Centered

What can help raise schools' teacher retention rates? Executive Director Dr. Kathy Wiebke, NBCT, explains how quality new teacher induction and mentoring can transform Arizona schools.

Sep 22, 2021

In the late 90s, the district I worked for wanted to start a district-wide mentoring program for beginning teachers. The intent was to have three teachers serve as mentors. As one of the three teachers selected to do this job, I would no longer be with students but with beginning teachers. It was an amazing journey of highs and lows. The job allowed me to see every corner of the district. With every new encounter, I had the opportunity to experience the excitement and trepidation of a new teacher. I am not sure how effective I was in those first years of a brand new program, but I learned the value of a quality mentoring program to support the newest members of the profession.

Fast forward to 20 years later and I now lead a professional development center dedicated to improved teaching practice. As a part of our work, we provide funding to schools or districts interested in starting an induction and mentoring program. This work started 15 years ago through a grant to recruit and retain teachers in Native American communities. Through the years, what has been consistent is the need to support the newest members of the teaching profession. I think teaching is one of the few professions where we take someone brand new to the job and expect the same outcomes as the 10-year veteran next door. 

We have many districts that say they have a mentoring program and, in reality, they have a buddy program. A teacher next door that periodically checks in on a colleague at the end of the day or during small breaks throughout—no matter how well-intentioned—is not an instructional mentor. For the past 15 years, the Arizona K12 Center has worked diligently to train and support instructional mentors who are in the classrooms of beginning teachers at least two hours per week when teaching and learning occur. This person is not there to evaluate them nor be their buddy. With a caseload of no more than 15 beginning teachers and armed with well-researched tools and protocols, the trained mentor is there to help novice teachers elevate and accelerate their practice.

Over and over again, we have seen significant results with districts having retention rates as high as 85%. This is a far cry from the national average where 30% to 50% leave teaching in the first three to five years. 

With one in four classrooms either vacant or filled with a person who does not meet the credentialing requirements, now more than ever we need to retain and support every teacher we hire. This is why quality induction and mentoring programs are critical. We need to do everything we can to support these teachers in substantive ways that make a difference in not only retention but practice. 

The Arizona K12 Center is grateful that the Arizona Department of Education recognizes this need as well. Recently, we received $2.5 million to expand our mentoring program to 23 sites statewide. As a result, we are able to expand our reach and, in doing so, impact the teaching and learning in schools both in our urban core and in some of the most rural areas of Arizona.

Quality induction and mentoring matter. Want to know what else matters? Administrative support. That is why we formed Arizona’s New Teacher Induction Network. This week, we met with over 100 school and district leaders from across Arizona to discuss their role in supporting a quality induction and mentoring program. It is also why we are partnering with the Arizona Department of Education to host the first Arizona Induction Symposium on January 12, 2022. Working together we can build a culture of induction.

We can make a difference when we all come together with a common goal: to ensure that every child has access to quality and well-supported teachers.

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