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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Ask Ellen: Induction Policy Drives Program Quality

Ellen Moir
Credit: Bart Nagel
How do we get better new-teacher support to keep our newest educators in the profession?
By Ellen Moir

Dear Ellen,

My sister is a new teacher in a California school district and she has an excellent induction program. She refers to her school as a real learning community that supports the professional growth of all teachers, new and veteran alike.

New teachers in my school district receive no formal support at all. They're left to sink or swim in the isolation of their own classrooms. My state also doesn't provide any funding for mentoring new teachers. How do we go about getting better new teacher support in our state and school district to ensure that our newest educators stay in the profession? -- Anne

Dear Anne,

Your sister is very lucky. In most schools, new teachers are assigned a mentor, but few receive intensive, high-quality induction support. That's why so many beginning teachers leave the most challenging assignments and even the profession entirely during their first few years on the job.

Old-fashioned "buddy systems" are still the norm in American schools. Though they may provide some psychological and logistical support to new teachers, they don't keep new teachers in the classroom or help them to develop their skills as educators. Comprehensive induction programs systemize assistance, utilize carefully selected and trained mentors, provide time for interaction between mentors and new teachers, and develop the professional capacity of new teachers.

State policy plays a critical role in the growth and sustainability of induction programs. More than thirty states require new teacher mentors, and about eighteen provide some amount of state funding, ranging from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars per new teacher. But mandates and funding aren't enough. States also must address induction quality by developing program standards and building the capacity of mentors and local program administrators through training and ongoing professional development.

An initial step you can take is to help state policy makers understand the connection between teaching quality and student learning. In education, nothing is more important than an effective teacher.

A second step is to articulate how high-quality induction programs strengthen the effectiveness of beginning teachers, propel student learning, and provide a positive return on investment. Reaching out to local congressional staff is also worthwhile to generate knowledge and interest at the federal level. I encourage you to learn from the New Teacher Center's policy documents that make the case for public investments in induction programs.

Robust state support cannot guarantee that every new teacher will be served by a high-quality induction program and receive a skilled mentor. Quality varies even in a state like California, which has built a strong state infrastructure around induction and provides $4,069 per new teacher.

States also need to work closely with superintendents, principals, school boards, and teachers' associations to gain their buy-in and involvement. These are key partners in developing and strengthening local induction-program quality and sustaining these programs through leadership changes and during difficult budget times.

Even in the absence of state policy and funding, individual school districts can take various steps. For example, a district can tap into federal Title II dollars to fund induction. Mentors work with new teachers to help them develop their literacy skills as well as effective pedagogy in working with English-language learners. A district can start by piloting high-intensity induction in a subset of schools -- for example, those with the largest numbers of teachers.

Finally, I would encourage district leaders to seek support from the regional educational service centers, and determine whether neighboring districts operating induction programs would be interested in a partnership, or at least sharing lessons learned.

I really appreciate your interest. We want to recruit talented new teachers and give them the support they need to become excellent.


Ellen Moir is a veteran bilingual teacher who is focused on the challenges faced by new teachers as well as on the needs of those with long careers in education. She is also the executive director of the New Teacher Center, at the University of California at Santa Cruz, a resource for educator-induction research, policy, and practice.

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