“Tell us about yourself” was written on the projector and echoed by an instructional coach. The room was filled with several new staff members, administrators, and current teachers. As we sat around a U-shaped table, I looked at the unfamiliar faces around me, and thoughts raced through my head as I rehearsed what I would say. I was in my second school district and second year of teaching. The anticipation and excitement of starting at a new school were also met with nerves and uncertainty.
But once I settled in and connected with the teacher leaders in the room, I felt comfortable. As I watched them greet new teachers and collaborate with administrators, it was evident that teacher leadership was valued in my new district. These teacher leaders contributed to the planning and leading of new teacher orientation. Continually, this group of teachers also led a new teacher academy, held pop-up professional development (PD) for all teachers throughout the year, and met individually with teachers.
During my first year teaching in another district, the assistant superintendent hosted new teacher training that was focused on the teacher-evaluation model. In reflecting on my two experiences, the effectiveness of the teacher-led new-teacher training was obvious. The success of many new teachers in my district led me to inquire more about the impact that teacher leadership had on the new-teacher experience. Studies have shown that teacher leadership is linked to higher student achievement.
Throughout the first two years in my new district, I participated in a new-teacher academy and PD facilitated by teacher leaders. The safe space these leaders created led to inquiry-based learning and collaborative discussions. New teachers were able to learn the nuts and bolts of operations at their school while also improving their classroom practice.
While these teacher leaders were cultivating community and sharing best practices, they were also building future teacher leaders. These teacher leaders became and continue to be my mentors. In PD sessions, teacher leaders provided others an opportunity to facilitate workshops and develop leadership skills.
Fast-forward to my seventh year of teaching, I am now in the teacher leadership role and often reflect on how instrumental these leaders were and how they continue to impact my teaching. This has led me to focus on three critical components in ensuring that new teachers are supported during a time when teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate.
3 Keys to Creating a Successful Environment for New teachers
1. Space to connect. As negative news about education continues to permeate through the walls of schools, teachers internalize these bad thoughts, so boosting morale and showing support is critical. Purposely planning time for teachers to connect is essential. To strengthen morale, giving teachers a space to share ideas, collaborate, and discuss best practices increases a sense of purpose and positivity.
In building this space, new teachers feel valued from the beginning of their educational journey in their school buildings. It also restores motivation in veteran teachers. In sharing ideas for lessons and troubleshooting issues together, a new sense of belonging and motivation is ignited.
2. Pop-Up PD. Pop-Up PD allows teachers to share ideas for lessons, collaborate, and develop skills to use in the classroom. The format of Pop-Up PD should vary and change depending on the topic. It could be led by a discussion centered around a protocol or structured like a lesson.
Sessions “pop up” throughout the month during various times of the day at the teachers’ discretion or based on instructional needs. Teacher leaders can gauge the needs of their colleagues throughout the school year. After these training sessions, teachers are sent a certificate of participation with PD hours.
3. Giveaways and food. While budgets are tight and financial support can be hard to secure, giveaways and food can boost morale. Local business owners who are large supporters of teachers can provide gift certificates, food, or other prizes. Contact these business leaders with information regarding your requested donation. Be specific in the number of items needed, and give details about the purpose of their gift.
Another option during PD days or before school is to host a potluck meal for teachers. In using sign-up websites like SignUpGenius, everyone can contribute an item. By creating a positive space for teachers to gather and socialize, a positive culture and good morale are cultivated.
As educators, we need to look for ways to celebrate each other and the positives that happen within our school walls. Implementing these changes does require time and continued conversations. While some districts are constrained by tight budgets, advocating for teacher leadership is key. Gathering teachers who are excited and implementing just one idea at a time is a great way to start.