Mentor teacher/Induction of beginning teachers in Ontario

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Why teacher induction?[edit]

A number of studies have concluded that induction programs can reduce teacher turnover, improve teacher practice, and lead to student success provided the programs are job-embedded and include appropriate mentoring (Smith & Ingersoll 2004, Howe 2006, Wang et al. 2008; Darling-Hammond et al. 2009). According to Howe (2006), the best teacher induction programs are located in Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and the United States. They have revealed some common attributes that can be instructive for both expert teachers and new teachers. Examples are extended internship programs, specially trained mentors, comprehensive in-service training, reduced teaching assignments for beginning teachers and emphasis on assistance rather than assessment (Howe, 2006). According to Cherubini (2007) research also suggests that the successful induction of new teachers depends upon having a collegial and collaborative environment in the school (Duncan-Poitier, 2005; Feiman-Nemser, 2003; Ohio Department of Education, 2004; Olebe, 2005). In this article we will discuss the induction programs in Toronto, Ontario in more detail.

Background (the history)[edit]

In the mid-1990s, the Progressive-Conservative government in Ontario introduced a number of significant educational reforms. One important change was the creation of the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) in 1996. The OCT was created to govern the teaching profession, to regulate on-going teacher certification in the province and to apply appropriate standards to teaching practice in the province. In addition the OCT accredits teacher education programs and approves hundreds of Additional Qualification courses. Furthermore, it investigates claims of misconduct made against teachers. It has more than 237,000 members in Ontario, and the College issues teaching licences to all members annually (Clark, 2012). According to Clark (2012), the OCT was created as part of an agenda to control teachers. This was taken a step further when professional development (PD) and formal learning for teachers became mandatory. For example, the Ontario Professional Learning Program required 14 professional-development courses over five years. Teachers disliked the arrangement and both Nova Scotia and Ontario have since quit the program (Ontario in 2004).

Ontario Teacher Qualifying Test (OTQT) - 2000[edit]

As a result of the Progressive-Conservative government’s increasing demands for accountability in education, the Ontario Teacher Qualifying Test (OTQT) was introduced in 2000. The test was compulsory for new graduates of Ontario faculties of education as well as for teachers trained out of province. It lasted four hours, and consisted of 36 multiple choice questions as well as 14 open-ended questions relating to four case studies. Questions focused on professional knowledge (e.g. curriculum policy, planning and instruction, childhood and adolescent development, classroom management, legislation, and use of technology) as well as teaching practice (e.g. instructional strategies, motivation, diversity and students with special needs, parents and community and reflections on teaching). Not surprisingly, this test was criticized for oversimplifying the knowledge needed to teach. Few teachers felt that a written test could predict classroom performance or essential teacher knowledge (Portelli et al., 2010).

New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP) - 2006[edit]

In 2003, a report on education in Ontario recommended that the Ministry of Education, the Ontario College of Teachers and school boards should develop an alternative strategy where they instead created collaborative partnerships in order to support teachers’ professional development (Leithwood, Fullan and Watson, 2003). As a consequence, the Liberal government eliminated the OTQT in 2006 and replaced it with the New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP). The purpose of the NTIP was to standardize the evaluation of recent teacher graduates, standardize their transition into the teaching profession, reduce attrition, and “improve the skills and confidence” amongst teachers. The focus was now on the ways teachers could contribute to improving the school environment. Interestingly, this program was created in collaboration with teacher unions, who were involved in both educational policy development and the establishment of union-run professional learning programs (Portelli et al., 2010, Clark, 2012).

NTIP also illustrates how policy directions in teacher learning in Canada have moved towards embracing informal learning by recognizing the important distinction between professional learning and professional development. Professional development (also called staff development) is to a larger degree externally planned with a set of workshops or a program with a specific predefined agenda. While teachers often obtain valuable tips from these formal learning environments, it may be difficult to implement change into everyday practice. Therefore, official policies now recognize the importance of establishing ongoing job-embedded learning opportunities (Clark 2012).

Since 2010 the NTIP has included the following elements:

  • orientation for all new teachers
  • mentoring by experienced teachers
  • professional development in literacy and numeracy strategies, student success, safe schools, classroom management, parent communication; and “teaching students with special needs and meeting the needs of diverse learners (including Aboriginal students, students at risk, English language learners, etc.)” (From Ministry of Education, 2006a, p. 24, 2010 in Portelli et al., 2010)

All new teachers are also required to have two performance appraisals conducted by principals in the first 12 months of teaching. Funding by the ministry to both mentors and beginning teachers allows for release time for co-planning and peer observation activities. The goal is not only to improve new teachers’ skills and knowledge, but also establish a more collaborative and professional environment in Ontario’s schools. Principals must ensure that all new teachers, in consultation with their mentor, fills in the Individual NTIP Strategy Form. The form is intended as a mechanism for discussion and learning, in addition to being a means of planning and recording the induction elements that all new teachers participate in. It does not contain any evaluative component, but rather is intended to reflect on completed participation in an individualized program.

New teachers are expected to demonstrate competencies in areas such as respectful treatment of all students, professional knowledge (including the Ontario curriculum) and relevant education legislation, classroom management strategies, ongoing assessment of student progress, and communication with parents. Since the NTIP's inception, 28,000 teachers have participated in the program (Clark 2012).

Evaluation of the teacher induction program in Ontario[edit]

Cherubini (2007), in a survey on teacher induction in Ontario, studied two provincially recognized comprehensive induction programs. These two school boards offered orientation sessions, a mentoring program, mentor training, in-services, release time, networks with university faculty and data collection mechanisms to assess success. A majority of new teachers in the survey emphasized how much they had learned in the induction year. Still, there were differences in how they had experienced their skills development. Some described the induction year as a period of continuous learning, while others were more concerned with their professional survival. Most new teachers appreciated the release time, which allowed for structured mentor-mentee meetings where they could talk about their own concerns and needs. The teachers also enjoyed working in a professional culture where they had an opportunity to experiment with new ideas. Furthermore, schools that made a long-term investment in beginning teachers’ professional development encouraged and practiced collaboration among all staff (Cherubini, 2007).

The findings suggest that beginning teachers must develop the trust required to allow them to direct their own professional development. For example, some mentors supported new teachers in developing their own plan of individual growth. These teachers were encouraged to move beyond a prescripted agenda and instead attempt to address the unique circumstances of their classrooms. Thus, the mentor was not perceived as a solution-provider, but more as a colleague (Cherubini, 2007). Cherubini (2007) refers to Bandura and claims that efficacious persons will experience difficult tasks as challenges rather than threats. They will try new ideas and sustain their efforts even when they are disappointed. The survey showed that the beginning teachers who found that the induction year had provided them with a continuum of learning, found that reflection on teaching boosted their confidence. Even though many still found the teaching profession challenging, the induction program quelled the participants' anxiety.

In addition Cherubini (2007) documents several challenges that new teachers experience. Firstly, many of them considered the workload to be larger than expected. They found the job challenging and were often under a feeling of stress. This finding is supported by a more recent study conducted by Portelli et al. (2010) where some mentor teachers also expressed concerns about their own workload, as the following quote discusses: “And there’s not a lot of time for [mentoring new teachers], I mean it’s a busy day in a school. I know that everybody else would say that we are under worked over paid but in the day it’s a busy day, it starts quick, it ends fast and then there’s coaching to be done and then there’s marking at night… there isn’t time built in unless you really have a prep with somebody you don’t connect sometimes at all in a month.” (Portelli et al., 2010: 20).

Secondly, Cherubini (2007) found that new teachers can experience unanticipated constant pressure from parents, and a feeling of being disrespected as professionals.

Thirdly, some teachers found that there was a disconnect between the actual in-services delivered and the professional development the teachers were in need of. Several of them mentioned that unrelated induction workshops increased the stress of teaching. They were found to be too general and not relevant enough for the teachers’ needs. Teachers spent a lot of energy understanding how the information provided by induction facilitators could help them in their teaching. More than induction workshops, beginning teachers tended to stress the importance of the informal support provided by mentor teachers and administrators (Cherubini 2007). In another study by Portelli et al. (2010), it was found that new teachers tended to prefer mentors with substantial practical experience. If possible, they should be teaching the same grade levels or subjects as the new teachers, with extensive classroom experience and the capacity to offer “real” classroom strategies. The mentors must be trustworthy, and in order to ensure that mentor and new teacher get along in a collegial fashion, the new teacher would prefer to choose their own mentor. The result would be a larger degree of individualization, rather than a standardized mentoring approach. Furthermore, they prefer mentors that are open to their own teaching approach (Portelli et al., 2010).

Fourthly, there is also a risk that mentoring programs reinforce existing values and ways of working and thereby reproduce the status quo. Programs may also put too much emphasis on technical and management issues rather than on critical reflection on practice (Portelli et al., 2010). For example, the induction process should encourage teaching that meets the needs of a diverse group of students’ emotional and personal challenges. Many participants in Cherubini's study (2007) found that the mentor teacher provided them with an insight into the diverse learning and personal needs of students. As one participant said: “I have a better understanding of how I can reach kids and how they learn” (Cherubini 2007:7). Cherubini (2007) found that several beginning teachers prefered teacher leaders (mentor teachers) who modeled the importance of advocating for marginalized students in the class. After observing a mentor teacher, one beginning teacher said: “I can see how important it is that I stick up for these kids who don’t fit in.” (Cherubini 2007: 7) The beginning teachers saw how the teacher leaders' commitment positively influenced their students' lives. Furthermore, they developed a better understanding of the importance of knowing the students' background, and thereby assist these students in subtle ways.

References[edit]

  • Cherubini, L. (2007). Speaking up and speaking freely: Beginning teachers’ critical perceptions of their professional induction. The Professional Educator, 29(1), 1-12. [1]
  • Clark, Rosemary (2012). Professional control and professional learning: Some Policy Implications (ed) Clark, Rosemary; D. W. Livingstone, Harry John Smaller. Teacher Learning and Power in the Knowledge Society. Springer.[2]
  • Clark, R., D.W. Livingstone and Smaller, H. (Eds.) (2012). Teacher Learning and Power in the Knowledge Society. Springer.
  • Darling-Hammond, L., Chung Wei, R., Andree, A., Richardson, N., and Orhanos, S. (2009). Professional learning in the learning profession: A status report on teacher development in the United States and abroad. N.p.: National Staff Development Council.
  • Duncan-Poitier, J. (2005). Teacher mentoring and induction. New York: New York State Education Department, Office of Teaching Initiatives.
  • Feiman-Nemser, S. (2003). What new teachers need to learn. Educational Leadership, 25-29.
  • Howe, E. R. (2006). Exemplary teacher induction: An international review. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 38(3), 287-297.
  • Leithwood, Fullan, and Watson’s (2003) landmark report on education in Ontario.
  • Levin, B. (2008). How to change 5000 schools: a practical and positive approach for leading change at every level. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
  • Levin, B., Glaze, A., and Fullan, M. (2008). Results without rancor or ranking: Ontario’s success story. Phi Delta Kappan, 90(4), 273-280.
  • Ohio Department of Education. (2004). Polishing the apple. Compilation by Donna Hanby.
  • Olebe, M. (2005). Helping new teachers. The Clearing House, 78(4), 158-163.
  • Portelli with others (2010): Stakeholders’ Perspectives on Induction for New Teachers: Critical Analysis of Teacher Testing and Mentorship. Evaluation of the mentor programme. [3]
  • Portelli, J. P. (2005) Standardized Teacher Testing Fails Excellence and Validity Tests. Teaching Education. 16, 4, pp.281-295.[4]
  • Smith, T. and Ingersoll, R. (2004). What are the effects of induction and mentoring on beginning teacher turnover? American Educational Research Journal, 41(3), 681-714.
  • Wang, J., Odell, S. and Schwille, S. (2008): Effects of teacher induction on beginning teachers’ teaching: A critical review of the literature. Journal of Teacher Education, 59(2), 132-152.