Lee Goeke and Ed Wilgus are members of the award-winning human resources department in the Vancouver, Wash., school district and co-founders of. In their work with school districts, Goeke and Wilgus emphasize the importance of core values and teacher career growth in recruitment and retention systems. We recently asked them, in an e-mail interview, about the connection between professional development and teacher hiring and retention.
What role does your professional development program play in your district’s teacher-hiring-and-retention system?
Professional development plays three critical roles in our recruitment and retention system. The first is tied directly to our “value-based” recruiting program; the second is tied to the emerging expectations of millennial-generation teachers; the third is essential to early success with at-risk students.
Values-based recruitment places our greatest selection emphasis on candidates’ personal values such as passion, energy, advocacy, commitment, attitude, and belief in all children. Professional development is the human resources component that allows us to emphasize values and de-emphasize other knowledge and skills that are otherwise “teachable” once a candidate becomes an employee.
Professional development has always been a “recruiting and retention” component of our HR system in that teachers are by definition life-long learners and value continuous growth. However, with the entry of millennial generation teachers into the workforce, the importance of professional development in recruitment and retention has dramatically increased. This is a generation of teachers who expect (and demand) learning opportunities to allow them to grow in more of a “latticed” career path.
Few, if any, college and university preparation programs prepare teachers to deal effectively in the critical areas of responding to at-risk conditions that impact student learning (e.g., poverty, cultural diversity, at-risk student behaviors, etc.), to deal with parents, and to deal with classroom management in challenging environments. The immediate delivery of professional development in these areas through very intentional induction and mentoring programs is essential to early and lasting success which is in turn essential to retention.
What should job-seeking teachers be looking for in a school or district’s professional development program? What questions should they ask about professional development during interviews?
The most significant aspect of an attractive and effective professional development program is that it be “systemic.” Job seekers will want to learn what the drivers are for professional development and how it links to their interests, their professional and career growth, and their success. The right answers will communicate a district program that is driven by well-defined competency models that addresses all aspects of high-achieving teachers throughout their career stages. This means it is not sporadic, menu of the moment, course and class offerings. Rather, it is systemically designed to seamlessly integrate the tools for success in the classroom, the requirements for licensure, the credits for compensation growth, and the professional growth necessary for personal satisfaction. The operative questions are: (1) What drives professional development in your district? (2) What can I expect in terms of funding support and opportunities (i.e., time) that recognizes the demands of the classroom? (3) How will it support my career growth?
In your view, what are the components of an effective mentoring and induction program?
Meaningful mentoring and a dynamic induction, based on a systemic values-based human resource management model, has the potential of creating an outcome where new teachers feel a sense of belonging, of community, of readiness. In essence, their personal and professional needs are directly addressed in ways that mitigate the reasons why teachers leave the profession: reality shock, unclear expectations, role conflicts, isolation, difficult assignments, lack of resources, lack of organizational and building leadership.
In developing a strategic induction program, grounded in research and best-practices, several crucial elements center around three notable themes:
• Belonging: the ability to create a professional sense of identity by involving the highest levels of leadership in personally and collectively welcoming every new to teacher to both a district and an organizational culture.
• Community: the ability to collectively involve all levels of a culture in sharing past history, present realities, and future directions while defining organizational values and expectations.
• Readiness: the ability to focus on best teaching and management practices in an atmosphere infused with fun, frivolity, collaboration, and the celebration of new beginnings.
The induction program itself in Vancouver School District thereby focuses on those critical skills that are not learned in college and are tailored to the district’s vision and goals. In this setting, new teachers become comfortable with their mentors and with the district’s mentor support program deliberately designed to support new educators. The newcomers learn about the community, they network with each other, with district leadership, with board members, and with master teachers. They learn what resources are available and how to access them. They laugh, they play, they collaborate in a week long venue that culminates in an emotional celebration of their newly-initiated journey.
The full-time mentoring program in the district’s values-based recruitment model builds on the relationship that was initiated during the recruitment and induction process. Mentors are assigned a caseload of approximately 25 new teachers. They are assigned their newcomers during the induction week and immediately spend time creating a collaborative learning community where a commonality of topics and issues are addressed. The role of the mentors are focused on providing a foundation for success for their new hires by continuously building belonging, mitigating role conflicts, providing resource guidance, fostering networking, and designing or delivering high quality professional development.
In this specific mentor model program, the crucial components for a dynamic and sustainable mentor program are:
• defining the program so all stakeholders are aware of program roles, expectations, services, outcomes;
• integrating the mentor program under district wide professional development;
• getting the “right” teachers to become mentors;
• training the mentors in skill sets that are aligned with district vision;
• continuously reviewing best-practice research and program data to promote program readjustment and refinement;
• grooming of mentors to move into future leadership positions in the organization.
What are the biggest professional-development needs for most new teachers?
Based on observation, research and interactions with new teachers, their greatest need for professional development comes under the rubric of management—not just classroom-management, but management of the various expectations associated with their assignment. Our experience tells us that new teachers often come into the profession not knowing what they don’t know. This makes it imperative for professional development to impact new teachers in ways that they can become immediately successful. New teachers need to learn how to set themselves and their students up for success through clear protocols and classroom expectations, managing the assessment of student learning and balancing the pace of instruction with what we know about how the brain works. Once new teachers have developed a relatively comfortable grasp on management issues, several additional professional development issues emerge with this new millennial generation of teachers. Classroom observations, feedback, and coaching become crucial need in a new teacher’s development. If something needs to be addressed in their teaching, they want to know it immediately so they can change their delivery and approach. Informed feedback is desired and appreciated. Peer collaboration is crucial. Administrator support and encouragement then becomes their building block to success.
Teachers are often dissatisfied with the professional development opportunities they are offered. Why do you think this is?
Most districts allow curriculum to be the primary, if not the sole, driver of professional development. This gives teachers the knowledge they need of new textbook adoptions, new curriculum focus, and some teaching and learning skills. However, it displays little or no connection to such areas as addressing at-risk behaviors that negatively impact student learning, that allow teachers to be more effective with parents, that significantly increase classroom management skills, or that introduce powerful teaching and learning ideas. It also leaves the teacher to contend with continuing licensure requirements or requirements for advancement on the compensation scale. When professional development outside of curriculum is offered, it is typically in response to today’s priority and lacks any systemic relationship or consistency to past and subsequent professional development. Overriding causes of this type of professional development environment are: (1) the lack of an overall competency model to drive human resource development, (2) isolation of professional development in the curriculum office thereby eliminating the broader view of professional and personal growth, and (3) lack of a defined professional development planning and delivery program resulting in more spontaneous and less systemic offerings.