Once teachers have completed their teacher preparation program and gotten a teaching position, they are often surprised to find that they aren’t actually finished with their credential.
Teachers in California must complete an induction program within five years to earn their clear professional credential, but not everyone has access to induction or chooses to participate right away.
The purpose of induction is to provide new teachers in their first and second years of teaching with mentorship so that they are more effective in their classrooms and get support in those most challenging years. Unfortunately, when teachers delay induction because they don’t have access to induction programs in their district and must pay to participate in a program, or put it off for several years for other reasons, the program can begin to feel more like a hurdle than a support.
Having worked in teacher support programs for more than two decades, I have seen the difference support and mentoring can make to help new teachers succeed in the classroom and stay in the profession. In my experience, these are the ingredients of a successful induction program:
Skilled mentors: The most impactful element of an effective induction program is the relationship between the mentor and candidate. Mentors meet with their assigned candidates for a minimum of an hour a week, and the real value of induction is the conversations and reflection that happens between them. Mentors should be experienced, collaborative, and models of effective practices. I always say that if you give me an excellent teacher as a mentor, in two years, I’ll give you two excellent teachers.
District support: In order for mentors and candidates to truly focus on support and growth in practice, they need the time to do it. District and site leaders can aid in this process by limiting the adjunct duties of both. New teachers need to focus on learning about their students and implementing effective strategies in those first years, and not be asked to be on committees or lead teams or clubs. Mentors are often the teachers who are asked to do the most at their site, but if a district truly values their role as a mentor, they will give them the time to do it well.
Varied types of support: Effective support should be a balance of “just in time” support and more focused support to learn strategies in an area of need that they’ve chosen. New teachers need guidance with the nuts and bolts of their responsibilities, especially when they are newly hired, as well as emotional support as they learn to navigate the many challenges. They also need to focus their learning and create goals for their practice, based on what they and their students need most.
Individualized learning: Induction programs are organized around the Individual Learning Plan. This plan allows for each candidate to choose their own areas of focus, based on the California Standards for the Teaching Profession, and implement new strategies and tools to help their students succeed. Mentors are key to this process, as they guide the new teachers to resources, professional development, and staff in that area of focus so that they have access to research-based, effective strategies.
Collaboration: One of the main factors in teacher burnout is isolation. That’s why all induction work should be done collaboratively with the mentor. The reflective conversations are not only essential for learning the habits of mind of effective practitioners, but this also prevents induction becoming “homework” that adds a burden to their teaching responsibilities. New teachers also need to be a part of a community, and both mentors and program leaders should create opportunities for candidates to connect with other teachers in similar positions.
Feedback: Just as we ask new teachers to continually assess their students’ learning and adjust their instruction, induction programs must also gather feedback from all stakeholders in their program, and use it to continually improve how they are meeting their needs. One of the main lessons learned over the evolution of teacher induction has been that if the program isn’t working for its teachers, then it’s not working. The challenges for teachers are changing every year, and so should the support for new teachers. Effective programs are not only willing to make modifications, but are eager to hear new ideas and actively seek them out.
At the end of the 2020-21 school year, teachers who had just completed induction responded to a question on a state survey about whether they wanted to continue teaching. Ninety-six percent of them responded that they would. Even in a year of distance learning and all the challenges that brought, teachers who participated in induction had the support they needed to persevere and stay in the profession.
To retain effective teachers, support for quality induction programs should be a top priority in every district.
As a superintendent of a district in my program recently said to me, “Induction is one of the most important investments a district can make.”
Julie Sheldon is the induction coordinator of Walnut Valley Consortium and co-chair of the Greater Los Angeles Induction Leadership Committee.
To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.