Supporting New Teachers, Mentoring, and Being a #LeadLearner #NAISDeepDive @NAISnetwork #NAISToF

The following is a discussion post I just put up on the NAIS Idea Exchange community. If you are a part of NAIS connect, please contribute to the discussion here!

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what schools can do to better support new teachers. We’ve had our fair share of transition in our math department over the years I’ve been at my school. Math seems to get hit hard at a lot of independent schools near me, in fact. Is this due to lack of support? Lack of guidance? Too many responsibilities? Poor training?

This year, I went with one of our new teachers to Independent Education’s Teacher-Mentor Learning Institute. I actually went to this program 8 years ago myself, as a new teacher. The program has evolved since that time, and now each session includes teachers and their mentors for the full day. I like that model – fostering partnerships in the teacher-mentor team. I think creating a culture of teacher-leaders and lead learners within our schools is such an important one, and I was very happy to learn more about mentoring and how I can be a better support.

In the program, we met a total of 4 times. Each session had a specific theme. We were also assigned reading from 2 books: Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, Karin Morrison and Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. I took notes throughout my time there, which you can view here if you are interested: http://wp.me/p1EGO9-lc

But after the sessions, I came away thinking — why don’t we do a program like this with second and third year teachers? How can we promote the idea of teacher leaders within our schools? Our best principals are those who embody the notion of lead learner – they are continually looking for growth and sharing opportunities, ways to influence culture and improve what’s around them. The Teacher-Mentor Institute I attended was aimed at teachers in their first three years at a school, but nearly all mentees were either brand new teachers or new to their school (or new to independent schools). I certainly left my last session thinking how much more effective the program would have been had I attended with my mentee from last year, who is now in her 2nd year at our school and her 3rd year teaching. And (at my school at least) we have a new teacher program for 1st year teachers. But by the time they get to their second year, there is no formal program for them. How much more effective would that program be if it extended 3 years? Not only would this continue their opportunity to learn, but it would also develop a culture of sharing, reflecting, and giving back early on. I am lucky in that my mentee from last year and I co-teach a course, so our partnership has continued. Our discussions are much more substantial this year and we actually have the opportunity to talk about best teaching practices and reflect on things we’ve learned, areas in which we have grown, and things we are looking to do better in the future. Last year, as her official mentor, she was just trying to get through the first year! I did my best to walk her through the fundamentals, teach her the ropes, and keep her swimming. As all teachers know, things can get crazy hectic at school and the first year is a juggling act!

On this note of time, I’ve also thought about how we might be able to build a better culture of teacher leaders within our schools, who more formally took on the role or sharing, mentoring, and providing growth opportunities to colleagues. In my ideal world, we would see teacher leaders getting a reduced load/sabbatical semester in which they were tasked to truly give back to their school.

So after this very long intro… in which I got a bit carried away with my own thoughts… I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts! How do you support new teachers at your school? Do you know of schools who are modeling this practice well? What things do you wish would change? And what things do you think we are already doing well?

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