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Backgrounder: College Calls for Induction Programs for New Teachers

February 07 2003

A Range of Induction Programs

Many jurisdictions, including school boards in Ontario, have formal induction programs for new teachers. The programs described here demonstrate a variety of approaches.

Despite their structural and funding differences, these programs share essential elements - in all, experienced and trained peers provide school and classroom-centred support.

Creating a Culture of Mentoring

Ottawa Carleton District School Board

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board is one example of a board operating a modestly funded initiative (about $300 per new teacher), a voluntary program that focuses on the need to support and retain teachers new to the board.

The board surveyed new teachers and set up a mentoring program within their induction program. The program goals are to reduce stress for first-year teachers while honouring the strengths and experience of mentors, to foster a collaborative culture of mentoring, and to retain teachers. All three goals focus on the ultimate benefits for students.

Unique features of the program include the role of mentor leader with its responsibilities and rewards and school autonomy in developing its own program.

A board-wide survey indicated that new teachers find most valuable the support they receive from mentors and colleagues at the school, the varied opportunities for professional growth, and release time for activities designed to help them meet student needs. Principals report that although time is a major issue, teacher efficacy has been enhanced and creating leadership roles and demonstrating commitment to new staff has had a positive impact on the schools.

Each principal identifies a mentor leader in the school. This leader receives training in selecting on-site mentors and facilitating mentor learning at the school level. A resource binder, which complements the training, includes practical strategies such as charts outlining the developmental phases of the first year of teaching with related activities. The leader coordinates mentoring activities in the school, arranges a mentor for each new teacher and, with the principal, disburses the school’s mentoring funds.

The mentoring role is supportive rather than evaluative, and administrators are discouraged from taking on mentor roles.

The program is built on a school-based approach to professional development founded on the assumption that a teacher's growth is developmental and influenced by the context of the workplace.

Each school arranges training for its mentors and designs a program responsive to school needs. The school submits a funding proposal that outlines the anticipated mentoring activities.

In-school activities may include September orientation, workshops on report cards, shadowing an experienced teacher, classroom observations, ongoing feedback, breakfast meetings with mentors or other new teachers, informal discussions with colleagues, shared planning, goal setting and social activities.

System-sponsored workshops for mentors and new teachers, training activities and a website mentoring conference for all program participants support the in-school activities. All new teachers and their mentors attend central workshops on The Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession and What does it Mean to be a Teacher? They are encouraged to use the standards as a catalyst for discussion of teaching knowledge and practice.

Action research as program assessment is also encouraged in individual schools. In one instance, two lead teachers assumed responsibility for creating and researching a mentoring induction program in their school just as the board’s initiative began. Their aim was to have teachers experience a formal yet growth-oriented introduction to the school’s mission, values, culture, policies, procedures and working conditions through on-site mentoring aimed at the professional growth of both mentor and new teacher. The conclusions identified a strong need for a formal on-site mentoring program, pointing out the benefits in professional growth and recognition of that growth for both mentor and new teacher. Their research also found that the mentoring program facilitated collaborative staff structures.

Mentoring long-distance style

Keewatin-Patricia District School Board

For the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board in Northwestern Ontario, geographic distance is a dominant factor in the organization of its innovative, well-funded induction program. The board, in collaboration with the Ontario College of Teachers, designed its program in 2000 to recruit and retain teachers. A brochure describes the goals as enhancing teaching practice and student learning as well as extending opportunities for collegial sharing and reflective practice based on an ethic of continuous learning.

The Keewatin-Patricia mentoring program is based on an initial system of central support and organization, moving to individual mentor-partner independence. It starts from the belief that school-based support and local program autonomy are crucial factors for new teachers’ growth and development. The Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession provide the conceptual framework, creating a catalyst for discussion for the new teacher and a mentor and acting as a neutral reference. The underlying assumption of the program is that the best person to teach a new teacher is a supportive teacher trained in this professional role.

During the summer, potential mentors, who are always volunteers, receive two or three days of training. They learn a range of communication strategies for effective mentoring, ways to accommodate adult learning styles and strategies for balancing pressure and support to help novice teachers improve their instructional practices.

Mentors and new teachers attend one or two days of orientation in late August, where they investigate their own styles and learn about others. The new teachers select their own mentors. Mentors and new teachers are not always in the same school, or the same municipality. Nor do they always share the same subject background. The partnership model is flexible.

Each team decides when, where and how they will use their 15 days of teacher-release time. The mentor partnership also decides how to use the additional $250 available for professional development opportunities for novice teachers.

E-mail is the primary means of communication. Conference calls and videoconferences are also being explored. The program is supportive rather than evaluative with an emphasis on trust, assistance and partnership. The mentoring focuses on teaching practice and student learning as well as forming strong supportive relationships with colleagues.

Board organizers believe that once they have a cadre of skilled mentors who feel supported and valued in their work, central involvement can cease. Mentors are then trusted to manage the process to fit the needs of the new teacher.

In the review of the first year, the mentors saw the rewards of mentoring as intrinsic, citing satisfaction about helping, anticipated feedback from the new teacher and "giving back to the profession" as important considerations. They did not want to be described as master teachers because of peer reaction. What they would value as a reward is a respect for the personal time they had put into the mentoring task. Most of the mentor pairs developed mutually beneficial relationships, despite the challenges of time and distance. Mentors felt validated by the fact that "they were actually given time to do the induction program."

Participants saw the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession as a positive catalyst to foster professionalism in both new and experienced teachers, helping them to talk about teaching practice, to develop a common language to engage in that conversation, and to create a shared space for mentoring new teachers.

Testing mentoring strategies

Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario

The Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario is completing a pilot for a mentoring program for beginning teachers.

The project involved 13 mentors and 13 new teachers from both the elementary and secondary levels. The new teachers selected their own mentors, prefering one who is highly respected as a professional teacher but not necessarily in the same subject area or division.

So far, the teachers participating in the pilot have identified four priorities for new teachers: curriculum planning, classroom management, student evaluation and special education, which includes modifying programs to meet special needs and completing education improvement plans. The board will base the first year of its program on these four areas.

Participants also identified the most effective mentoring strategies: observing colleagues, attending conferences with other new teachers on topics not necessarily directly related to the classroom, for example, leadership, and attending professional development opporutnities with their mentor. Participants have found that these activities promote ongoing professional conversations that foster a culture of professionalism.

Mentors in the project identified coaching as the key to training new mentors.

The findings and experiences of the new teachers and the mentors who took part in the pilot will help determine the outline of the board’s two-year induction program.

Formal recognition for new teachers

London District Catholic School Board

A mass and commissioning service in May provides formal recognition as new teachers complete this board’s orientation program.

Teachers new to the London District Catholic School Board attend two days of orientation before they enter the classroom. At the first session, as soon as they are hired, they learn all about the board. In August, usually the second last week before school, they attend another session where they receive an orientation binder and spend the day reviewing its contents. This includes information on the mentoring program, classroom management, planning, curriculum services, technology, professional development opportunities and board policies and procedures. The binder also includes copies of the Standards of Practice and the Ethical Standards.

The mentoring program aims to assist new teachers in the vocation of Catholic education, provide effective professional development and training for new teachers and their mentors and to create within that framework opportunities for socialization and developing mentoring relationships. The school principal assigns mentors to the new teachers.

During the first term, new teachers attend two curriculum workshops and one social. In the second term there are two or three curriculum workshops. In May the new teachers attend a commissioning service. Each teacher receives a Bible that includes an inscription from the Director of Education.

Evaluations of the program find that the new teachers appreciate the support. Mentors appreciate the "growth experience" and call it a shared learning experience. Many feel rejuvenated by the energy, initiative and the questions of the new teachers.

Ministry, university, teachers develop provincial program

New Brunswick

In 1993, the provincial Department of Education, the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association and the University of New Brunswick began a collaboration to prepare for the projected large number of new teachers entering the profession. The Beginning Teachers’ Induction Program (BTIP) started formally in 1995. Cooperation among the organizations continues to drive and support this induction program.

The program's goals are to improve teaching performance, increase the retention of beginning teachers and promote their personal and professional well-being.

BTIP attempts to prepare the beginner for the complexities and stresses of teaching and help mentors with their professional development and coping strategies. The mentor provides support in a variety of ways. These include information on the system, access to resources, and institutional and emotional backing. The mentor also acts as a model for effective classroom skills.

BTIP is not related to certification or formal assessment practices. Funding, $800 per mentor-beginner team, comes through grants from the Department of Education and the Teachers’ Association.

Mentors are selected and matched with beginning teachers, whether a first-year teacher or an experienced teacher new to the school board, in the same school or district through a process that involves the district supervisors and principals.

Beginning teachers attend summer institutes and then participate in workshops until the end of their first year. They also get a provincial handbook.

Mentors must complete a provincial training course to inform them of the expectations of BTIP and to learn skills to facilitate their mentoring role. Throughout the year mentors also attend district workshops ranging from formal information or training sessions to informal meetings in which they share mentoring experiences and expertise.

In all the surveys done, mentors report personal growth in terms of motivation and satisfaction as well as professional growth, in terms of reflective practice, collaboration with colleagues, new ideas from beginners and access to resources.

A partnership using teacher advisors

Santa Cruz, California

The University of California's Santa Cruz New Teacher Project began in 1988 as a collaborative effort among the University of California at Santa Cruz, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and 16 school districts.

New teachers participate in this two-year program of intense support that focuses on improving classroom practice. The program's purpose is to develop reflective teachers who are responsive to the diverse cultural, linguistic and social backgrounds of all students and who embody norms of ongoing inquiry, assessment and refinement of practice.

The program aligns itself with the California Standards for the Teaching Profession. Five levels of development (beginning, emerging, applying, integrating and innovating) are used as entry points for developing individual learning plans for each new teacher.

The program receives $3,000 per new teacher from the California Department of Education and the California Commission on Credentialing and $2,100 per new teacher from local districts. The university and the county office of education cover administrative costs. A consortium led by university faculty and comprised of mentor teachers, new teachers, union representatives, superintendents, principals, staff developers and community members determine program philosophy, implementation and ongoing evaluation.

The program uses exemplary teacher advisors, who are on loan from their school districts for three years. Matched with beginning teachers according to grade level and subject expertise, an advisor works with 12 to 14 new teachers, meeting with them weekly. In the classroom the advisor observes, coaches, co-teaches, demonstrates, responds to journals and assists with emergent problems. Out-of-classroom time is spent gathering resources, facilitating communication with principals and organizing a monthly seminar series based on case studies.

Knowing the classroom and the students, the mentor advisor is able to build strong relationships and provide each teacher with specific support. Using peer-coaching strategies, the advisor and new teacher collect and analyze classroom data, relating student outcomes to teaching practices.

With guidance from their advisor, new teachers prepare a professional portfolio documenting their growth and development. They present the portfolios to colleagues at a spring colloquium. The new teacher has four release days to be used for reflection, self-assessment, observations, curriculum planning and staff development.

Advisor training takes place in summer seminars and involves topics such as how to mentor a new teacher, building relationships, phases of the first year of teaching, selecting support strategies, peer-coaching feedback strategies, adult learning principles and assessing teaching in relation to student achievement. Mentors engage in 60 hours of this focused professional development, using a train-the-trainer approach.

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