Mentor teacher/Induction of beginning teachers in Toronto
A comprehensive approach to mentoring
In coordination with the implementation of the New teacher induction program (NTIP), the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) developed their own program for beginning teachers. The program's goals were to encourage beginning teachers to stay in the teaching profession and to develop “instructional excellence in the classroom”. The emphasis was on job-embedded professional learning and professional growth in the first five years of a teacher's career. The focus was no longer on a “one size fits all” approach where teachers’ professional development takes place with traditional workshops, but rather with the implementation of new professional learning structures that emphasize differentiation, choice and ongoing job-embedded support. Beginning teachers were given multiple opportunities for both formal and informal learning (Strachan, 2012).
It is hoped the induction program will create a sustainable, system-wide mentoring culture across the TDSB. In the early phases of the program the focus was on whether a mentor was available to the beginning teachers at their school. It became clear, however, that availability did not guarantee that the beginning teachers were being mentored. This lead to consideration of mentorship mentorship beyond traditional one-to-one mentoring. Examples being group mentoring, informal mentoring and online mentoring (Strachan, 2012 : 168). Strachan (2012) stresses the importance of letting beginning teachers have a say in what kind of mentoring is best suited for their specific mentoring needs. The idea is that multiple mentorship models can coexist in one school:
- Broker mentor: This mentor informs the beginning teacher about school logistics and culture and is often an initial support before other mentoring relationships are established. This is a consultant-type relationship with fewer opportunities for collaboration and coaching. This mentor may broker the involvement of colleagues as needs arise from the mentee.
- One-to-one mentor matching: This mentor works at the same school at the mentee and is matched on an individual basis. The mentor will use different mentoring approaches (consultant, collaboration and coaching) based on the needs of the mentee. Mentor-mentee relationships that flourish are usually reciprocal in the sense that both parties experience learning and growth. Usually the relationship is better if the mentor has volunteered and if the mentee has been involved in the choice of mentor.
- Group mentoring: Group mentoring can be done in several different ways. A mentor can work with 2 or more mentees or a mentee may have 2 or more mentors. This arrangement provides flexibility if a school has a large number of beginning teachers (or mentors). This model is often embedded in a school-wide “mentoring culture” where all staff are mentors or mentees (or both). The school mentoring committee will then plan formal support and professional learning opportunities for both mentors and mentees.
- Informal mentoring: The mentee connects informally with a variety of staff members as needs arise. Mentor-mentee roles are fluid – often referred to as peer mentoring, as the informal mentors are in many cases beginning teachers themselves. In this type of mentoring the mentoring relationship is more spontaneous and informal. If the mentee is not part of informal relationships he or she may feel isolated or disconnected.
- Online mentoring: Online mentoring permits both experienced and beginning teachers to participate in discussions and idea sharing. The beginning teacher gains access to a variety of resources and perspectives beyond the school site. Not all mentees feel comfortable sharing issues and concerns in this “public” forum.
Release time is provided for beginning teachers in their first five years, as well as for newly hired long term occasional teachers. They receive four and then three “JELI days” (Job-Embedded Learning Initiative) in the first and second year respectively. Third-, fourth- and fifth year teachers receive two “JAM days” (Job Associated Mentoring). These days can be “shared” by the mentors and can be used for several different kinds of mentoring, including school-based planning and professional learning with mentors, central TDSB professional learning sessions, exemplary classroom visits and demonstration classroom learning.
Mentoring at different levels
Mentoring can be offered within the different levels of the system. Strachan (2012) distinguishes between mentoring at the beginning teacher's school, the regional family of schools and through the central system. With support on three different levels, the individual teacher is able to select the kind of support that is best suited for her specific learning needs:
1. School-Based Mentoring
Firstly, mentoring can be job-embedded in the school where the mentee is working. This can be done both as individual or as group mentoring. Usually mentors in the induction program are volunteers. The goal is to help develop internal capacity for learning and growth in the beginning teacher. The mentor’s role is described through three different roles via consulting (offering support and providing resources); collaborating (creating challenge and encouraging growth); and coaching (facilitating professional vision). (See the Ontario ministry publication Partnering for Success: A Resource Handbook for Mentors). They are not supposed to evaluate or judge the beginning teachers' performance.
2. Family of Schools Mentoring
The Family of Schools is the second layer of support in the TDSB. There are 24 such Families of Schools, each consisting of 20 to 25 elementary and secondary schools located in geographic proximity to one another. Each Family has a beginning teacher’s team that collaborates with the Family of Schools superintendent and the Beginning Teachers Program Coordinator to ensure that local needs are met. These smaller learning networks allow for more intentional sharing of knowledge and practice between colleague. This is especially valuable if the school-based mentoring is not providing the kind of support that a beginning teacher needs (Strachan, 2012).
3. Central System Mentoring
Central System Mentoring is the third layer, available to both beginning teachers and mentors via face-to-face and online professional learning. It provides support via the Summer Institute, Online sharing, and Professional learning for mentors:
- Through the Summer Institute, beginning teachers are invited to spend three days in grade/home groups led by experienced teachers. The purpose is to provide beginning teachers with practical ideas that they can use in the classroom. They receive follow-up support from the group facilitators, both online and via demonstration classroom visits.
- Online sharing: Beginning teachers can share resources, communicate with mentors and collaborate with other beginning teachers.
- Professional learning for mentors: The aforementioned JELI and JAM programs offer job-embedded release time for mentors. In addition, the TDSB offers central professional learning for mentors. This consists of full day sessions, and focuses on the mentor's role, as well as on the development of knowledge and skills needed to support beginning teachers.
Demonstration classroom learning
The TDSB started the use of demonstration classrooms in 2008-09. Three years later the TDSB hosted more than 380 demonstration classrooms representing every grade level and all subject areas. These classrooms are open to both beginning and experienced teachers. In fact, data from 2011 shows that more than 45% of visitors to demonstration classrooms were teachers with more than five years experience (Strachan 2012).
A teacher's visit to a demonstration classroom includes:
- Orientation (a guide leads the observation and authentic professional learning in an actual classroom).
- Debriefing (reflection upon the experience, asking questions and sharing ideas with colleagues, the demonstration classroom teacher and the guide).
- Action planning (structured planning for applying the learning to each participant’s specific teaching context).
- Follow-up (assistance from the guide in implementing ideas and strategies).
Rather than focusing on professional development via workshops, the goal is job-embedded professional learning, coaching and mentorship through intentional sharing of knowledge and practice. New ideas, strategies and approaches can be discussed, reflected upon, and tailored to the specific needs of the teacher.
Core content in professional development
It is suggested that boards make available professional development opportunities for new teachers in the following core content area:
- Literacy and Numeracy strategies (teaching of reading and math).
- Student Success (e.g., identifying students who are at risk early on).
- Safe Schools (e.g., being able to identify inappropriate behaviour such as bullying, understanding appropriate ways to respond to these behaviours, understanding and applying progressive discipline as an approach that is both corrective and supportive, knowing relevant regulations and policies in the Education Act).
- Politique d’aménagement linguistique (in French-language boards).
- Inclusive Education.
- Early Learning classroom management.
- Planning, assessment, and evaluation.
- Communication with parents.
- Teaching students with special needs and addressing the varied challenges of meeting the needs of diverse learners that require a broad repertoire of instructional strategies (including Aboriginal students, students at risk, English language learners, etc.).
According to (Portelli et al., 2010) classroom management emerges as the main priority. Classroom management is often combined with other priorities. This is considered an important topic, due to the fact that without working systems in classrooms learning opportunities are lessened. New teachers' conceptions of what classroom management is and should entail vary considerably. They range from teacher control with student silence to student engagement with little teacher control.
The method of PD (Professional Development) delivery will depend upon the needs of the new teacher and the number of new teachers with similar needs. For example, several principals from a family of schools may find that delivering a larger session on classroom management will be the most effective and efficient approach. On the other hand, a principal may offer one-on-one classroom management support to new teachers.
Mentoring program at TDSB
The TDSB provides central professional learning for both new and experienced mentors. These full day sessions focus on a personal examination of the mentor’s role in addition to the development of necessary mentoring skills. The mentors are given opportunity to broaden their personal repertoire of effective mentoring strategies. Over 1,950 TDSB teachers have attended these sessions over the past seven years (Strachan, 2012). The mentoring curriculum includes training in:
- Consulting, collaborating, and coaching.
- Developing a mentoring plan.
- Listening and building rapport.
- Sharing information and sources.
- Using appropriate language.
- Conferencing skills and providing meaningful feedback.
- Integration of mentoring activities with ongoing personal and professional development.
- Building capacity for high achievement.
- Assurance that confidentiality between mentors and new teachers is respected.
- A clear and safe exit procedure for both mentor and new teacher in case of non-compatibility.
- Dealing with a teacher in crisis.
Professional development (PD) activities should be appropriate to the needs of individual teachers (such as classroom observation, common planning time, shared PD for new teacher and mentor, professional dialogue with colleagues/mentors, working with learning teams, online conferencing, in-service sessions) (Strachan, 2012).
Evaluation of the TDSB teacher induction program
Contrary to a commonly held belief, teacher attrition is not a concern in the TDSB. In fact, teacher retention for first-year teachers was at more than 98% between 2005-10. The numbers for more experienced teachers were similarly high. It has therefore been important for the TDSB to look beyond the low retention myth with its focus on survival and instead focus on professional learning and growth (Strachan, 2012).
A study from 2011 (Strachan, 2012) shows that most beginning teachers find the job-embedded learning (JELI & JAM) to be of great value, due to its focus on personalization and choice. Compared to other mentoring forms, it was deemed the best way to meet individual learning needs and goals. Traditional workshops, on the other hand, were deemed much less meaningful. The lack of follow-up coaching and mentorship after the workshop means that workshops have little impact on teacher practice, and consequently on student learning. While school-based mentoring may not be a good solution for all teachers, the various “layers”, from School-Based Mentoring to Family of Schools Mentoring to Central System Mentoring, have shown to meet the diverse needs and learning styles of beginning teachers. As we can see from the TDSB-model, the induction program is also increasingly recognized as an essential part of the “continuum of teacher learning.”
- Strachan, Jim (2012). Job-Embedded Learning for Beginning Teachers in the Toronto District School Board. Clark, Rosemary, D. W. Livingstone, and Harry Smaller, eds. Teacher learning and power in the knowledge society. Vol. 5. Springer.