By: Caroline Wynne Date: November 17, 2015
Consistently rated a high-performing district by the Florida Department of Education, Alachua County Public Schools is located in Gainesville and serves over 28,000 students across the county. The District’s vision for their students is that they will graduate to excel in their chosen careers and be productive members of the global community. Alachua’s 38 schools employ over 1,900 classroom teachers, with about 7% of them being first year teachers.
The District supports teachers as they strive to promote student achievement and effective classroom management. After recruiting and selecting new teachers, the district is responsible for orienting them to the district’s mission and helping them continue to develop and refine their professional skills. In the 2015-16 school year, 123 brand-new teachers were each assigned to one of seven mentor coaches as a part of the district’s Beginning Teacher Program.
Now in its sixth year, Alachua’s Beginning Teacher Program is well established. The program’s structure is based on a review of research on effective teacher induction, as well as a synthesis of the data collected on the program over previous years. Key elements of the program include assignment of a mentor coach, a full-day orientation, assignment of a support team, quarterly cohort trainings, and opportunities to observe exemplary teaching practices.
As required by State legislation, a beginning teacher program must be in place at each district. What’s unique about Alachua’s program is that the mentors are dedicated to beginning teachers, rather than being school-based. The District found dedicated coaches are better able to provide differentiated coaching, and have the flexibility to spend more time with certain teachers.
Beginning teachers need to be made aware of what good teaching looks like and how this aligns to school and district initiatives. “The Beginning Teacher Program helps first year teachers thrive, not only survive,” said Bessie Criscione, Beginning Teacher Program Manager.
A common challenge with beginning teacher programs is ensuring the program doesn’t hinder, but rather enhances, their work. Often times with processes and procedures comes added paperwork and the need for accountability.
Alachua is also connected to a university, which poses a challenge for many graduates who enter as beginning teachers and only stay in their role temporarily. A central role of the district’s mentors is to collect data on why teachers are leaving. For instance, are they unhappy in their profession or moving on for personal reasons? This data is important for identifying possible courses of action that will impact the beginning teacher retention rate.
These challenges spurred Alachua to partner with Truenorthlogic to enhance their established Beginning Teacher Program, create efficiencies and shed more light on program management.
As the only first year teacher at her school, Allison Crowson was visited by her mentor once a week. “It helped me realize that I’m not alone.” Allison’s mentor spent time with the new teacher during actual classroom instruction, allowing her to offer timely and relevant feedback and ideas from her extensive teaching experience.
Throughout the program, the mentor keeps a checklist of progress made, action items, and accomplished milestones. Previously, this paper checklist was stored in binders at the district central office. Now, the checklist can be easily uploaded as an artifact to the beginning teacher’s performance evaluation. After the principal provides verification, the central office can quickly and easily monitor progress and completion without searching through binders of paper.
Beginning teacher mentors are funded through different title programs, and as such, the district is required to provide specific data in order to receive title funding. Previously, mentor calendars were printed and attempts were made to manually decipher completed mentor activities. Now, using Truenorthlogic’s Mentoring solution, the central office has clearer visibility of mentor log activities with the ability to pull reports for title funding. They’re also able to use this data to help look for patterns and opportunities to further refine the program. Additionally, the access to data helps mentors prepare for coaching and next steps with their new teachers. Insightful reports on each teacher allow mentors to see a complete picture of the teacher’s growth.
Mentors set the expectation with beginning teachers that they will continually grow throughout their career. “One of the most important aspects of my job is establishing a mindset of ongoing professional growth,” said Dagni Christian, now in her fifth year as a mentor, previously a teacher leader and teacher for 23 years.
Automation enhancements to an already established program make a big difference helping the central office, mentors, and new teachers. Through time savings and increased visibility, the focus is back on the importance of providing quality classroom instruction, and ultimately helping the District achieve their goal of a 95% beginning teacher retention rate.
“Truenorthlogic’s Mentoring solution gives us visibility and easy access to beginning teacher and mentor data enabling us to make informed decisions to support our overall retention goal.”
Director of Professional Development
Alachua County Public Schools