How School Leaders Can Support New Teachers
New teachers have so much to offer your school. They bring a fresh perspective on education, knowledge of modern teaching strategies, and a desire to start their career with a bang. When supported by school leadership, new educators can dramatically improve student performance.
While all teachers need support, new teachers require extra attention as they learn about your school, study the class materials, and polish their skills. If ignored, they can grow discouraged and question whether they are cut out for the job. That’s why about 44% of new teachers quit the profession within the first five years, according to the Consortium for Policy Research in Education.
How can you support new teachers so they want to stay in education and help your students excel?
Providing Comprehensive Onboard Training
One obstacle new teachers face is learning the ins and outs of your school within a short time frame, experts at The Learning Accelerator explain. They must grasp the instructional model, policies, procedures, supports, and tools while getting to know their students and the curriculum they teach.
“Without a clear understanding of these components, teachers end up treading water without knowing which direction they should head and what lifesavers could help them get there,” said Learning Accelerator experts.
You can help new teachers climb this steep learning curve by providing onboarding that covers:
- Your school’s instructional model and the level of implementation
- Strategies for improving implementation
- Opportunities for personal growth and support
- Tools, resources, and programs used to support student learning
You’ll also save new teachers time and energy by offering curriculum-specific professional development. Once they’re familiar with the class materials, they can focus on meeting students’ needs.
You can sign teachers up for free Studies Weekly onboarding webinars or offer customized professional development training (see the PD page for more details).
One of the best ways to support new teachers is by offering a quality mentoring program that pairs novice teachers with seasoned educators who can share their experiences, offer advice, and provide emotional support.
Joshua T. D. and M. Wayne Alexander from The School Superintendents Association outlined six steps for creating an effective mentoring program for new teachers.
- The program should be district-wide with strong administrative support or else no one will take it seriously. District leaders should make sure new teachers and their mentors take time during the first meeting to set goals for the year.
- New teachers need emotional as well as instructional support. Ensure all of your mentors feel comfortable offering emotional support and have good interpersonal skills.
- Teach mentors how to identify classroom management or instructional issues, establish expectations, and communicate feedback.
- Let new teachers observe successful teachers and receive feedback on their teaching practices.
- Give new teachers and mentors plenty of time to meet by scheduling regular meetings throughout the school year and managing their workloads. Tell them it’s okay to say no to other people’s requests so they have time for mentoring.
- Create learning communities for new teachers in your district. These informal study groups act as continuing education classes, give novice teachers peer support, and encourage open discussions about the challenges they face.
Even when your mentor program is well structured, the key to its success lies in pairing new teachers with the right mentors, said ASCD experts Todd Whitaker, Madeline Whitaker Good, and Katherine Whitaker. Some school leaders pick mentors of the same gender, age range, or race as the new teacher, while others select mentors purely because they are available. What really matters is whether these mentors have the skillset you want new teachers to develop.
“When principals assign a mentor, they are telling the new teacher that this is who we want you to be like,” Whitaker, Good, and Whitaker explained. “But this isn’t likely to happen if the quality of the mentor is not the basis of selection, so we need to ensure we aren’t making these connections through arbitrary processes.”
Choose exceptional teachers who model your school’s values and will set an example you want new teachers to follow. If your top educators are unavailable, ask for volunteers, then select the most qualified from the bunch. By recruiting your best teachers for your mentoring program, you maintain your school’s standard of excellence.
According to Whitaker, Good, and Whitaker, new teachers want principals in their classrooms on day one to assure them they can become great teachers.
“We must assume that all teachers choose education because they want to have a positive impact on young lives,” the ASCD authors said. “They want to make a difference and be good at teaching. But it is difficult for new educators to know if they are being effective. New teachers might start to ask themselves, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ ‘Am I any good at teaching?’”
Set new teachers up for success by sitting in on their lessons and expressing confidence in their abilities. You can compliment them in person, send an email, or leave a note letting them know what they are doing well.
Sitting in on lessons from the beginning builds trust by showing new teachers you value them. Once you gain their confidence, they’ll gladly accept your guidance.
Your observations will also prevent new teachers from forming bad habits. The sooner you correct them, the easier it is for new teachers to adjust their methods.
Above all, use these observations to nurture their ambitions. Each new graduate enters the field with a vision of what kind of teacher they want to become. Ask them about their personal goals and how you can help. Not only will you see these seedlings blossom into expert instructors, but you will also increase retention by supporting teacher autonomy.
New teachers come into the field bursting with ideas on how to improve student learning. Take advantage of their creative minds by letting them try different techniques to see what works best for them. Who knows? They may find solutions to problems your seasoned teachers haven’t solved yet.
Now, you may be thinking about the goals and guidelines you want teachers to follow, and those are important. However, they don’t have to stand in the way of creativity, as Larry Ferlazzo points out in his EdWeek article, 7 Ways Principals Can Support Teachers.
“As leaders, be clear in the nonnegotiables and intentional in identifying the places to be innovative,” Ferlazzo said. “When everyone has a solid understanding of the plan and the goals, they can start to make it their own. When we reviewed our new schedule for the upcoming year, our leadership team focused on the nonnegotiables, how they would be measured, and then opened it up for questions. Let teachers know what things are out of bounds or off-limits, provide opportunity to ask for clarity, and then step aside and let teachers shine by making the learning experiences their own.”
When you give teachers the freedom to try different methods, you help them grow as educators and take ownership of their work. Teachers who feel attached to their jobs are more likely to stay, giving your school a full staff to improve student performance.
Teachers spend so much time in their classrooms that they can feel isolated from their colleagues, especially if they don’t know them.
In addition to classroom visits, make yourself available to new teachers by having an open door policy or scheduled office visits. During these visits, be available emotionally and cognitively, not just physically, Ferlazzo stresses in the same EdWeek article.
“The burden and expectation of teachers will indistinguishably demand a need to be seen, heard, and held by their school leaders in order to create a space for teachers to show up fully human and fully available for young people,” Ferlazzo said. “School leaders, then, should make themselves fully available as an exemplar for teachers to know that amid the demands of collaboration, instruction, assessment, engagement, and evaluation, that they have a person with whom they can be seen.”
When you show up fully human, you give teachers space to be themselves. Only by being themselves can they connect with their students and the rest of the school community.
Plus, your new teachers also need support from their peers who have been where they are and know what they are going through.
Whitaker, Good, and Whitaker from ASCD recommend giving teachers more opportunities to interact in informal settings so they can get to know each other on a personal level.
“Administrators obviously have an important role in reducing isolation, but they are limited in their impact because they are not viewed by new teachers as a peer. Thus we need other colleagues to provide new teachers with emotional support,” they said.
Ideas for Increasing Teacher Interactions
- Introduce new teachers to faculty members as part of their job orientation.
- Encourage faculty to check in with new teachers to ask how they are doing.
- Host a faculty luncheon or other activity specifically for new teachers to get to know their peers.
- Give new teachers a directory of faculty members’ names, emails, phone numbers, and classrooms so they can reach out with questions or concerns.
According to an EdWeek Research Center survey, nearly half of US school and district leaders received more student threats in Fall 2021 than in Fall 2019, and two out of three teachers, principals, and district leaders said student behavioral problems have increased in the last two years.
Holly Kurtz from EdWeek suggests this rise in misbehavior stems from students having to readjust to in-person learning.
“In districts in which nearly all the learning was remote or hybrid in 2020-21, 51% of principals and district leaders reported rising rates of student threats of violence,” Kurtz explained. “That rate was 30% for school and district leaders where most of the learning was in person the previous school year.”
New teachers who may already be feeling insecure about their skills can easily become discouraged and want to quit the profession or change schools if they are threatened or assaulted. Students may also sense their unease and try to take advantage of it, making your new teachers even more vulnerable.
Tips for Keeping New Teachers Safe
- Implement classroom-based, school-wide violence prevention programs so students and teachers learn how to solve problems peacefully.
- Create and teach new teachers the school safety plan.
- Offer classroom management training.
- Talk to students and parents about behavioral issues.
- Direct teachers to resources that teach research-based strategies:
New teachers can do so much to improve your school if given a chance to spread their wings. They just need a little support to get their feet off the ground. Once they have the confidence to take off, they will elevate student performance with their creativity, dedication, and enthusiasm.