District's New Teacher Induction Approach Blends Virtual Content and Collaboration

By Joetta Sack-Min

The Learning First Alliance recently published a report on The Educator Pipeline, looking at recruitment and retention of teachers, principals and administrators. The report found that there are growing shortages of qualified school staff, and that many in the field are taking on responsibilities with inadequate preparation, are overwhelmed, and report dissatisfaction with their jobs because of a lack of support or other issues.

After reading the article, Georgia’s Fulton County Schools wanted to share its story on its new teacher mentoring and induction programs. The school district has 96,500 students and 7,000 teachers in an urban/suburban setting.  The following piece is written by the school district’s communications consultant Jennifer Klein:     

 

After developing and implementing a rigorous Teacher Selection Model, Fulton County Schools in metro Atlanta turned its energy toward dramatically improving new teacher on-boarding, designing a new induction approach to retain new teachers and give them every chance to succeed.  

In its third year, GO TIP includes dedicated mentoring, specific professional development tailored to identified strengths and weaknesses, and opportunities to collaborate and share experiences with colleagues. It trains new teachers with a range of supports: thoughtfully matched peer teachers, virtual coaching, and online training simulations. “The heart of GO TIP is targeting skills, giving new teachers space and time to practice skills, and giving feedback,” says Nathifa Carmichael, Talent Management Coordinator for Fulton.

Fulton County Schools hires about 800 teachers each year. New teachers arrive with distinct professional development needs and varying degrees of potential success as a teacher. And statistically, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, 40 to 50 percent will leave the profession within five years. “The pool of potential teachers is down, both in enrollment, in teacher prep, and applications, so we must keep the ones we get,” says Carmichael.

The GO TIP program’s unique approach is blended adult learning. Because time and distance are considerable challenges for Fulton County, a district with a breadth of almost 80 miles and bisected by another district, developing virtual content delivery and collaboration methods was a key component of the program. The district deploys “Virtual Coaches” to accomplish this, selecting 30 experienced, highly effective veteran teachers across the district who are responsible for facilitating online seminars for the district’s newest teachers. They also monitor and report performance and progress, facilitate collaborative virtual learning networks, and implement online instruction that promote best practices in instructional planning, teaching, and assessment.

Virtual seminars are online, leveraging Fulton’s learning management system, Edivate.  Participants have four weeks to complete the initial on-demand seminar, accessible on any mobile device, and facilitated by a virtual coach.  “These online seminars allow participants to talk with someone who actually teaches content in schools just like theirs,” says Carmichael. “Seminars are reflection based, asking ‘What have you tried? What may have helped you do it better?’”  In many cases virtual coaches go back and forth with the new teacher using Skype, Google Hangouts, or phone calls.”

In addition to Virtual Coaches, GO TIP has an arsenal of in-person supports, including Induction Administrators, often a member of the school’s leadership staff, who go into classrooms in the first 30 days for a diagnostic observation that is used to personalize their virtual seminar experience; Induction Advisors, who manage school-based events such as observations and meetings; and Mentor Teachers, who guide one-on-one and teach core skills. The local school has lots of flexibility to combine roles as needed; each are compensated at various levels.

The first virtual seminar takes place in November of the school year. The first seminar topic is determined from areas of need captured in a classroom observation conducted earlier in the school year. By the time second seminar begins in February, teachers have a better understanding of their own strengths and needs so they are invited to choose their own topic. For those who still want support, Induction Advisors look at their performance, and help new teachers pick a topic based on their needs.  “From what we know about adult learning, new teachers must feel buy-in for professional learning to have an impact, so we encourage them to think about ways in which they want to grow when choosing the topic of their seminar,” says Carmichael. “We have data collected from our teacher selection model that informs our seminar topics. We can see that our new teachers struggle with assessment strategies, so we include that, along with training in classroom management, practices in lesson planning, and guidance on using data in meaningful ways.” New teachers in Fulton County Schools are responding positively to the personalized approach to development. Eighty-five percent of new teachers surveyed agree that virtual seminar content and interaction with a Virtual Coach helped improve their teaching practice.

Feeling valued is an important part of school-based support, recognizing the importance for the generational employee, especially millennials, to feel part of something bigger.  “School-based events are key -- we aim to make sure new teachers are having experiences and monthly interactions to celebrate things that are really working, not just issues that need work,” says Carmichael. “That’s an important piece-- for each new teacher to know there’s a person who cares about their success.”  

School-based events are in-person activities that may take the form of a group workshop, one-on-one conference, or role play session. Each month Induction Advisors submit school-based events describing actual experiences. “They choose options such as video watching and discussion, modeling, and allowing new teachers to practice among themselves,” says Carmichael. “It helps us develop both macro and micro understanding of the types of experiences new teachers are having across the district. We know if GO TIP is offering lots of support in assessment strategies, or if a particular school offers a session on differentiated instruction.”

This wraparound approach to induction has resulted in 93 percent of teachers with one year or less experience agreeing that their teaching has improved because of GO TIP support. End of year observation results also indicate success. New teachers’ instructional practice has overwhelmingly improved as a result of the coaching and supports of the program.

Fulton hired 833 new teachers in the 2016-17 school year, and the program continues to adapt to the needs of the district. New aspects of GO TIP include establishing program tiers that are informed by the level of support schools need from the central office. The highest program level includes more support in data collection, on-site visits, and coaching for mentors using video tools that allow teachers to upload video of their teaching, reflect, then engage in virtual feedback session with Virtual Coaches. GO TIP also adjusts for schools that have well developed teacher induction programs that require less support. For these schools, resources related to induction and mentoring are available on demand. A partnership with the New Teacher Center creates ongoing opportunities for GO TIP staff at all levels on the continuum to develop their ability to better support novice teachers.

GO TIP aims to follow new teachers into their second and third years. “We won’t use virtual coaches after their second year, as these new teachers graduate to regular professional learning,” says Carmichael. “We’ll continue the connection with their peer mentor teacher, and we hope new teachers maintain their own relationships with virtual coaches. We’re making the point that they are part of the larger Fulton Schools district and encourage professional connections outside of their own school.

“We all want to grow and get better. The most effective way of accomplishing this is to be specific about what we need to work on.  After three years in the GO TIP program, getting great instruction, great feedback, and great support, our new  teachers are in the best position to become great teacher leaders. Then the cycle of teacher and student success can continue.”

 

 

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