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A Program of Supports: The Structural Elements of Comprehensive Induction

Based on the literature about effective new teacher induction and our own experience in schools, we have identified a number of structures and practices that, taken together, help create a nourishing environment for teacher development. They include an early, information-rich hiring process; summer preparation and formal orientation; access to complete curricula; regular interaction with colleagues and educative mentoring; and growth-oriented supervision and evaluation.

Early, information-rich hiring. Teachers begin to learn about a school’s professional culture and expectations the very first time they enter the building for an interview. Therefore hiring is the first step of teacher induction, representing an often-overlooked opportunity to purposefully introduce candidates to the school’s mission, values, resources and community (Liu and Johnson, 2006). By organizing an early and thorough hiring process that involves the candidate’s potential colleagues and allows for a rich exchange of information, a school can ensure a good fit between a candidate, the available position, and the school’s goals before investing in her. Likewise, candidates can make informed decisions about the settings in which they will develop their professional identity and practice.

Summer preparation and formal orientation. The summer before new teachers begin their jobs provides an important opportunity to get to know colleagues and to start planning for the coming year. This is only possible when school leaders give new teachers their teaching assignments well before school starts and ensure them regular access to their classrooms, curricular materials and experienced colleagues over the summer months. A thorough formal orientation should introduce school policies, procedures and facilities; provide guidance on topics such as how to work with parents, co-teachers, classroom aides, and other colleagues; and explore the school’s mission, vision of good teaching, and community.

Access to complete curricula. For many new teachers, the first year on the job is characterized by a “mad scramble” to create daily lesson plans (Kauffman, Johnson, Kardos, Liu and Peske, 2002). New teachers consistently report that they crave guidance about what to teach and how to teach it, yet few schools provide them with complete curricula (Kauffman, 2002). A complete teaching curriculum includes a comprehensive list of grade-level skill and knowledge objectives for students; content through which to teach those skills and knowledge; suggested methods for delivering content and assessing understanding; and supporting materials. At its best, carefully chosen curricula support the mission of the school and its vision of good teaching and strengthen teachers’ subject matter and pedagogical knowledge.

Opportunities to learn with and from colleagues. Schools are most effective as sites for new teacher learning when experienced teachers feel a collective sense of responsibility for working with their novice colleagues in formal and informal ways. Such interactions include formal, one-on-one mentoring, a key component of induction with the potential to deeply influence novices’ efficacy (Villar, 2004). Formal mentoring is most effective when mentors are well-trained and supported in taking an “educative” role (see Feiman-Nemser, 1998), assisting novices in enacting the school’s vision of good teaching. Structures like grade level and content area teams may facilitate practice-centered collaboration among teachers, a feature of schools associated with teacher satisfaction and effectiveness (Johnson et al, 2004; Newman and Wehlage, 1995; Louis, Kruse and Marks, 1996; Little, 1982).

Growth-oriented supervision and evaluation. When teacher supervision is linked to clear standards for waht good teaching looks like and treated as a learning opportunity for all involved, it builds a culture of trust and safety. Because informal, formative assessments of teachers' practice are a necessary part of the mentoring process, growth-oriented supervision of new teachers is most powerful when explicitly connected to the work they are doing with their mentors. Any information that guides school leaders’ decisions about whether or not to rehire a teacher -- for example, parents' opinions -- should be openly acknowledged in order to build trust. When teachers know what successful teaching looks like, understand that they might spend their whole careers striving toward an ideal, and know the criteria upon which they will be evaluated, they are are free to keep learning and growing.