting data on the full impact on student achievement and teacher retention, but we are already seeing qualitative evidence that these new teacher supports are having an effect on teacher satisfaction and adult culture.
The New Teacher Support Toolkit provides concrete tools to help school systems organize their resources to support new teachers, including a Playbook with 5 “models” that have worked in schools, planning spreadsheets, and best-practice workbooks.