IT Infrastructure

Gigabyte Guidance

January 01, 2003 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print
Milwaukee moves its teacher-
mentoring program online.

There’s no doubt about it, says Erin Bechtel, a second-year teacher at Sarah A. Scott Middle School in Milwaukee. Without mentoring, the French teacher probably wouldn’t have returned to school in September.

In her first year, Bechtel says, she felt overwhelmed. She had questions about lesson-planning and administrative issues, plus the occasional unmotivated student. And she wasn’t used to working in an urban environment. “I come from a small town in Ohio,” Bechtel explains. “Coming into a big school, it’s really hard.” Luckily, she had help from one of the district’s mentors, a veteran educator paid to take a leave from the classroom and look after a handful of new teachers.

Bechtel is not the only teacher to credit Milwaukee’s mentoring program with keeping her in education, but its reach has been limited. Last year, the city could afford to match only 80 of its 975 new teachers with advisers. So this past fall, Milwaukee decided to replace its face-to-face program with a portal— a private Internet site, complete with Web pages, subject-related discussion areas, and chat rooms—developed and designed by the district and by researchers at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. It’s a cutting-edge solution that likely will be watched by other districts seeking cost-effective ways to support teachers.

Now 22 mentors, or facilitators, are working with 200 teachers. The job has been transformed into a part-time gig that can be done at any hour of the day, expanding the potential pool of advisers to include classroom teachers and educators on leave. The district’s costs have been reduced to laptop computers for participants and facilitator compensation, which is currently being negotiated but which may include professional-development credits and time off in lieu of cash. Officials estimate that running the online program and creating a new district Web site will cost $200,000 over three years, significantly less than salaries and expenses for its now-defunct team of full- time mentors.

Milwaukee has an incentive to expand these efforts. Each year, the district hires 800 to 1,000 new teachers, only to watch one-third of them depart by June. Bob Nelson, the district’s director of technology, believes a major reason they leave is disenfranchisement. “Teachers aren’t getting what they need to do their jobs,” he says. “Teachers want timely access to information. They want immediate advice.”

The portal allows all of the above. New teachers can chat with their facilitators online and post questions, comments, and gripes to a message board. There’s a curriculum-design feature that helps teachers create and share lesson plans. And the site serves as a convenient repository for useful Web links, grading and administration literature, and school and public policy documents.

While online mentoring may lack the personal touch of advice traded over a cup of coffee, Milwaukee’s teachers don’t appear to value virtual counsel any less. In fact, last year, teachers who had access to a test message board as well as face-to-face mentors said they preferred the anonymity of an online board. “The newer teachers said they went online first if they had a problem that they didn’t want to discuss with their mentors,” says facilitator Kristin Hoelzl, a literacy coach at Hi-Mount Elementary School in Milwaukee. This is no surprise to Harvard-based program director Chris Dede, who points out that many new teachers have grown up with the Internet and are already used to chatting online.

Teachers may still schedule in-person meetings with their mentors if they wish; in fact, the portal makes such sessions more efficient, says Kathy Onarheim, director of school technology support for the Milwaukee school district. “When they meet for that one hour, they can get right to work on the teacher’s concerns and leave all that getting-to-know-you stuff online,” she says.

It’s too early to tell whether the online mentoring program will help Milwaukee stanch the flow of departing teachers, but Erin Bechtel says the portal makes her want to stay.

“It’s really interesting to go online and get ideas from other teachers in the district,” says Bechtel, now a facilitator. “You also feel less alone. Making people feel welcome and part of a team is how we’re going to retain our teachers.”

—Karen J. Bannan

Events

School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

IT Infrastructure Internet on School Buses: FCC Eyes E-Rate Change to Expand Access
FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel announced a proposal that would allow the use of federal E-rate funding for Wi-Fi in school buses.
2 min read
A Brownsville Independent School District bus acts as a Wi-Fi hotspot for students needing to connect online for distance learning at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year in the Texas school system.
A Brownsville Independent School District bus acts as a WI-FI hotspot for students needing to connect online for distance learning on the first day of class Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in the parking lot of the Margaret M. Clark Aquatic Center in Brownsville, Texas. The bus is one of 20 hotspots throughout the city to help students have access to their online classes as part of the remote start to the school year due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald via AP
IT Infrastructure Stopping Cyberattacks Is Top Priority for Ed-Tech Leaders. But Many Underestimate the Risk
Most K-12 district tech leaders rate common cybersecurity threats as just low or medium risk, survey shows.
4 min read
Images shows a symbolic lock on a technical background.
iStock/Getty
IT Infrastructure Spotlight Spotlight on Infrastructure Modernization
This Spotlight will help you grasp the reality of school infrastructure, parent privacy concerns, watchdog recommendations and more.
IT Infrastructure The Infrastructure Bill Includes Billions for Broadband. What It Would Mean for Students
Students who struggle to access the internet at home may get some relief through $65 billion in funding for broadband, approved by Congress in the new infrastructure bill.
2 min read
Chromebooks, to be loaned to students in the Elk Grove Unified School District, await distribution at Monterey Trail High School in Elk Grove, Calif., on April 2, 2020.
Even as school-issued devices such as Chromebooks, shown above, have proliferated in the pandemic, many students still lack internet access at home, putting them at a disadvantage for completing homework assignments.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP