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.,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.

Russell, J. L., & Booker, L. N. (2022). Design principles: Improving teaching practice with instructional coaching. Annenberg Institute at Brown University.

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