Thursday, May 16, 2024

Empowering New Teachers: Strategies for Success and Retention in Modern Education

The educational world is faced with a shift in its workforce demographics, with new teachers becoming a larger portion of the profession than ever before. These new educators are not being adequately prepared for a system that can chew them up quickly without the proper support systems in place. There are some important systemic changes and effective strategies that can empower these new teachers, support instructional goals, and stem the flow of mass turnover of teachers. By focusing attention on instructional coaching, mentoring, addressing systemic issues, observations and feedback, and burnout prevention, new teachers, as well as veteran teachers, can begin to feel more comfortable and see success in their profession.  

Instructional coaching is a pivotal support mechanism for teachers because it provides them with personalized support and professional development. Instructional coaches should not be limited to new teachers. These trained professionals can help any teacher looking to improve on their practice. While a traditional approach to professional development would have many teachers in a large space all being told the same thing, Instructional coaching will allow for highly personalized professional development that is timely for the teacher. These coaching sessions could focus on lesson planning, classroom management, instructional strategies, technology implementation, and so much more. These coaches would work closely with the teachers to set goals, observe classroom practices, and provide feedback with the purpose of creating an environment that supports thoughtful reflection. 

The research backs up the idea that instructional coaching is valuable to teachers and their students. According to a study from EdResearch for Recovery in 2022, the difference between teachers who have coaching and those who do not is similar to a novice teacher and a teacher with five to ten years of experience. The article also showed that “the presence of a content-focused coach was associated with reduced turnover of novice teachers.”  These two examples are just a small example of the benefits of instructional coaching that can be found in study after study. The personalized nature of instructional coaching allows for relationships built on trust to be built and that leads to teacher growth and student gains. 

Mentoring is another approach of teacher support that needs to be considered when helping build a support system for all teachers, but especially new teachers. While instructional coaching can provide personalized professional development to support the professional growth of a teacher, a mentor also supports the mental well-being of these teachers. There are just some things that college cannot prepare a new teacher for and a mentor needs to be there to help guide them through a rough transition. Also, every building has their own rules and procedures that can be daunting for a new teacher to navigate on their own. On top of trying to get to know all of the names of their students, they have an entire new staff that need to get to know as well. Who do you go for field trip forms? Who is in charge of attendance? How do I find out which counselor is in charge of which student class? There are so many questions that a new teacher doesn’t even know which question to ask next. It can simply be too much to deal with while trying to get a grip on the art of teaching. 

Mentoring, usually led by a veteran teacher, can provide the one-on-one guidance that a new teacher needs to know to navigate their new career. This could include classroom management, student engagement, an understanding of the school community, and just an ear to express fears and frustrations. Too many new teachers are afraid to share their struggles because they do not want to appear to be a “bad” teacher. It is important for a mentor structure to be in place so all new teachers understand that all teachers feel like “bad” teachers when they start. 

According to research from the National Institute of Teaching, it is important to make sure that the mentor/mentee relationship is not an evaluative process “to foster trust and openess.” A research summary by Caskey and Swanson found that “when mentors are sufficiently prepared for their role, they report ‘satisfaction, confidence, effectiveness, self-efficacy and help enhance novice teacher effectiveness’” The data exists in many different forms that mentoring is a key factor in supporting teachers and retaining them long term. It is a financial investment, not just in teachers, but in the students as well. When students encounter constant turnover, they suffer from an instructional and social standpoint. If students do not have time to build strong relationships with their teachers because they never last more than a year or two, they find it hard to engage fully in the educational system. 

An important part of the mentoring and coaching process is the need for observations and feedback. They play an important role in the professional development of new teachers because they offer insights into best practices and areas of needed improvement. Structured observations do not have to be limited to mentors and coaches, supervisor observations and feedback meetings are also critical for the administration to have a deeper understanding of the work that teachers are doing in their classrooms. It is critical that these observations focus on various aspects of teaching, including student engagement, classroom management, and curriculum delivery.

Providing feedback is crucial when it comes to following up on an observation. The feedback needs to be supportive and constructive to truly help a teacher grow. Effective feedback needs to be specific, actionable, and needs to stay clear of criticism. Feedback should encourage a teacher to reflect on their practice with a way to be better. It should drive them to seek out professional development or experiment with new instructional approaches.The best feedback should have a teacher feeling excited about trying something new the next time they get a chance. An observation and feedback system that causes fear and anxiety is a failed system that will never support teacher growth. That issues stems from a larger school culture issue that needs to be addressed if a strong observation and feedback system is ever going to support teachers effectively. 

It is fundamental that administrators work to create a culture where observation and feedback is seen as a valuable tool to support teacher growth. Administrators should seek out professional development to better understand how to create a system that supports a strong school culture of observations and feedback. Providing time and space for teachers to visit other classes and provide feedback can help support a culture of growth and sharing. New teachers are just figuring out how schools run and their colleagues will let them know what to look out for if the culture is not positive. Creating a system that supports learning, observations, feedback, and trying new things can go a long way in supporting new teachers as they get comfortable in their new surroundings. 

One of the most common issues for new teachers is burnout. Veteran teachers are at risk of burnout in any given year, but new teachers, without the years of experience that provides coping mechanisms to deal with burnout, are at higher risk of leaving the profession due to burnout. Addressing the issue of burnout requires a broad approach that includes workload management, mental health support, and professional development. 

The traditional approach of assigning new teachers many of the extras during the school day, lunch duty, after school clubs or sports, fundraisers, etc, because they are the new teacher or because they are younger and it is assumed they have fewer responsibilities at home. These approaches are fundamentally flawed. The idea that these new teachers have the bandwidth to handle many extra duties is troubling. New teachers need to be afforded the time to acclimate to the profession before undertaking too many extra duties. Unfortunately, new teachers can be taken advantage of because they do not feel comfortable telling administrators no when asked to help. By adding to their workload in the attempt to make admin happy, new teachers burden themselves with extra work that can be taxing to their mental health. Schools should be limiting the amount of extracurriculars that new teachers are asked to do during the first couple of years in the classroom to support their growth as a classroom teacher.

New teachers often do not have anyone to talk to at school about their stress or fears that naturally arise as a new teacher. There is a fear that expressing those feelings will be viewed negatively and, possibly, impact their employment moving forward. Creating spaces for new teacher cohorts to get together and share these feelings is a great step to support them as they navigate their new profession. Supporting these new teachers and their mental health can lead to fewer sick or mental health days taken which ultimately saves schools money in sub costs. A study published in the Journal of School Psychology, found that teachers with depression actually teach their classes differently. The research found that those teachers spent less time on whole-group instruction and planning/organizing instruction. When teachers are overworked and under supported, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can have a serious negative impact on the classroom. Schools need to make a concerted effort to support the mental health of all teachers, but especially new teachers, because they do not have the same coping mechanisms and strategies as their veteran peer teachers. 

A big stressor for new teachers is that feeling that they are always treading water. It can be tough to feel like you are ahead of the game when you are barely one day ahead of your class. Providing professional development opportunities that can support their practice that can save them time or build confidence can be wonderfully helpful. Paring up the new teachers with their mentor or department peers to explore professional development together can help the new teacher feel part of the community and provide a partner to discuss the new ideas they encountered in the PD session. While missing class time to attend professional development can itself be a stressor, providing opportunities to learn and grow will help long term and that is key in building a culture that supports new teachers. 

Supporting new teachers is crucial if schools are going to have ready and capable educators to replace teacher veterans that are retiring. The research shows the value of instructional coaching, mentoring, observational feedback, and mental health support in helping all teachers perform to the best of their abilities. It is easy to say that a school supports their teachers. It is even easier to check to see if that is true. If a school fails to have a system in place that truly dedicates time and money to support new teachers, they are not walking the walk and can expect high teacher turnover that will negatively impact their students. 


Caskey, M., & Swanson, K. W. (2023). Mentoring middle school teachers: Research summary. Association for Middle Level Education. https://www.amle.org/mentoring-middle-school-teachers-research-summary/#:~:text=The%20mentor%20must%20be%20patient,and%20supporting%20a%20new%20teacher.

Hobson, A., Maxwell, B., Manning, C., Allen, B., Stevenson, J., Kiss, Z., & Joergensen, C. (2023). New research from National Institute of Teaching offers helpful insights on mentoring new teachers. National Institute of Teaching. https://niot.org.uk/news-events/new-research-mentoring-new-teachers

Russell, J. L., & Booker, L. N. (2022). Design principles: Improving teaching practice with instructional coaching. Annenberg Institute at Brown University. https://annenberg.brown.edu/sites/default/files/EdResearch_for_Recovery_Design_Principles_3.pdf


Wednesday, May 8, 2024

What Role Does AI Play In My Life As A Teacher? #AIedu #EdChat

AI is the buzzword right now in education circles. There are plenty of "experts" that claim to show you how to do AI right. I think it is a little early to declare yourself an expert on this topic. However, there are some teachers that are AI Explorers. I think of these people as teachers looking for ways to leverage tools to enhance the work they do and support the varied learners in their classroom. 

I think it is important for teachers to constantly think about equity in all parts of education, and that includes how AI can and will be used by students and staff. There are some great conversations going on about these issues. Dee Lanier and Ken Shelton have shared amazing things on these topics and you should check them out if you want to learn more. 

For me, I have explored lots of different uses of AI for myself and for my students. I'd like to share a few of the ways I have used two tools to help me in those areas. 

MagicSchool AI

I have used MagicSchool for most of the school year to help me create rubrics, level text, and create meaningful lessons. It is nice to be able to quickly create something like a rubric in a couple of minutes when it used take a full prep period. Being able to automate these types of tasks that require minor tweeks makes my job as a teacher easier and more efficient. I can spend the extra time providing more in-depth feedback to students and more 1:1 time with students who might need some extra help. Being able to quickly create multiple versions of the same article for students to read with the text leveler to help the wide variety of students with varied reading levels is a huge time saver. It supports inclusivity for all of the students so they can still read the article, understand the content, and participate in the group discussion. I love using these tools to make so many things, that once took so much time, easier to get done and allow me to focus on the students. 

SchoolAI

SchoolAI is awesome because I love to use it create Spaces. Spaces are ways for teachers to set up AI chatbots to support students with very specific projects. I have created one for every single project my students have done this last trimester. SchoolAI has helped students with their coding projects, design projects, and creative thinking. I set the chatbot up in a way to ask student's questions and push their thinking instead of just giving them the answers to the problems. This has been a great tool to help students learn how to best prompt chatbots to get the most out of a single question instead of having to create multiple questions over time. 

These two tools are awesome to use in the classroom and really help make my life easier as a teacher. Most importantly, when used correctly, AI tools can support inclusivity. AI can allow students and teachers to create items that meet them where they are and help them where they need to go. As a dyslexic, neurodivergent learner, I struggled in many of my classes because I could not get past the opening paragraph and would just give up. Having texts leveled for me and written in ways that can support how I take in and process information would have made school so much easier for me in the long run. Having a AI Sidekick to guide me though the toughest parts of my Math, Science, Social Studies, and other classes would have helped eliminate the anxiety I would feel. 

Be wary of the self-proclaimed experts and pay attention to the AI Explorers who are living and learning with AI on a day to day basis if you want to see how you can use these tools to support your students. 

Monday, May 6, 2024

From Compliance to Engagement: Inspiring Students Beyond Following Rules

One of the toughest things to understand as a new teacher or someone outside of education is that there is a big difference between students being compliant and students being engaged. Students can be sitting quietly in the classroom staring straight ahead at the board, but that doesn't mean anything is taken in by them. It is a sticky subject, because it often takes a long, hard look inward to truly see if your students are being engaged or compliant. Let's take a look at some examples and see how we can try to move students toward engagement. 

Compliant

Vs

Engaged

1. Compliant Students: Raising Hands, but Reluctantly

Compliance: You know the type—they do their homework, answer when called upon, and follow classroom rules. They’re not causing trouble, but they’re not volunteering answers, either. They’re just following the script. This was me for many of my classes growing up. Just going through the motions because that is what was expected of me at school. I didn't want any type of attention and I would freeze if a teacher cold called me. 

Moving to Engagement

Strategy: Mix things up by letting the students collaborate! Give them a problem that requires them to brainstorm, discuss, and find innovative solutions with their peers. Think, Pair, and Share your questions to have students thinking and connecting. Ask questions and have students move to spots in the room that coincide with their opinions. Movement can help get the brains working and seeing that you can connect with others will help those students who just want to sit and do nothing. It is tougher to sit quietly and just be present when you need to move around and connect with peers. 

2. Compliant Students: Working Silently, but Bored

Compliance: These students complete assignments quietly and on time but often seem bored and disconnected. They meet the minimum requirements without a hint of excitement. The bare minimum is all some students will give if asked to fill out forms or take notes day after day. They lack the motivation to truly be engaged with the content. Students can often be bored because the content does not interest them, it is too easy, or the level of engagement is too high from them to meet. 

Moving to Engagement

Strategy: Let’s give them a little more creative control! Invite them to design a project that allows them to blend their personal interests with your lesson goals. This way, they see learning not as an obligation, but as a platform for self-expression. Whether it’s creating an animation, writing a short story, or developing a prototype, let them choose their medium and topic. Project Based Learning and MakerEd are great ways to engage students in learning. Having them explore topics that match their interests and having them create artifacts that demonstrate their learning are great ways to have them engaged in the learning process. Sitting and taking notes is not the way to create an engaging classroom for students all of the time. 

3. Compliant Students: Writing Down Notes, but Not Asking Questions

Compliance: Some students take diligent notes, but they never question or dig deeper. They’re content copying down what’s on the board without much thought to why it matters. Students are pretty good at figuring out school. If they know a teacher is just giving notes and the notes make up the assessment, they will do the notes, study, and take the assessment. This creates great test-takers, but terrible critical thinkers. Recording information is an important skill to have, but taking the next step and placing meaning on the information and deciding how that meaning impacts great things is something that cannot just be ignored. 

Moving to Engagement

Strategy: Flip the script with open-ended questions that require critical thinking. Pose a question that doesn’t have one right answer, and let them brainstorm and hypothesize in pairs or groups. Allow them to present their findings and encourage them to ask their own questions. Push the students to look at multiple answers and solutions to problems. Have them engage in research and rebut possible conclusions. Push the students to push back on the provided notes. Just providing all of the answers for the students does not help them learn to find the answers for themselves later in life. 

Recap

There are going to be plenty of times when students are going to come to class and check out for a wide range of reasons. Few students can be engaged every class every day of the year. However, teachers should work on creating environments where students will have difficulty checking out. High energy classes that push student thinking and encourage them to engage with the content in ways that get them out of their seat and beyond their notebook helps with class engagement.

On a connected note, classroom management issues will also drop because bored students that choose to be disruptive will be less likely to be a distraction because they are engaged in the content. Creating engaging learning environments does not happen overnight, but it is worth putting in the time because those dynamic classes are so much fun for the students and the teachers. 

Monday, April 22, 2024

3 Easy Ways to Support Neurodivergent Students in Any Classroom #EdChat

Creating a supportive classroom environment for neurodivergent students is crucial for their success and well-being. Here are three straightforward strategies that teachers can employ in any educational setting to better support these students.

Establish Clear and Consistent Routines

Neurodivergent students often benefit from having a predictable classroom structure. Use visual schedules and consistent daily routines to minimize uncertainty. This can include having a clear agenda on the board and consistent times for certain activities like reading or group work. Having this information in physical and digital forms helps all learners in the classroom be prepared for their time in class. These predictable patterns help reduce anxiety and provide a safe learning environment.

Offer Flexible Seating and Quiet Spaces

Giving students the choice of where and how they work can be incredibly beneficial. Flexible seating options such as cushions, chairs with movement, or quiet corners allow students to choose a workspace that suits their sensory preferences. Additionally, having a designated quiet area where students can go to decompress or regroup can be especially helpful for those who might feel overwhelmed by noise or crowds. Depending on the layout of your classroom, the hallway might be the best option for this. I have found that many students who have trouble focusing in the classroom prefer to read outside or listen to their books in the hallway. Letting students know there are options can be very helpful to their overall anxiety levels. 

Utilize Multi-Sensory Instructional Strategies

Incorporating teaching methods that cater to various senses can greatly assist neurodivergent students. For example, when discussing new concepts, combine visual aids (like charts or flashcards), auditory elements (discussions or audio recordings), and tactile activities (hands-on projects or manipulatives). This approach ensures that learning is accessible for students with diverse needs and preferences, enhancing their ability to engage with and retain information. The change of pace is also nice for neurotypical students who can get bored with the same routine over and over again. I have also found it is a nice way to keep lessons fresh for me as well. 

Implementing these simple strategies can make a significant impact on the inclusivity and effectiveness of your teaching. By adapting your classroom to the needs of neurodivergent students, you create a more equitable learning environment where all students have the opportunity to excel.