HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Against Mentorship: Teacher Induction through Collaboration

by Harry K. Wong Issue: Teacher Retention & Development

The Y Generation, born from 1977 to 1986, are products of an increasingly global economy, where knowledge is power and laptop computers often provide the quickest means to attaining both. Many of today’s young teachers not only have access to millions of digital resources, they also have at their fingertips thousands of professional and social networks. They are receptive to working in teams, and they are good at it. They do not blink at the mention of blogging, Googling, and Wikipedia, or the use of social networks like Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube. Indeed, learning communities are their forte.

The most successful schools have developed comprehensive induction plans to integrate Gen Y teachers in the culture of their faculty peers. New teachers want to contribute to a group. Induction programs provide that connection because they are structured around a learning community where new and veteran teachers are treated with respect and their contributions are valued. Surround Y-Generation teachers with a community of creative thinkers and the solutions will abound everywhere. Collaboration is the most effective way for all teachers to learn, whether they are new or established. Collaboration is how schools become effective.

For example, at the Yavneh Day School in Los Gatos, California, all teachers, new and old alike, participate in organized team building and information sessions prior to school and at times throughout the year. There is an articulated curriculum and the Hebrew, Judaica, and general studies teachers all work together to build a thematic approach to learning so that themes and areas of learning are studied across disciplines.

A Collaborative Instructional Team

This past June 2008, 98.5 percent of the Islip School District seniors graduated with a New York Regents Diploma. To graduate with a prestigious Regents diploma, students must take a rigorous academic curriculum and pass five state exams with a score of 65 or better.

Islip does it with a comprehensive induction program, under the leadership of Assistant Superintendent Linda Lippmann, in which teachers are trained to be effective. The three year induction program features collaborative study group activities and networking. Study teams focus on skill-building strategies such as conducting parent conferences, managing classrooms, crafting lesson plans, and implementing cooperative discipline. The groups constantly work on team-building and problem-solving techniques. They use model lessons and hold sharing sessions in which teachers learn from each other and build respect for one another. Teacher turnover is negligible and new teachers are immediately ushered into a team-like culture.

The major focus of the Islip induction program is to immerse new teachers in the district’s culture and to unite them with everyone in the district as a cohesive, supportive instructional team. New teachers quickly become a part of the district’s “family.” Induction fosters a sense of belonging among teachers, which in turn fosters a sense of belonging among students.

Effective and Ineffective Schools

We’ve all heard the adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for today. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” The Y Generation takes that one step further: “Teach him to share that information with others and everyone will benefit from collaborating on new and innovative ways to catch fish.” This concept is how effective schools bring out the best in their new teachers.

In most companies, employees work in teams. This is because teams produce results. People who work in isolation do not produce results. However, that is the way most schools are organized. Teachers view themselves as independent operators, encouraged to be creative and expected to do a good job behind closed doors. There is no cohesiveness to the school’s curriculum, goals, or culture. Collaboration is rare.

Worse yet, new teachers seldom see another classroom in action. Loneliness and lack of support further exacerbate the frustrations of beginning teachers. To ask a Generation Y teacher to go solo in a networked world is writing that teacher’s epitaph, which might as well read, “Doomed from the start.”

Effective schools have a culture where teachers work collaboratively with other highly motivated teachers in an orderly, focused school atmosphere. Effective teachers do not work alone; they work in teams. Effective schools are committed to being a community of learners, where teachers work together, assess together, and learn together so that student achievement improves.

That some teachers are ineffective may not be their fault. It takes three to five years to produce an effective teacher. In some schools, new teachers are ushered into a classroom to sink or swim and teach in isolation. There is no comprehensive induction program with a laser focus on training teachers to be effective.

In the private and nonprofit sector, new employees are generally trained in a structured program, with the training continuing until the employee leaves the company. Most people understand that businesses continue to train workers in teams with specific outcomes in mind. Likewise, schools will see improved student learning if they harness the collective intelligence, creativity, and genius of their teachers in teams. Regretfully, in many schools—and we do not even want to consider those schools that do nothing to train their teachers—all the new teachers get is a mentor.

Mentoring vs. Induction

Mentoring and induction are not the same. Mentoring is what one person does.

Induction is a comprehensive process. Mentoring does not produce effective teachers.

(Go to www.NewTeacher.com, “Significant Research and Readings on Comprehensive Induction,” for full details.)

Giving Gen Y teachers a mentor runs contrary to their proclivities to learn and produce in a group environment. After a year of sporadic one-to-one mentoring, the new teacher retreats to the practice of stand-alone teaching in an isolated classroom. Just to give a new teacher a mentor will never produce an effective teacher.

The reason teachers leave and students do not learn is that in many schools, new teachers are given a mentor who typically has no focus, goals, or mission other than to be available for support and help. There is no development of teacher effectiveness from year to year; there is no coherent set of effective instructional practices to learn; and there is no monitoring of the process by administrators. This is why teachers leave when they say they have no administrative support.

The Major Role of an Administrator

In Judaism, the weekly observance of Shabbat and annual celebration of holidays such as Rosh Hashanah and Passover with family and friends are ways children become acculturated to the traditions associated with their religion. Studying together with others in Jewish day schools, bar/bat mitzvah classes, and in synagogue is another example of how a group of people establishes, nourishes and creates continuity of learning over time. Just as Judaism guides its adherents in both practice and belief, a comprehensive induction program is structured to guide the new teachers in both the practices and beliefs of a school.

The major role of a head of school or principal is to establish, nourish, and disseminate a school’s culture. You can see this has been accomplished because an effective school has a discernable culture, whereas an ineffective school is a building with teachers who have only the parking lot in common.

Study after study has shown that most new teachers would forego more money in favor of a good administrator, the chance to work collaboratively with other highly motivated teachers, and an orderly, focused school atmosphere.

Gen Ys Learn Best by Collaboration

Gen Ys live in a global society where everyone is on the same playing field sharing information and solutions to produce outcomes. The Gen Ys are output oriented, success oriented, and thus student-achievement oriented. Gen Y teachers want to be involved in a collaborative way. They are a generation of great team players, and by channeling their talent for working together, we will see improved student learning. Education is a collaborative endeavor; no one individual has all the answers. We depend on each other for the creative solutions to our problems and the collective inspiration to design lessons that will improve student learning.

Gen Yers like structure and want schools to give them clear rules and procedures to follow. They need to see clearly the value of their work. They want their work to be relevant, have impact, and offer them a diversity of experiences. They are receptive to the wisdom of older, seasoned teachers and administrators. They also want their valuable contributions appreciated—they want their ideas to be heard by expert listeners.

This next generation of teachers is the most intelligent, talented, competitive (and compulsive) group this country has seen. It’s a Renaissance generation with much potential if we put the future in their care. They are more interesting, more confident, less hidebound and uptight, better educated, more creative, and even unafraid. The grandeur of the future is in their capable hands. Let them work together. ♦

Harry K. Wong is a former high school science teacher. He is author of The First Days of School and writes a monthly column on www.teachers.net. He can be reached at HarryKRose@aol.com.

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Teacher Retention & Development

Teachers are the most precious resource of any school. The measure of a great school is its ability to recruit and retain great teachers who know their subject and craft, care deeply about all their students, and are passionately committed to their own development and the school as a community. Here, find guidance for finding, preparing and evaluating teachers, and keeping them happy and productive stakeholders.

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