By: Shawn Hayes, Director of Teacher Development, Jefferson Parish Schools, Louisiana
I work in the largest school district in Louisiana, and we hire hundreds of new teachers each year. While some turnover is expected – as people discover that teaching is not the career for them, retirement, life changes, etc. – we were losing far too many new teachers due to a lack of support in their first two years of teaching.
High teacher turnover leads to all sorts of problems, including struggling to fill teaching positions. This often leads to the use of long-term substitutes or teachers with emergency credentials. While these stop-gap measures plug the hole, we know that they can negatively impact our students.
Keeping our new teachers, and helping them to be effective earlier in their careers, is a top priority. We have learned that mentoring holds great potential, not as an informal buddy system, but as a core part of our systems for instructional improvement.
When I joined the district four years ago, Jefferson didn't have an official, visible mentoring program. In my first twenty days, I was charged with developing one. We started that first year with about 60 mentors in 50 schools. It was tough to recruit mentors.
In that first year, the mentor teacher role was the only teacher leadership role we had. Now four years in, we have five teacher leadership roles in the district, and about 500 teacher leaders across all 80 of our schools. About 200 of those teacher leaders are in the mentor teacher role, serving as IGNITE Teacher Leader Fellows or TAP Mentors. We made a big bet on teacher leadership, and mentor teachers are an integral part of that structure of support.
I like to remind people that new teachers aren’t built in a day. They need time to develop and grow. My goal for them is to be a highly effective teacher by the end of their second or third year. That first year, I want to see them embrace a growth mindset, to understand that every student can achieve at high levels, and to learn how their actions as a teacher impact learning for each student.Shawn Hayes, Director of Teacher Development, Jefferson Parish Schools, Louisiana
Where you put your money is a direct reflection of your values. We started this work before the state made policy changes that now require a mentor for all undergraduate and post-baccalaureate teachers. Our mentoring program supports new teachers, as well as veteran teachers. There have been three main strategies that have led to success with this initiative.
First, it was really important that teachers see this is a core investment and something that is not going away. They see that the district places a high priority on mentoring, and how it is embedded in our strategic plan, which guides all of our work. Mentor teachers are directly impacting 4 of our 6 strategic priorities in that plan.
Second, change is inevitable for evolution, and we developed the mentoring program to be malleable, evolving and meeting the needs of the constituents for which it serves. For example, all of our summer professional learning this year was focused on the use of high-quality curriculum and how to move teachers forward in their content knowledge and their teaching skills to deliver that content. The mentor track of training is designed to complement that learning, including embedding elements to support our mentors in preparing to support their mentees around these key initiatives.
Third, we elevated the role of teacher leader. The stipends we offer for teacher leadership positions start with $1,500 for the mentor role and go up to $7,500 for the role of master teacher. We provide district level training and support, and create collaborative opportunities for teacher leaders across the district. Teacher leaders also serve on various committees and have access to additional learning and growth opportunities both at the school and district level. This helps to elevate the role and align the work with our priorities.
The state of Louisiana is providing funding for training and mentor stipends and has created a rigorous certification assessment for mentor teachers. Last year, approximately 40% of our mentors completed the mentor training requirements and are applying for their Mentor-Add On Credential to their teaching license. To date, the number of our mentors earning the certification has grown to 50% and is expected to reach 100% by the end of the 2021-2022 school year for both returning mentors and new mentors.
We set high expectations, but realistic ones. I like to remind people that new teachers aren’t built in a day. They need time to develop and grow. My goal for them is to be a highly effective teacher by the end of their second or third year. That first year, I want to see them embrace a growth mindset, to understand that every student can achieve at high levels, and to learn how their actions as a teacher impact learning for each student.
We retain about 98% of our teacher leaders each year, accounting for movement to other teacher leader roles or administrative positions, on average for the last four years. We are using mentors, along with other teacher leadership positions, to increase the quality of teaching and learning in every classroom and we are holding on to the teacher leaders that are a key part of making that system work.
Our district's investment in mentoring is helping us to increase the effectiveness and retention of new teachers. At the same time, it is creating opportunities for the most effective teachers to continue to improve their own skills, and share those skills with others. This is enabling us to retain our most effective teachers. Together, these strategies help us to provide every student with an effective teacher every year of their K-12 experience. This makes a huge difference in student learning and student success, which is the biggest incentive for teachers to stay.
This blog post is dedicated to the approximately 500 teacher leaders serving boldly in Jefferson Parish Schools. Their dedication, determination, and desire to grow make this work integral, essential, and meaningful each day. Specifically, I shout-out the 180 IGNITE Teacher Leader Fellows (mentors in our TAP Best Practice Schools) and IGNITE TAP Mentor Teachers (mentors in our Transformation Network) who directly support new teachers and veteran teachers in official capacities on their campuses, along with supporting the Instructional Leadership Team as a valued member.