George Lucas Educational Foundation
School Leadership

Personalizing for Teacher Needs

Educators need different levels of support and opportunity at different phases of their career. Here's how to be more responsive to beginning, middle-of-the-road, and veteran teachers.
May 24, 2016
Three young teenagers, two girls and a boy, and a male teacher are standing by a counter with science instruments on it. One girl is looking at something through a microscope.
Photo credit: ©Gable Denims/500px

The idea of personalization in education abounds in so many ways. We want to know and understand our students as individuals, as well as personalize their instruction according to the nuances of their learning. This makes sense because, after all, educators are individuals, too, and just like our students, our unique attributes are gifts.

However, what educators may want at certain stages in their careers may not be as evident. In my work as an instructional coach, I've discussed this topic many times with teachers, and their desires vary based on how long they've spent in education. What do teachers want at different stages in their career?

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Beginning Teachers

Beginning teachers have three or less years of classroom experience. They want mentoring and guidance. Many have stated that they require support around lesson planning, resources, classroom management, and pacing classroom time. Beginning teachers are also brave and want to dive in, so knowing that their colleagues trust them in and out of the classroom carries a lot of importance. Additionally, they need to feel included and supported by their colleagues, which means that congeniality and collaboration among coworkers, along with having a go-to person for questions, ranks high with this group. I recommend these steps to meet beginning teacher needs:

1. Create a formal onboarding process at your school.

Put logistical information in an easily accessible place. This could be as simple as a binder or digital folder with how-to information for various procedures, templates of needed forms, maps, schedules, etc. Allow beginning teachers to enter the classrooms of their more seasoned colleagues. Making time for practices like instructional rounds help beginning teachers get ideas for their practice, as well as allowing for reflection on where they are and where they hope to go. If you have an instructional coach on staff, require him or her to work closely with that individual. Actively creating opportunities for beginning teachers to continue learning, reflect on their practice, and contemplate their growth increases job satisfaction and teacher retention (Scherer, 2012).

2. Choose and pair mentors and mentees wisely.

Know your veteran teachers' personalities, strengths, and challenges. Would it be wise to pair like-content areas, or does it matter? How much time should mentors and mentees spend together? Are those able to mentor also able to commit as fully as you'd like? Know your resources and plan wisely for the outcomes that you'd like to see. In addition, set aside time for mentoring. Educators often become so entrenched in their daily responsibilities that it can be difficult to mentor effectively, so designate time in the schedule for mentoring, collaboration, and relationship building.

3. Continue mentoring past the first year.

One challenge for beginning teachers is a drastic shift in mentoring after their first year in the classroom. Many reported receiving less mentoring when they still felt it necessary. One teacher admitted, "Just because I have been teaching for two years doesn't mean I still don’t need the same level of support I received my first year. I still struggle in many areas and need the guidance of a mentor."

Middle-of-the-Road Teachers

These are teachers who have spent 4-10 years in the classroom. They desire support and collaboration, but in a different capacity than a beginning teacher: Middle-of-the-road teachers are comfortable enough in their careers that they want to branch out, explore new ideas, and take risks, but they also want feedback from their colleagues as they do so. Relationship building, while still important, takes on a different aspect. Not only do these teachers want a continued relationship with their peers, but they also feel it necessary to know their administrators on a personal level. This is how to meet their needs:

1. Use protocols in PLCs.

Protocols help shape focused and productive conversations. A lesson-tuning protocol (PDF) not only lends itself to shared learning and practices, but also allows the presenter to walk away with effective, timely feedback on both new and older lessons and assignments. Other protocols lend themselves to guiding PLCs through looking at student work (PDF) and data (PDF), keeping educators on track throughout the process.

2. Get to know faculty members personally.

One administrator that I knew invited three or four faculty members to meet with her once a month for 45 minutes. This was her opportunity for getting to know her staff as people. They would talk about their personal lives, families, and hobbies -- basically, anything but work. This sent her staff the message that knowing them as individuals was a priority to her. If there isn't time for meeting with everyone personally, make space for the faculty to come together once a month to socialize and relax while enjoying snacks and drinks.

Veteran Teachers

Veteran teachers have spent ten or more years in the classroom. They want autonomy to shape their students' learning, while feeling that administrators trust them to continue bringing powerful teaching into their classroom even as they juggle outside responsibilities. In addition, many veteran teachers also desire leadership opportunities that aren't necessarily administrative but still allow them to step up and contribute. They also want more personalization, from how they are treated by administrators to professional learning opportunities. Lastly, veteran teachers need support and understanding around all the things that they have to juggle, both in and out of the classroom. This is how to meet their needs:

1. Ask veterans what they want.

It seems simple, but just asking veterans what opportunities they wish they had can go a long way. Follow up by exploring together how these opportunities could be fulfilled. Also, keep in mind that veterans can help in a variety of leadership capacities, from sitting on interview committees to leading school improvement teams.

2. Support veterans in personalized learning.

Support teachers as they explore different avenues of learning, and discuss how their journey could be used to support others. For example, teachers could lead a professional learning session around what they learned at a workshop or class, thus sharing their knowledge, skill, and practice with others.

Learning and meeting the personalized needs of teachers can be time consuming, but well worth the time. When teachers feel valued and heard, they are more effective and likely to stay in education.

How do you connect with teachers? I invite you to continue the conversation in the comments section.

Notes

Scherer, M. (2012, May). "The challenges of supporting new teachers." Educational Leadership, 69(8), pp.18-23.

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  • School Leadership
  • Professional Development
  • School Climate
  • Teacher Development
  • Teacher Leadership