Why new teacher mentoring can fall short, and 3 ways to fix it

Districts can ensure that mentor teachers focus on instructional coaching and set clear expectations
By: | September 15, 2021

When improperly designed, teacher mentoring programs can turn into a simple “buddy system” instead of a rigorous learning opportunity for first-time educators, a new report has found.

Mentoring can fail when sufficient time, resources and training are lacking, according to the “Why New Teacher Mentoring Falls Short, and How to Fix It” report by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching.

“We know from research and experience that high-quality mentoring programs lead to better performance in the classroom, increased student achievement, and higher teacher retention,” said Josh Barnett, the Institute’s co-president and chief operating officer. “The challenge is that not enough schools and districts are implementing comprehensive approaches to get the results all teachers and students deserve.”

The study analyzed mentoring programs in Louisiana and Texas that researchers found provided adequate funding and training for new teachers.

Here are three key findings:

1. Focus mentoring on instructional improvement. States and districts can ensure that teacher mentors focus on instructional coaching and set clear expectations for their programs. Successful programs also must have:

  • Clear purpose and vision around improving teaching and learning;
  • Intentional investments in built-in time, training and the use of an evidence-based instructional rubric;
  • Defined roles, responsibilities and compensation for mentors;

2. Make mentors more effective with training, tools, and protocols. Instilling good habits and norms at the outset benefits new teachers long-term and strengthens school culture. This can be achieved by:

  • Establishing trust and a growth mindset;
  • Grounding mentoring in student outcomes and the needs of the mentee;
  • Using a cycle of coaching for continuous improvement;
  • Creating opportunities for mentors to collaborate.

3. Align mentoring programs with district and school goals. Mentoring should not be a “one-off” program disconnected from school, district and state initiatives. Districts should support principals to integrate mentors into the school leadership team and ensure that the mentoring program aligns with district and school priorities or initiatives.

“The first year of teaching is always challenging, but new teachers this fall face even greater obstacles after finishing their training during a pandemic and now navigating learning recovery,” said Laura Encalade, co-president of the Institute. “This heightens the need to better support first-year educators, especially those serving students who most need a great teacher.”

PD in inclusivity

In Detroit, the University of Michigan and several community groups has taken over the former camps of Marygrove College to create the P-20 Partnership, which housing an early childhood learning center, a K-12 school, and a teacher education program.

Pre-service teachers can earn their certifications through the program and then participate in a teaching residency, which includes robust professional development, in the Detroit Public Schools Community School District, says Elizabeth Birr Moje, dean of the university’s School of Education.

“We know teachers tend to leave the profession if they don’t build a sense of efficacy in those early years,” Moje says.

The School of Education has also used CARES Act funds to develop free professional development modules focused on inquiry-based teaching and project-based learning. The program covers topics such, culturally sustaining pedagogies, trauma-based online education practices informed by anti-racist teaching and inclusive online teaching for English learners.

One goal is to help general education teachers widen their knowledge about language acquisition so they can better support the multilingual students in their classrooms.

“When teachers struggle to communicate with their students, they often—without even knowing— focus on the challenges the child is having communicating and end up in a deficit-based approach,” Moje says. “We want them to create a classroom environment that uses students’ linguistic and cultural skills as entry points in learning the language they need to know.”

The PD modules also guide teachers in embedding anti-racism into instruction. “It’s seeing where racism is alive and well in our system and having teachers working to ensure they’re not perpetuating that,” she says.”It is not teaching any students to feel bad about themselves in any way, shape or form. We want all children to feel good about themselves and be or attentive to the needs of others.