Sunday, August 12, 2012

Supporting New Teachers

What’s a way to make sure that learning is accessible to all students?  Make sure that their teachers are adequately supported, and not just by the administrators, but by all the teachers in their school and beyond.

Last week I had the privilege of working with a group of 13 teachers who are going to be mentoring first or second year teachers.  Here’s some important points to keep in mind when working with novice teachers:

·      Mentor roles:  advocate, listener, resource, problem-solver, collaborator, coach, learner
·      There are phases of teaching within the school calendar.  August brings Anticipation.  September/October is about Survival.  November/December bring Disillusionment.  Rejuvenation follows the winter break, followed by  Reflection in April and May and back to Anticipation in June.
·      The mentor should match up the new teacher needs during those phases and provide appropriate supports, ie:  provide resources to take the sting out of the first parent/teacher conferences or offer to sit in on them.
·      In order to develop autonomy in the new teacher, the mentor must effectively support him/her.  Listening well and observing will help the mentor assess the type of support the new teacher needs.  At the very beginning, the new teacher may need the mentor to control the interaction and provide resources, anticipate problems, co-construct solutions.  As the new teacher becomes more adept, the mentor guides the interactions without necessarily controlling them.  The mentor begins to act like a facilitator with the mentor and new teacher co-constructing solutions and materials.  As the new teacher moves toward full autonomy, the new teacher directs the interactions.  The new teacher self-assesses and self-prescribes, with the mentor acting as a co-facilitator.
·      Mentors need to be observant to the cues, clues, and circumstances provided by the new teacher to determine the level of support needed.
·      Establish a focus for the work of the new teacher/mentor dyad through listening and either paraphrasing or clarifying concerns of the new teacher.  Support the new teacher through direct teaching or resources, collaborative problem solving or advocacy or collaborative problem solving and reflective questioning.

We discussed the need for all teachers to develop a Personal Learning Network (PLN) and read a great article from the May, 2012 issue of Educational Leadership for ideas.  A suggestion from the author of that article was to connect the  teachers on Twitter and use hashtags to access resources easily.   Some great hashtags for teachers: #edchat, #cpchat, #engchat, and #sschat.

No amount of support from a mentor will be sufficient without making sure that your school is a supportive environment for new teachers to thrive.  Does your school:
·      Provide opportunities for teachers to visit each other’s classrooms and give feedback?
·      Share ideas and materials?
·      Have common plan time?
·      Provide opportunity for teachers to grade/analyze student work?
·      Choose books to study together?
·      Limit the numbers of difficult students assigned to a new teacher’s class?
·      Share responsibility for student learning and discipline?
·      Use the knowledge and experiences that beginning teachers bring as an opportunity to learn?
·      Principal visit classrooms often and give teachers feedback?

Many of the new mentors that I worked with said that all of the above contributed to their success as a new teacher.  The mentor and new teacher relationship is the most significant element that will ensure the new teacher’s success.  But the school leadership and culture are also vital to growing and keeping great teachers in the classroom.  

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