Professional Development

Mentors for New Teachers Found to Boost Student Achievement—by a Lot

By Madeline Will — June 22, 2017 5 min read
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If new teachers are paired with high-quality, trained mentors and receive frequent feedback, their students may receive the equivalent of up to five months of additional learning, a new study found.

The study, conducted by SRI Education, was an independent evaluation of the New Teacher Center’s induction program funded through the Investing in Innovation (i3) Validation grant. NTC was one of 20 organizations to receive the Obama-era federal grant in 2012 and has implemented induction programs in three sites: the Chicago school district, Broward County schools in Florida, and the Grant Wood Area Education Agency, which is a consortium of 32 school districts in eastern Iowa. This study reported on the findings from randomized controlled trials in just Broward County and Chicago.

The full-time mentors receive more than 100 hours of training every year from the New Teacher Center, and support up to 15 first- and second-year teachers. The new teachers receive two years of coaching and meet with their assigned mentors every week, for at least 180 minutes a month. The mentors focus on the teachers’ instructional practice and on equity and universal access, and the teachers take online formative assessments through the process, designed by the New Teacher Center.

In the evaluation, SRI studied teacher and student outcomes over a three-year period (2013-14 to 2015-16). Researchers compared a group of teachers who received NTC induction mentoring to a group of teachers who received the usual new-teacher supports provided by the district.

Both groups of teachers had similar retention rates and ratings on instructional effectiveness. The major difference was their students’ achievement—the students in grades 4-8 of teachers who received NTC mentoring for two years outperformed their peers in both English/language arts and mathematics. Those students performed better than expected on state standardized tests, representing gains of about two to three-and-a-half additional months of learning in ELA, and two to four-and-a-half months in math, depending on the student’s grade level.

Ellen Moir, the CEO of the New Teacher Center, said she hopes to do more research to better understand why there was such a significant difference in student achievement while the instructional effectiveness ratings were similar between the two groups. But she said she thinks it is due to the continuous feedback and student data analysis that the new teachers in the NTC induction program receive.

Teachers and their mentors are “constantly reflecting on what worked, what didn’t work” after lessons, she said, adding that mentors help ensure that new teachers are actually implementing the changes discussed.

An Education Week data analysis found that 12 percent of all public school teachers are in their first or second year. (In Florida, the share is 29 percent.) Studies show that new teachers face a steep learning curve and will improve dramatically over the first few years on the job. But Moir said the amount and quality of mentoring that new teachers receive differs drastically from place to place. In most high-needs districts, it’s “sink or swim,” she said.

Rachel Jackson, a 3rd grade teacher in Chicago who received NTC mentoring during her first two years in the classroom, said it was particularly helpful to her that her mentor wasn’t also her evaluator.

“When I first started teaching, I was very nervous and afraid to mess up,” Jackson said. But her mentor gave her constructive criticism, and helped her think about how she directed students and how she should model manners in the classroom.

For example, in frustration, Jackson once sarcastically asked a student, “Are you serious?” After the lesson, her mentor pointed that out and helped Jackson realize that “on page, that was so mean and not purposeful,” she said. “These are human beings; words matter.”

The NTC induction program emphasizes culturally responsive pedagogy and teaching teachers to look at what assets each student brings into the classroom, so they can build a caring, secure community, Moir said.

A recent federal report that analyzed a cohort of 1,990 first-year teachers found that after five years, 86 percent of teachers who had first-year mentors were still teaching, compared with 71 percent without mentors.

Jackson said having a mentor gave her a safe, healthy place to vent: “It wasn’t me going in and ranting to my roommate at the time, it was constructive: ‘OK, you’re upset about that. Now what are you going to do?’”

Still, Milissa McClaire Gary, who was Jackson’s mentor in her first year of teaching and is now an induction program lead for the New Teacher Center, said it can be challenging to convince novice teachers to be vulnerable with mentors and be receptive to coaching.

“There is this idea from a lot of new teachers where they don’t know what they don’t know. They feel like they don’t need the help,” she said. “We’re pushing the idea that as practitioners, there’s always room to improve.”

The New Teacher Center is continuing its work in Broward County and Grant Wood following the i3 grant. In 2015, the center received an i3 Scale-Up grant to expand its new-teacher-support work in several districts, including Broward County.

However, the future of this work is up in the air. If Congress accepts President Donald Trump’s budget proposal to cut all Title II funding for professional development, “it would be extremely difficult for districts to build out this evidence-based approach to teacher learning and student learning,” Moir said. “Every new teacher should have this support.”

Image: 1st grade teacher Kristin Weis (left) and her induction coach, Sue Grabe, go over notes as part of Grant Wood Area Education Agency’s new-teacher mentoring program. Education Week File Photo.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.