3 Keys to New Teacher Success: Networks, Mentors, and Leadership Capacity

I read a tweet today on Twitter by @sarahyogidds, which illustrated the requirements needed for young teachers to feel successful in the classroom and their careers. The tweet was in response to the question, “How can we attract more young teachers?”

develop statewide & local support networks. Create leadership avenues & mentoring pipelines

Many young teachers bubble with enthusiasm, and want to make a difference. However, much of that enthusiasm can wane in a brief time with pressures of teacher evaluations, documentation requirements, and poor team dynamics. The pressure is real, and it’s understandable why some young teachers choose to leave the profession. As someone who entered teaching in my 30’s, I will say that I’ve never experienced a more scrutinized line of work.

This leads me to reflect on the statement by Mrs. Giddings. Her answer for retaining young teachers: “build networks, create leadership avenues, and mentoring pipelines.”

So, how do we accomplish this? 

Many teachers enter the teacher profession excited to make a difference! They want to contribute, and have a voice, but falter in knowing how to accomplish it. Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a PIRATE, states educators need to “put handles on it”, meaning learners need something to grab on to for it to make sense.  So, how can leaders and veteran teachers create the “handles” necessary for young teachers to feel strong in their own leadership contributions, while also feeling safe enough to be mentored in areas of need? This question can be answered through finding the delicate balance of network developer, mentee, and leader.

Help New Teachers Build Networks

  1. Get New Teachers Connected: There is no fun in floundering, and being the outsider. There is no need for a new teacher to pay his or her “dues”. New connections need to begin right away through encouraging notes, introductions, and establishing relationships within the team. New teachers need to be with other positive teachers who uplift during the first year.
  2. Train New Teachers on Twitter PLN Development: Often, new teachers need even more than a school can provide, so Twitter PLN development can be vital for sustained growth. PLNs serve as an excellent way to receive further mentoring, connect with like minded teachers, while also providing leadership through sharing of information.
  3. Establish a New Teacher Club: This may seem a bit out there, but new teachers have an immediate bond. It would be great to offer quarterly gatherings where new teachers share their journeys, eat, and offer insights to administrators, mentors, or other chosen teacher leaders.

Establish the Mentoring Pipeline

  1. Provide a Safety Net for New Teachers: All teachers need a safety net, and this fact can’t be underestimated. Every school has its own culture, rules, and sets of parameters. The absolute worst situation is for a new teacher to be thrown in with no support. New teachers need a mentor who will be patient, answer questions, and be willing to take the time to help.
  2. Establish Rules/Guidelines for Mentors and Mentees: Just as with great teachers, there are great mentors, but some mentors need established guidelines on how to mentor, and the necessary steps to be successful. Additionally, mentees, have expectations of their mentors, and if they do not communicate, frustration often sets in. If the frustration continues over time, the ground work has been laid for another disgruntled new teacher in the teacher gene pool. However, an established mentor/mentee program leads to greatness as successful mentors build teacher capability and capacity for future leadership.
  3. Teacher Observation: This may seem like a no-brainer–but, I must emphasize that many teachers do not like being observed by their peers. School leadership can help by asking teacher volunteers, who don’t mind being observed, to create a list with times for the mentee to observe them. Then, allow the mentor and mentee to work out a schedule for teacher observations. In this way, there is less pressure, and the teachers feel more in control.
  4. Safety to Fail: Currently, teachers in Georgia are observed several times a year, which leaves little time for failure and necessary recovery time.  No matter if you’ve been teaching one year, three years, or fifteen years, we are all graded by the same rubric. This feels completely overwhelming for many new teachers, so although going easy on the new teacher may not be possible, maybe an alternate outlook is in order. Teacher leaders or mentors can help by conducting mini-observations between administrative observations. These instructional leaders can coach new teachers, while offering safety in answering questions and concerns. As a result, new teachers will feel confident when observed by administrators and perform better. This takes dedication, but it may be what is necessary to retain great future talent.

 Create Leadership Avenues

  1. Let Leadership Happen:  Young teachers need to be able to make a difference outside of the classroom. Many young people today don’t want to wait twenty years before getting in a leadership role. They want to make a difference now! That reality should not create a problem because there are so many ways in which to lead in a school. Actually, this element is even more necessary due to Georgia’s TKES (Teacher Keys Evaluation System), which states teachers can only receive exemplary status though the demonstration of teacher leadership. Therefore, leadership teams need to brainstorm as many ways possible for leadership to take place, and then provide those to teachers so that they can be successful.
  2. Creativity within Boundaries: While in ministry leadership, I often thought, “Why don’t people take ownership in their church?! Why must I tell them what I need all the time?!” As an immature leader I later realized the fault in my thinking. The truth is–rarely do people know what to do–nor will they bring their leadership ideas to administration or leadership. The leadership teams must set the parameters, and offer the “handles” for the teachers to grab. This can be offered in a variety of ways such providing a list of leadership opportunities for new teachers, listening and providing feedback with ideas for leadership, or allowing teacher mentors or team leaders to direct leadership opportunities. Starting small is a great place to start, but if new teachers feel in control to lead in ways that excite them about their job, they are much more likely to stay.
  3. Use Their Talents Now!: There is no time like the present when developing leadership. Many young teachers have great talents. It’s the leadership that needs to pay attention in order to develop and use that talent as soon as possible. Also, if new teachers come with ideas, use at least one new idea or guide them in the right direction to where those ideas can be useful. The faster a young teacher can use his or her gifts, and feel supported in their quest to make a difference, the higher the chances of job satisfaction.

There is no doubt that time and effort are required in developing young teachers. Maybe it all comes down to priorities, but where are we headed without excellent teachers to lead our children?

Our country needs excellent, passionate, and dedicated teachers to lead our classrooms.  The payoff far exceeds the time invested.


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