Education in the 21st century is vastly different from 20 years ago, and the dynamics of teaching, classroom management, and home-school relationships are increasingly complex. The “sink or swim” method for introducing new teachers into the profession is damaging to today’s schools and teachers. The decrease in WELS elementary students (7,356) and WELS elementary schools (42) over the past 20 years – as well as the increase in new WELS teachers leaving the profession from 287 in the 1980s to 867 in the 2000s – are evidence that “the way we’ve always done it” no longer works.

Schools today have an important responsibility, both to their students and to new teachers, to help the beginning teacher transition into the profession. Most other school systems have already experienced the benefits of providing trained mentors for beginning teachers. Over 30 states require mentoring for their new teachers. These other systems have discovered what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to mentoring new teachers. What works is an intensive mentoring experience from a trained mentor. What doesn’t work is simply assigning an experienced teacher who has no mentor training and little direction or accountability.

New Teacher Induction is the name of a program that guides beginning WELS teachers through their first two years of teaching. A trained mentor is assigned to each teacher receiving his/her first call to a school. The trained mentor closely guides the development of the new teacher, helping him/her to connect practice to undergraduate preparation, reflect on practice according to teacher standards, and grow both spiritually and professionally. The mentor is accountable for weekly contacts, monthly face-to-face communications, and two or more classroom observations per semester as agreed upon with the new teacher.

New Teacher Induction began as a pilot program in the Milwaukee area under the direction of the Commission on Lutheran Schools. It was approved for use synod-wide by the 2011 synod convention. In 2012 it was expanded to all three Wisconsin districts, and it is now fully employed in all twelve districts.

The WELS has long recognized that the “sink or swim” method of new teacher induction results in teacher resignation, poor practice, and school stress. Research agrees (Lortie, 1975; Wei, Darling- Hammond, Andree, Richardson, & Orphanos, 2009). The WELS has attempted in the past to provide support.

The school visitor program brought in an outside, experienced teacher to observe a new teacher in each of the first two years. This program resulted more in evaluation than support and improvement. School visitors evaluated the new teacher and sent a report to the synod offices.

The Assisting Beginning Teachers (ABT) program was an improvement to the previous school visitor program because it intended to provide support for the new teacher. The ABT assigned an experienced teacher/mentor to be a resource for a new teacher. The mentor provided resources, offered suggestions, and provided orientation to the new teacher as needed. This program was a type of buddy system.

New Teacher Induction (NTI) is unlike its predecessors. The goal of NTI is the improvement of student learning by accelerating new teacher effectiveness. A trained mentor is accountable to provide the new teacher with weekly contacts, regular meetings, and two classroom observations per semester. The mentor is trained to use collaborative language and frequent feedback to guide beginning teachers in the use self-reflection, student data, comparison to teaching standards, and best instructional practices.

Benefits to the mentee

The mentee receives regularly scheduled services of a trained mentor for two years. The mentee has weekly contacts, face-to-face conferencing, and classroom observations with a trusted, confidential, experienced teacher. The mentee improves classroom teaching and management to impact the current students and school. One of the biggest benefits is the opportunity to discuss classroom practices honestly with an experienced teacher trained to observe, encourage, and provide immediate feedback without the fear of evaluation by the principal. This trusting relationship encourages honest assessment and accelerated growth over traditional observation methods. As a result, the mentee is encouraged, coached, and supported as he/she develops into a confident, independent, reliable professional educator.

Benefits to the school

The school benefits by receiving a trained, high-quality mentor for its beginning teacher. A confident, young teacher infuses energy into a school and satisfies parents. New practices are introduced into the school culture by the mentor, and collaboration around topics of student learning is encouraged.

Benefits to the principal

The principal benefits by having a trained mentor working closely with his new teacher. He receives assistance in helping the new teacher develop, which eases his schedule. Most WELS principals teach full- or nearly full-time. Having a trained mentor provide regular instructional observations and feedback means he does not have the added time and expense required for a substitute so he can do the job. The principal can be assured that the instructional mentoring and guidance is occurring regardless of his busy schedule. Finally, an effective new teacher makes school satisfaction and promotion easier.

No. A mentor must be an experienced teacher (three years) who demonstrates understanding and competence in areas of faith, instruction, assessment, and management. A mentor is recommended by his/her supervisor, applies for the position, and then is trained specifically for the WELS New Teacher Induction program. Mentors unable to provide the expected level of service for their mentees are dismissed from the program.

A mentor works together with the beginning teacher and principal to accomplish the following tasks:

  • Encourage beginning teachers to be faithful servants of Jesus Christ
  • Encourage the spiritual growth/development of new teachers
  • Coach and assist beginning teachers with curriculum development, classroom management, instructional strategies, lesson planning, assessment of student performance, and all aspects of their professional development
  • Assist/support beginning teachers in developing a learning goal
  • Assist/support beginning teachers in developing a Ministry Development Plan
  • Plan, participate in, and facilitate support in professional development activities for beginning teachers
  • Participate in principal/instructional mentor/beginning teacher orientation
  • Provide feedback on program effectiveness with principals, lead mentors, and the Commission on Lutheran Schools office
  • Comply with the Mentor Accountability Log

A mentor engages in the following types of professional growth:

  • Participates in mentor forums
  • Participates in mentor trainings
  • Participates and completes the mentoring certification program
  • Collaborates with other trained mentors as appropriate to assist with beginning teacher support

A mentor develops the following in his/her relationships:

  • A reflective and trusting partnership with beginning teachers
  • Confidentiality as outlined by the mentor program

A mentor provides the following services:

  • Weekly contact
  • Two or more observations per semester
  • Monthly face-to-face contact

To be effective, a mentor needs to learn the language and skills related to observation, support, self-reflection, and trusting relationships. The mentor also needs to learn the procedures necessary to carry out the roles and responsibilities. All training and related expenses are provided to the mentor free of charge.

The mentor acquires the needed skills through participation in a series of mentor trainings throughout the first few years of mentoring. Engaging in mentor training while also mentoring enables the training to be immediately applied to real contexts, thus encouraging proper implementation. Through training, the mentor learns how to do the following:

  • Select appropriate coaching strategies
  • Develop the language and behavior of support
  • Use professional teaching standards in mentoring
  • Help new teachers reflect upon and assess teaching according to standards
  • Guide the creation of a Ministry Development Plan (MDP)
  • Use planned and reflective conference protocols
  • Use observation tools
  • Gain skills in collecting and analyzing observation data
  • Give strategic feedback using the language of support
  • Analyze student work
  • Guide differentiated instruction

Schools with beginning teachers pay $1,000 each year per teacher for two years.

New teachers and their schools receive many services during the induction period. The teacher and principal receive access to a trained mentor. The new teacher has weekly contact with his/her mentor, monthly face-to-face contacts, and classroom observations with feedback two or more times each semester. This added supervision frees the principal for other duties and eliminates other school expenses, like paying for substitutes for the principal while he observes the new teacher. Providing these services to new teachers and their schools requires funding. Mentor training, mentor observations and visits, and program coordination all cost money. The actual expenses to run the New Teacher Induction program synod-wide are estimated to be $1,800 per new teacher each year. Schools are asked to pay two-thirds of the cost. The remaining one-third is provided by alternate funding sources.

Budgets are always tight, but three things should be considered when the decision is made to call a graduate rather than an experienced teacher.

  1. For most schools the salaries of new teachers are lower than the veteran teacher he/she is replacing. This lower budget impact can be used to offset the school’s cost of mentoring.
  1. The cost of mentoring is small in comparison to the benefits the school receives. It is important for congregations/schools to remember that a beginning teacher cannot be expected to perform his/her duties at the same level as an experienced teacher. The New Teacher Induction program helps the new teacher become effective more quickly, benefiting students, school, and principal.
  1. New Teacher Induction is often in a school’s continuing education budget already. Most WELS schools budget an annual amount for teacher continuing education. For the new teacher, the funds are spent on mentoring rather than courses or workshops. For most WELS schools, therefore, the funds for NTI are already set aside in their continuing education budgets and therefore are not an extra expense.