When I first started teaching, nearly 20 years ago, I remember the excitement of setting up my classroom, preparing to teach three different high school English classes, supervise the student newspaper and act as the advisor of the junior class. By the end of September, reality had set in. My students had serious challenges outside of the school, impacting their performance in my class. I remember speaking to the mother of one of my students about his difficulties and she asked me what I thought she should do. At the time, I thought, “I’m 27 years old with no children of my own. How am I supposed to know what to do?”
While kind colleagues surrounded me, the school district did not assign me an instructional mentor and I was under the impression that I had to prove myself by figuring out how to deal with all these challenges on my own. My school and district were, at the time, not unique. In the late 1990s, it was relatively typical for a new secondary teacher to have multiple preps, act as the advisor and/or coach of multiple activities and have no formal mentor.
We now know that the development of beginning teachers does not begin and end with their certification program. Teacher preparation continues into the first years of a career and a comprehensive instructionally-focused induction program is essential to ensuring the success, not only of beginning teachers, but also their students. High teacher retention rates are directly tied to effective induction programs. According to a report published by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) in the state of Washington, “In October 2010, BEST grantee districts reported 90 percent of all participating first and second year teachers are teaching in the same school or a different school in the same district. Eighty-four percent are teaching in the same schools in the same district. Less than one percent left teaching as a profession.” (OSPI offers a competitive grant to school districts called Beginning Educator Support Team [BEST] that requires districts to follow specific standards in implementing a comprehensive induction program including hiring, orientation, mentoring, professional learning and formative assessment towards teacher growth.)
As a 2015 Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow, I conducted, with my cohort, a national research project on teacher preparation. We released our findings in On Deck: Preparing the Next Generation of Teachers. After learning more about the varied programs and preparation available to beginning teachers, and observing the significant number of retirements in my own district (Bainbridge Island School District), I couldn’t help but realize that we had not created systemic supports for beginning teachers. While some buildings informally provided needed support to teachers, this certainly was not universal and not rooted in any standards. For years, BISD had not needed to hire many teachers. Turnover was low so an induction program was essentially unnecessary. However, with our aging workforce, 30% of our teaching staff is new to the district over the past two years. And in addition to limited support for new teachers, my district also had few opportunities for teacher leadership.
After identifying these needs, and with the help of the Bainbridge Schools Foundation, I worked with BISD to create a professional continuum for teachers, including a comprehensive induction program, following the BEST Induction Standards. Not only has this provided support to beginning teachers and their students but it has also created opportunities for teacher-leaders to develop their leadership skills by acting as instructional mentors.
Additionally, as part of the continuum, we created a National Board cohort of teachers. Previous to the cohort, only a handful of teachers pursued National Board certification. In 2016, after implementing the cohort — which offered not only support through the process but the opportunity for teachers from across the district to collaborate — the number of teachers pursuing National Board certification increased by 800%! These combined efforts have resulted in more effective recruitment and increased retention, which we have plans to continue. But most importantly, our students are benefitting from the improved instructional practices of our beginning and experienced teachers.
We want to spread this best practice because it benefits students, teachers, schools and communities. To learn more about these ongoing efforts and to access a toolkit of resources to use with new teachers, check out Hope Street Group’s new release Teaming Up: Educators Enhance Teacher Prep. In this impact report, you’ll also learn about the work of my National Teacher Fellow peers, who support the development of teachers and the teaching profession in multiple states and with various strategic partners all dedicated to this improvement. We hope you’ll take inspiration and dig in at your local, state and even national levels. When teachers team up, the system is improved for all.