Supporting New Teachers: Promoting Leadership as a Pathway for Prospective Educators

May 15, 2024

Supporting New Teachers: Promoting Leadership as a Pathway for Prospective Educators

A common theme throughout our series has been the importance of teacher leadership roles and mentorship. We have discussed the importance of feedback and how it can diminish isolation, the effectiveness of grounding work in detailed rubrics, and the need to create collaboration and celebration in the profession.  

We also learned how teacher leaders guide new teachers through the challenges they face as they start their careers. But, as we know, teacher leaders do not grow on trees - their skills must be honed, and they too once experienced their first daunting day in a classroom. As we recognize the critical role that mentorship has in the first year of new teachers’ careers, we also must be mindful of fostering those leadership qualities and creating opportunities for new mentors to emerge, promoting the cycle of professional growth and support in our schools. 

Leadership roles pique the interest of new teachers, too - likely because these mentor and master teachers have such an impact on how they approach classroom instruction themselves and serve as a bridge between teacher preparation and real-life experiences in the classroom. So, what is so appealing about teacher leaders from a new teacher perspective, and why do we know it is such an effective line of support for school systems? Our new teachers shared valuable insights. 

Teacher leaders teach more than instructional practice - and make an impact on new teachers

Time and time again, each new teacher cited the helpfulness of mentorship during their first year in the classroom, especially for visualizing best practices, answering questions, and receiving one-on-one coaching. Much of that support came from a balance of learning school culture and teaching about analytical and data-driven approaches to instructional practices to grow student achievement. 

Versatility is a core element of teacher leadership, especially because everyone has different strengths and leadership qualities. When implemented correctly, teacher leadership roles have the potential to impact entire school communities - from first-year teachers to district leaders. 

Teachers leaders play a key role by field testing the strategies in their classrooms and sharing results, often through instructional leadership teams. When leaders harbor a ‘go-first’ mindset and promote collaboration, they light the way for the rest of the school staff to follow in their footsteps when it comes to improving instructional strategies. 

Implementing formal leadership roles helps strengthen teachers’ practices and develop leadership skills to support colleagues. These opportunities help schools and districts to better retain and engage effective teachers and support student success - and the impacts of teacher leaders are what will inspire the next cycle of teachers to pursue professional pathways as well. 

Prioritizing new teachers through supporting teacher leaders

Schools that want to invest in teacher leadership roles as a form of schoolwide support should consider three action steps to establish effective leadership roles: 

  1. Focus mentoring on instructional improvement. Successful programs must have a 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, and compensation for mentors; and the selection of the right people for the job. 
  2. Support mentors to be more effective by providing training, tools, and protocols for the role. Instilling good habits and norms at the outset will benefit new teachers long term and strengthen school culture overall. This can be done 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; and creating opportunities for mentors to collaborate.
  3. Align the mentoring program with district and school systems and goals. Mentoring should not be a "one-off" program disconnected from school, district, and state initiatives, nor should mentors be disengaged from the school leadership team. Districts should support principals to integrate them into the school leadership structure and ensure that the mentoring program is in line with district and school priorities.

Leadership roles will help promote a support system and instruct new teachers effectively during their transition from being in class to teaching it. The mentoring process – forming relationships, understanding the new teachers’ needs, establishing goals, and observing classroom practices – takes time and calls for district and school leaders to take action to protect the time and space that it takes teacher leaders to support other teachers. 

When implemented correctly, teacher leadership serves as the core of all key steps in our reflection series: from providing constructive feedback and reducing isolation, defining clear instructional practices, celebrating progress and promoting collaboration, and paving the avenue for upcoming teachers to take on leadership roles of their own to usher in the next class of new teachers - a cycle that offers us the opportunity to improve, one year after another.