Supporting Beginning Teachers in Their First Year and Beyond

How to Smooth the Transition and Speed the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers edLeader Panel recording screenshot

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New teachers face unique challenges, and their success largely depends on the structure and systems schools have in place for their support. Three academic leaders shared their strategies and advice in the edLeader Panel “How to Smooth the Transition and Speed the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers.”

Dr. Jessica Irwin, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Holmdel Public Schools (NJ), said information overload can overwhelm new teachers as they navigate learning a school’s curriculum, standards, state mandates, and accountability measures, among other important items, while figuring out the basics like where things are in an unfamiliar building. “There’s a lot of information,” she said, “and they are discerning what is important. We need to think about the critical pieces they need to learn to get started.”

Jared Kahmar, newly appointed Assistant Superintendent of Tuxedo Union Free School District (NY), said a crucial element to transitioning new teachers is onboarding. “Our role as leaders is that onboarding piece, connecting with our new people, and establishing clear expectations,” he said, adding that ongoing support is necessary. “Five months in, they will have questions. We need to make sure we revisit those topics and continue to engage and support our new educators.”

In a large, urban district like Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (NC)—where there are 186 schools, 142,000 students, and 1,934 new teachers—many teachers are alternatively licensed, explained Renée Golz, Director of Beginning Teacher Development. “They are not 22 years old and classically trained, meaning they did not go to a College of Education and earn a four-year degree,” she said. “For many of our new teachers, this is a second career. We’re learning how to best support our teachers when they haven’t had a student teaching experience to learn from.”

Effective system supports were discussed, including:

  • Establishing clear expectations and engagement protocols
  • Assigning a mentor
  • Meeting regularly with teaching teams
  • Building and supporting trajectory

The panelists offered creative strategies, from a New Teacher Academy and book studies to focus groups and an app where teachers can get to know each other before the school year begins.

Dr. Irwin said she asks new teachers to write a letter to themselves on the first day of their teacher orientation about their hopes and expectations for the school year. At the end of the year, the teachers are given back their letters so they can “reflect and think about how much they’ve grown.”

The educators shared the instructional competencies they believe are most important in the classroom to ensure students are engaged, building agency, and achieving their academic goals.

Golz pointed to analytical thinking, critical thinking, and higher-order questioning. “We’re facing a lot of new challenges and education is in crisis, so it’s really important that we hold onto our core and develop those strong instructional competencies.”

Helping teachers see how their work fits into the bigger picture is critical. Dr. Irwin suggested teachers complete three statements:

  1. Today I will…
  2. So that I can…
  3. I know I have it when…

“This helps get them into big-picture thinking, which is an instructional competency we want our students to develop,” she said. “But in order to get there we have to employ that ourselves as teachers.”

Kahmar spoke to building agency. “Oftentimes, from an instructional standpoint, when we see low agency we see issues with how we’re delivering our learning targets,” he said, noting educators need to look at the types and depth of questions they are presenting. “I see low agency and I see learners who are not engaged. When I think about how to grow agency for our kids, those are the practices instructionally that I want to focus on with my staff, increasing and improving our levels of engagement, increasing and improving our volume, and the rigor behind our questioning.”

All districts are being impacted by the national teacher shortage. Utilizing social media, partnering with local universities, and emphasizing benefits and resources are a few strategies for attracting new teachers and ensuring retention.

Golz said Charlotte-Mecklenburg advertises its Classroom Central, a store where teachers can get free supplies monthly. In a small state like New Jersey, where schools are competing for teachers, Dr. Irwin says her district modifies the job application to “reflect the district’s core values so people know right from the start what you’re all about. You’re giving them a reason to want to work there.”

And culture counts, added Penny Ciaburri, Vice President and General Manager of PLC Associates, a Scholarus Learning Company. “School leaders have a critical role in creating and sustaining a collaborative culture.” Kahmar agreed. “Collaboration is key. It trumps everything,” he said.

Recognizing and celebrating staff, understanding how individuals want to be shown appreciation, and creating flexibility were a few suggestions for creating a collaborative culture.

Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, How to Smooth the Transition and Speed the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers, sponsored by PLC Associates, a Scholarus Learning Company.

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Article by Diana St. Lifer, based on this edLeader Panel.