Keeping Teachers In the Classroom: How Texas is Creating Sustainable Environments for New Teachers Through Mentoring

April 14, 2022

Keeping Teachers In the Classroom: How Texas is Creating Sustainable Environments for New Teachers Through Mentoring

District and school leaders across the country are facing the same critical questions: How do we keep new teachers in the profession? How do we help them be effective in their first year? Creating an environment where new educators feel supported to grow and improve is crucial to retaining great teachers and providing the consistency needed for students to succeed. The added challenges of the pandemic have only made it more difficult for new educators to feel prepared to be successful, and now more than ever, teachers who are new to the profession need proper support. 

There are several strategies to retain new teachers, but one of the most effective is implementing mentoring programs that pair new teachers with veteran teachers. Research shows that multiyear mentoring and induction programs can alleviate many challenges that teachers face in their first two years, leading to improvements in student performance, teacher effectiveness, and teacher retention. [1]

Texas is addressing the issue of new teacher retention through the creation of the Mentor Program Allotment (MPA), a program that helps districts strengthen mentor programs by pairing teachers who are new to the district with experienced mentor teachers who have a record of success in improving student achievement. This opportunity provides up to $2,500 per new teacher to support mentor stipends, scheduled release time, and training. In the first cycle of the MPA, NIET partnered with 16 districts to support their efforts, impacting over 300 new teachers and more than 4,000 students. For the 2021-2022 school year, NIET supported more than 400 mentors and administrators across 12 school systems during the second cycle of the MPA. Through high-quality face-to-face and virtual training, the NIET team has collaborated with district and school leaders to transform traditional mentoring programs into instructionally focused, capacity-building systems. Districts embed new teacher mentoring into existing systems so it functions strategically to support teaching, learning, and retention rather than being a stand alone program.

A Different Approach To New Teacher Mentoring

While some mentor programs operate as more of a “buddy system” with informal mentor roles and little guidance, NIET’s training takes a research-driven approach to ensure new teachers are receiving the academic feedback and support needed to grow as an effective educator. The training takes place over four days, with a combination of asynchronous and synchronous learning, and helps mentor teachers develop their coaching skills and learn how to make data-driven improvements in instructional practice to support teacher growth using Texas’ evaluation rubric, the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS), as a tool. Following the training, NIET also provides coaching and support opportunities to mentors and administrators throughout the year. The skills learned in NIET’s training benefit new teachers directly as well as build the capacity of teachers across the school to improve teaching and learning. NIET’s training intentionally equips mentors to help new teachers improve their classroom practice more rapidly, leading to better support for students and greater job satisfaction and retention for new teachers. Mentors reflected throughout the training on what they were learning and why it is important, as well as what their specific next steps should be.

"High-quality feedback needs to be well thought out and planned for that specific teacher. This will allow the teacher to grow to their needs," said a participant in a reflection. "After feedback is given, the feedback will need to be modeled for the receiving teacher."

Building Strong Instructional Mentors

By focusing mentoring on instructional improvement, NIET helps districts and schools build mentor programs that have a clear purpose and vision around improving teaching and learning. The ultimate goal is to grow new teachers into effective educators, so academic improvement is the anchor of NIET’s training. Mentors have clearly outlined expectations as well as defined characteristics of high-quality mentoring. The training also helps mentors understand the similarities and differences between mentoring conversations and coaching conversations so they are able to best meet their mentee’s needs. 

"[I learned] the importance of allowing the mentee to be part of the feedback process by choosing the options they want to explore and try, and then having reflective conversations to promote accountability," said a participant.

Mentors also gain a deeper understanding of the coaching cycle and how to collect and use data to help mentees strengthen instruction. NIET's training helps mentors identify curriculum and pedagogy resources they can use to support beginning teachers and helps them identify what evidence to look for. Additionally, mentors explore and learn to identify levels of reflective capacity of new teachers on a continuum to determine an appropriate entry point and specific strategies for supporting individual growth. By covering five key areas of teacher leadership – foundational leadership, instructional expertise, data-driven, collaborative partnerships, and professional advocate – the training not only prepares mentors to support new teachers, it also equips them to grow effective educators.

"[It is important to] look at where I am personally so that I could help my mentees reflect better with their lessons," said a participant. "If I as a mentor cannot reflect honestly about where I am, how can I expect them to do so?"

While the primary goals are to increase the retention and impact of new teachers, mentoring programs also create teacher leadership opportunities for mentor teachers, which research has also shown to be effective at improving student outcomes and improving overall retention rates. In addition to Texas’ MPA, NIET works with numerous districts across the country to implement and/or strengthen new teacher mentoring and induction programs. This support provides mentor teachers provide better feedback, know what to look for as a mentor, establish an effective coaching structure, and build their own instructional capacity through self reflection to effectively articulate best practices to new teachers.

After supporting Texas educators through two cycles of the MPA, NIET will continue its work to strengthen the experiences of beginning teachers across Texas over the next three school years  through 15 MPA district partnerships. By continuing to invest in long-term, mentorship-based induction and ongoing support for new teachers, more first-year teachers will stay in the profession and become effective educators – and in turn, more students will achieve success.

[1] Ingersoll, R.M., & Strong, M. (2011). The impact of induction and mentoring programs for beginning teachers: A critical review of the research. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 201-233.