Producing Educational Leaders through Induction Programs

Producing Educational Leaders through Induction Programs

In districts with programs for newteacher induction and sustained professional development, teachers are more likely to grow into educational leaders.

After four years, Melissa Pantoja, an art teacher in the Rockwall Independent School District in Texas, has become an educational leader. Her effectiveness and leadership are well recognized as she serves on the school's improvement committee, chairs the fine arts festival, is the campus' mentor trainer, and-at the urging of an administrator who saw her leadership potential-is working on her master's degree in mid-management and principalship.

Her professional career as a teacher began successfully on her very first day in the El Reno School District of Oklahoma, with the help of a script that organized her classroom (Wong and Wong 2000). She had a plan for greeting her students, what to wear, what to say, what to duplicate as handouts, and what procedures to teach immediately to create a sense of consistency and organization in her classroom. Melissa's classroom management readiness, which helped make her first year of teaching a success, was largely the result of the district's two-year newteacher induction program. Further, that induction program positioned her not only to be a successful and effective teacher, but also to grow into an educational leader.

Induction Is Just the Beginning

The Flowing Wells Schools of Tucson, Arizona have produced 12 finalists for Teacher of the Yearmore than any other school district-for the State of Arizona. These leaders are arguably the result of a process that begins with new-teacher induction and eight years later produces teacher leaders. This process operates under the banner of the Institute for Teacher Renewal and Growth, the district's organized, sustained professional development program, easily understood as a one-page rubric (Breaux and Wong 2003). The new teachers are called novices in their first year. With regular workshops, instruction, and support during the school year, the novices become advanced beginners in their second year. Continuing the induction process, they are considered competent teachers in their third year; and in their fourth year, they are deemed proficient. In their eighth year, they are considered expert teachers, with the leadership skills to take active roles in the school and community. The induction program flows seamlessly into an organized, lifelong, professional development program where veteran teachers can grow and renew themselves.

The comprehensive, sustained induction process at the Flowing Wells Schools, in operation for 18 years, is so successful and replicated that the district holds an annual workshop to explain the structure to interested parties (Breaux and Wong 2003). After attending a workshop, a staff developer shared:

The induction program is an incredibly designed, implemented, and focused plan of professional development. The support for new teachers (and all teachers) is so evident and powerful that Flowing Wells truly exemplifies the notion of a school district as a family.

In the Flowing Wells School District, everyone is a leaderfrom the superintendent to the principals, teachers, students, and even the food service workers. Yet, this is possible only because all share a mission and a vision that are acculturated through the induction process.

As Joan Hearne, administrator in the Wichita, Kansas Schools said, "As a central office staff developer, I truly believe in the induction process. If you do not transmit a district's culture, mission, and beliefs as employees join the family, then when do you?"

The success and leadership potential of a comprehensive, sustained induction program is also evident at the Lafourche Parish Public Schools of Louisiana. That district replicated an induction program within a few months after returning from a Flowing Wells workshop. After the first year of the induction program, the newteacher attrition rate at Lafourche Parish Schools dropped from 51 percent to 15 percent; and today it hovers around seven percent.

In the Lafourche Parish Schools, new teachers are trained to meet the challenges of the classroom and to comply with state standards. The district's newly structured curriculum is solid, detailed, and well organized; new teachers receive specific training in what and how to teach. The benefits are obvious: Of the new teachers who participated in the district's induction program, more than 99 percent successfully completed the performance-based Louisiana Teacher Assistance and Assessment Program, required for teacher certification in the state. The Lafourche induction program is so successful, in fact, that the Louisiana Department of Education (2001) adopted it as the model for the entire state.

Mentoring vs. Induction

The words mentoring and induction are often confused and misused (Wong 2002). These two terms are not synonymous. Induction is a process used by districts to train, support, and retain new teachers. It is a highly organized and comprehensive staff development process, involving many people and components, which typically continues as a sustained process for two to five years. Albeit important, mentoring is but one component of the induction process (see Table 1).

Mentoring alone will do little to aid in the retention of highly qualified new teachers. However, as an integral component of a structured induction program, it can be valuable. Understand that induction is ongoing and systematic, whereas a mentor may be someone who is assigned two weeks after the school year begins and may not be trained, compensated, or provided release time to help, much less be in the same building and teach at the same grade level or subject area.

Regretfully, many educators believe that all a new teacher needs is a mentor. They try to portray mentoring as an effective standalone method for supporting and retaining teachers. In far too many instances, a mentor is simply a veteran teacher who has been haphazardly selected by the principal and assigned to a new teacher. Sharon Feiman-Nemser (1996) wrote that after 20 years of experimenting with mentoring as a process for helping new teachers, few comprehensive studies validate its effectiveness.

Mentors cannot replace or be the only form of formal or informal induction assistance. Britton, Paine, Raizen, and Pimm (2003) reported that, in more than 30 states, mentoring predominates as an induction method, often with little more. This universal practice seems remarkably narrow. Yet, in many schools, one-on-one mentoring is the dominant or sole strategy for supporting new teachers. Moreover, these mentoring programs often lack structure and rely greatly on the willingness of the veteran and new teacher to seek out one another.

Britton et al. (2003) further reported that many mentors are assigned to respond to a new teacher's day-to-day crises and provide teaching tips for survival. Mentors in this role serve simply as a safety net for new teachers. Clearly, leadership does not develop from teachers who are in a survival mode. Thus, mentoring alone does not produce leaders.

According to the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Commission (1995,11), "Giving a teacher a mentor Only' is a convenient and unconsciously foolish way for an administrator to divorce himself or herself from the leadership required to bring a beginning teacher up to professional maturity level." The Commission found that principals and new teachers rated mentoring the least-effective way to help new teachers. One out of four new teachers claimed that they received either "poor support" or "no support" from their mentors. Simply assigning a mentor does little to remedy the situation of new teachers becoming discouraged and leaving the profession.

Schm/ker (2001) observed, "So-called 'mentors' are everywhere these days, but they aren't often given release time or a clear, compelling charge." Saphier (in Saphier, Freedman, and Aschheim 2001, 36) related, "For too many teachers, the mentoring pairing process results in a 'blind date.' The teachers do not know each other and neither partner has input into the pairing."

What's really scary about all this talk about "mentoring only" is that it has become institutionalized. The press and some professional journals are prescribing it as the standard cure-all for the difficulties faced by new teachers. This cure-all, however, is a myth. The reality is that after more than 20 years of trying mentoring as a means of helping new teachers, there is no substantive research supporting its efficacy. Inherent in the Faculty programs of their book, Saphier, Freedman, and Aschheim (2001) suggested that it is time to move "beyond mentoring."