Promoting Teacher Retention Through Mentoring
The first years of teaching are hard, but a strong mentoring relationship within a supportive induction program can make all the difference.
Teacher retention is of great concern to policy makers, administrators, and teaching staff. Across the United States, 55 percent of teachers are thinking of leaving the profession, which points to an urgent need to improve teacher engagement, satisfaction, and belonging.
At the start of my own career—when I was a ball of nerves and felt unprepared to teach students fairly close to my age—I was lucky to learn from an incredible mentor teacher, Jacquie, whose guidance was a pivotal reason for my staying in the profession.
Now, as a school leader, I value and support teacher induction programs—powerful tools for forging relationships that can help new teachers understand and acclimate to a school’s atmosphere and culture; build instructional, curricular, and assessment knowledge and skills; and provide a pathway to greater professional satisfaction in the long term.
School leaders looking to leverage relationships for teacher retention can consider the following factors when implementing teacher induction programs.
Compensation and Training for Mentor Teachers
When structuring a strong teacher induction program, it is important that mentor teachers are acknowledged for their expertise and valued for their time. Provide financial resources to compensate teachers for the extra responsibilities involved in being a mentor facilitator, along with the cognitive and emotional investment this work entails.
Additionally, you can create the foundation for a healthy, productive teacher induction program by training mentor teachers as leadership coaches. Too often, teachers are promoted to a mentor level without skill building around critical elements of effective coaching, such as creating a safe, supportive, yet challenging environment; facilitating and collaborating using questions rather than direct answers; advocating self-awareness; and using experience to fuel professional development.
Duration of Mentoring Relationships
Ideally, a teacher induction program involves a scheduled weekly meeting between mentor and mentee for about 45 minutes. Without a preplanned weekly meeting, it is too easy to put off meeting with each other, due to the ongoing demands of the job.
Most teacher induction programs last for one school year; however, given data surrounding the teacher retention crisis, a better model would allow for continued connection across two or three years as new teachers continue to gain their footing.
The first year of teaching is a time to marry the theoretical knowledge that teachers developed during their teacher preparation programs with the realities of real-world teaching. The second (and/or third) year allows time for mentors and mentees to explore instructional coaching and guidance around professional development and to spend less time focused on low-level needs, such as orientation to the school system (e.g., attendance policies and procedural norms).
When pairing a mentor with a mentee, consider the physical proximity of their classrooms and the grade level and classes they both teach. Aim for high degrees of similarities to ensure aligned advice and boost the chances that both participants will find the relationship meaningful. While there are some models of teacher induction programs that are evaluative in nature, I encourage a nonevaluative model to promote greater self-reflection and self-awareness.
In creating mentor-mentee pairings, you might also take schedules into account to allow for reciprocal observation times; not only will a novice teacher grow and learn from constructive coaching and feedback during planned observation times, but also it is important to build in time for observations of the mentor by the mentee. To move from theoretical knowledge to real-world teaching, it’s critical that new teachers have opportunities to see exemplary teachers in action.
Framing and Assessment
Be clear on the desired outcomes of the teacher induction program, and provide a framework for each month and year anchored to the core values and institutional goals of the school.
During the first year of the teacher induction program, take into account the phases of first-year teachers’ attitudes toward teaching (e.g., anticipation, survival, disillusionment, rejuvenation, and reflection). The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education provides a framework for professional attitudes, values, and beliefs that support students’ learning and development, such as fairness and the belief that all students can learn. Beyond assessment and curriculum, considering social and emotional elements of teaching may support a more balanced, whole-learner approach to the mentor-mentee relationship, acknowledging the physical, psychological, cognitive, and affective variables that contribute to teacher satisfaction.
Conclude each year of the program with a survey for both mentor and mentee. What worked? What didn’t? Where is more support needed? Take the time to explore how the experience is going and where it can be improved.
Teacher induction programs offer comprehensive support systems for novice teachers, and while the model is not new in education, making a few shifts in the traditional model, as outlined above, could help uncover pathways to retain, develop, and increase the job satisfaction of novice teachers.
To ensure effective, high-quality teaching, which today includes culturally responsive instruction, the highest educational standards to date, and an expectation to serve all students well, we cannot overlook the importance of high-quality, effective teacher-induction programs. In today’s competitive job market, well-designed and fully implemented teacher induction programs can improve new teachers’ practice and satisfaction and serve as a differentiator that draws new teachers to your school or district for their first year and beyond.