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October 1, 2023
Vol. 81
No. 2

Distributing the Wealth of Knowledge

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When this district developed a tiered support framework for new teachers, they also created a lighter burden for new leaders.

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Leadership
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New school leaders face complex challenges, a rapidly changing education landscape, increased accountability for academic proficiency and growth, and public scrutiny, making the transition to their new role more stressful and multifaceted than ever before (Gentilucci, Denti, & Guaglianone, 2013; Kaul, Comstock, & Simon, 2022; Whitaker, Good, & Whitaker, 2019). Supporting new teachers can further complicate this already demanding role. School leaders work diligently to recruit teachers, develop grow-your-own programs, and facilitate alternative certification pathways—so how can they keep those teachers they have worked so hard to hire in the first place and also give themselves room to grow in their own leadership roles?
In the spring of 2022, my district, Glenwood Community School District in Glenwood, Iowa, faced a need to fill three of the district's five principal roles for the upcoming school year. As the assistant superintendent for both human resources and school improvement departments, I realized that replacing 60 percent of our school leadership could have significant implications for our system's capacity to effectively onboard and support the many new teachers we hired.
I knew our district needed to develop a specific plan—and the inspiration for it came from a framework we were already well-versed in. For four years, we've had a successful Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework in place for students, which provides targeted interventions and support to students based on their individual needs. It uses a tiered approach, offering different levels of assistance to address academic, behavioral, and social-emotional challenges. The framework is commonly associated with a pyramid depicting the intensity of support from its base to its peak.
Distributing the Wealth of Knowledge Figure 1
We decided to try a similar approach with new teachers. We designed a New Teacher MTSS framework in which the continuum of support for all teachers new to the district (not just new to teaching) is tiered by intensity, duration, and various staff levels of support (see Figure 1). For example, as a Tier I support, all new teachers get an assigned trained peer mentor for their first two years of employment; in Tier II, an instructional coach might offer support on differentiated instruction; in Tier III, a monthly "huddle" for new district teachers might focus on behavior management. Supports throughout the pyramid can be customized and adapted with mentors, instructional coaches, and other specialists, highlighting strengths new teachers already have, and others they intend to hone. This approach ensures that new teachers receive the support they need to succeed, without relying solely on a new principal—or having to learn everything themselves.

It is important to provide tiered, ongoing support to new teachers so new school principals can slowly grow into their role.

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"I often feel 'trapped' in management and desperately want to increase my effectiveness around instructional leadership," says Ashlie Salazar, a first-year elementary principal in our district. "Knowing I can lean on the New Teacher Multi-Tiered System of Supports gives me peace of mind and the sense of comfort that we are in this together, that it doesn't rest solely on my shoulders to be the provider of all things a new teacher to the district might need and when they need it."
The New Teacher MTSS model did not involve any new programs, training, or cost. As shown in Figure 2, it focused on a reorganization of support for teachers new to the district and emphasized the major tenets of an MTSS structure: customized, personalized, and tiered intensity of support; collaboration; proactive support; and a focus on research-based practices (Freeman et al., 2017; Harlacher, Sakelaris, & Kattelman, 2014). We found we were able to migrate many of the support and onboarding strategies we already had in place into this framework, with a bonus of easing the burden on building principals, who typically had the responsibility of providing the lion's share of induction and ongoing support to new teachers in areas of curriculum, instruction, assessment, behavior management, and collaboration.
Distributing the Wealth of Knowledge Figure 2
To create the framework, we focused on three key areas of support for new teachers—onboarding, mentorship, and coaching—and we revamped our current offerings to distribute the workload and increase opportunities for growth for all educators in the district. Let's look more closely at each of these.

Making Onboarding Less Stressful

Through informal conversations with new teachers in the district, I realized that the three days of new teacher onboarding we offered the week before school started was both "overwhelming" and inadequate to fit teachers' needs. They were not receiving enough preparation to understand our district's philosophies, systems, and procedures. Moreover, they lacked sufficient support over time to ensure their success. If you were a new teacher assigned to a building with a new principal, you were often learning right alongside your new boss.
To reduce this stress of onboarding for new teachers, especially those with new school leaders, we created a New Teacher Summit as a Tier I core instructional support in the MTSS framework. This two-day summit in mid-summer helps to onboard new teachers to systematic district curriculum, instruction, and assessment processes and philosophies. These include our teacher-created curriculum process, assessment writing, and standards-referenced grading principles. We found that most teachers had little experience in these areas and needed time for these principles to "marinate" weeks and even months before they started teaching. The summit model allows for focused professional learning and relationship-building well before day one of school.
In the past, this induction process was designed and deployed by the building principal, if it existed at all. However, we found that our principals often had time constraints and varying levels of comfort in this area that kept the induction experience from being as streamlined and effective as it could've been.
"I had just been through a similar training for administrators with our district leadership only a few months before my newest teachers," says Principal Salazar. "Me leading new teachers through such intense foundational curriculum and instructional practices that early in my tenure might have caused more harm than good. It's a huge benefit—and a relief—as a new leader to have the New Teacher Summit in place."

Mentorship Is Essential

The second support we looked to improve was Glenwood's one-to-one mentoring program for teachers new to the field of education. Mentorship is particularly crucial for new teachers in a post-pandemic school environment due to increased stressors on educators. Lagging academic achievement, developing social skills, and other student challenges require a collaborative problem-solving approach that teachers, novice or experienced, need support to address. And for new leaders hoping to keep the teachers they hire, a good mentoring program can make a big difference: Gray & Taie (2015) found that mentored teachers had a significantly higher retention rate than those who were not mentored.
At Glenwood, the principal had not often played an active role in the mentoring program or had been called in late in the process as an evaluator. In the New Teacher MTSS structure, however, our principals are additional mentoring voices, which helps them to establish a culture of learning and participate in the process without leading it (Cohen et al., 2019). We have also found the New Teacher MTSS framework aligns with what new teachers desire because it allows the process to feel more collaborative and removes the feeling of isolation from administration (Whitaker et al., 2019).

Mentorship is particularly crucial for new teachers in a post-pandemic school environment.

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While many districts provide one-to-one mentoring support to teachers new to the field of education, our New Teacher MTSS model includes a two-year mentorship for teachers who are new to teaching altogether and those who are new to the district but have teaching experience elsewhere. For experienced teachers new to our district, mentors provide an anchor of support and help them acclimate to new policies and procedures. While not inexperienced in the art and science of teaching, new teachers can struggle mightily with the culture, climate, and organizational expectations of a new school teaching assignment. When Paula Carman, a 20-year veteran teacher from a neighboring school district, joined Glenwood's Northeast Elementary in 2021, she felt overwhelmed: "I felt like a brand-new teacher again. I felt like my experience elsewhere wasn't helping me much. I needed more support to be successful in my new school, and thank goodness I had it."
To create a sense of community and collaboration, we also connect new teachers in our district through monthly gatherings called huddles. At these huddles, new teachers discuss topics such as assessment, teacher evaluation, behavior management, and parent-teacher conferences with their mentors or fellow new teachers. To kick off the huddles in August, we organize a "Glenwood Community Tour" for new-to-the-district teachers and their mentors that includes visits to local businesses, district facilities, and bonding opportunities.

A New Teacher Coach

Another intentional, intensive support we created focused on how to help new teachers during the school day without involving the principal. New school leaders are inundated with tasks, so we wanted a solution that would give new teachers the support they needed and allow a new leader time to focus on other duties.
As mentioned previously, our mentoring program provides one-to-one support for new teachers for two years. However, we discovered this was not always sufficient. Mentors also teach full-time and are not available to model lessons, co-plan, observe, and provide regular feedback to their new colleagues when it might be most needed—particularly during the school day. Communication with mentors is often limited to before and after school, in between classes, or through emails or Zoom sessions. While we also have a full-time instructional coach in each building to provide additional support, the number of new teachers per building varies and can create an uneven workload. And while our principals participate in occasional formal observations according to our teacher professional growth plan and evaluation system, new teachers often need more consistent feedback.
To address these issues, our teacher leadership committee established the role of New Teacher Coach in the fall of 2021. This experienced teacher role is part of the districtwide instructional coaching team and offers on-demand support to all new teachers in the district (typically 10–25), spanning from preschool to high school. In our model, the new teacher coach serves as both a Tier I and Tier II support for teachers, depending on the intensity of their needs or preferences.

A Flexible, Adaptable Model

While all schools have different needs, there are two key principles of our model that school administrators, new and veteran, can keep in mind when considering adopting an MTSS framework for new teachers.
  • Onboarding needs to consist of more than a few back-to-school professional development days right before school begins. It should be early, often, and most important, ongoing.
  • A New Teacher MTSS model should be growth-oriented, not deficit-oriented. New teachers have the opportunity to build off current strengths and collaborate with veteran staff of various roles. Being new doesn't mean being less capable, and there is much to learn from new teachers. For example, new staff with technology skills may have ideas about finding more efficient and effective ways to aggregate student data. Therefore, schools should offer opportunities for current staff to learn from their newest colleagues.
It is important to provide tiered, ongoing support to new teachers so new school principals can slowly grow into their role. Principals in our system don't see supporting new teachers as another task to cross off on their to-do lists, and therefore their role in support is more organic.

Principals in our system don’t see supporting new teachers as another task to cross off on their to-do lists.

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At the Tier I level, all new teachers generally have daily interactions with our principals, albeit often in informal ways, through questions in passing in the cafeteria, a greeting in the morning workroom, or a short impromptu visit to a classroom. At a Tier II level, you may see our principals join a coaching session with a new teacher and instructional coach in a classroom to collaborate, connect resources, or even to be a learner themselves. Lastly, on specific occasions, you might see a principal in a Tier III type of support arrange a site visit for a new teacher in a neighboring district to observe a collaborative grade-level team interpret common formative assessment data.
Our attempt to flatten the hierarchy has proven worthwhile: School leaders now contribute to the network of teacher mentorship instead of directing it. While supporting teachers new to the district was and is the essential aim of the MTSS structure, it's also led to an increase in diverse teacher leaders, instructional coaches, and mentors and a distributed leadership system with increased collective efficacy and buy-in. To have confident and energized school leaders, we must evolve systems to balance their workload and take care of our students and teachers. With the right support, an MTSS framework can be just as effective for new teachers and principals as it is for students.
References

Cohen, J. E., Loeb, S., Miller, L. P., & Wyckoff, J. (2019). Policy implementation, principal agency, and strategic action: Improving teaching effectiveness in New York City middle schools. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 1(42), 134–160.

Freeman, J., Sugai, G., Simonsen, B., & Everett, S. (2017) MTSS coaching: Bridging knowing to doing. Theory into Practice, 56(1), 29–37.

Gentilucci, J. L., Denti, L., & Guaglianone, C. L. (2013). New principals' perspectives of their multifaceted roles. Educational Leadership and Administration: Teaching and Program Development, 24, 75–85.

Gray, L., & Taie, S. (2015). Public school teacher attrition and mobility in the first five years: Results from the first through fifth waves of the 2007–08 Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study (NCES 2015-337). U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics.

Harlacher, J. E., Sakelaris, T. L., & Kattelman, N. M. (2014). Practitioner's guide to curriculum-based evaluation in reading. Springer.

Kaul, M., Comstock, M., & Simon, N. S. (2022). Leading from the middle: How principals rely on district guidance and organizational conditions in times of crisis. AERA Open, 8.

Whitaker T., Good, M. W., & Whitaker, K. (2019). How principals can support new teachers. Educational Leadership, 77(1), 50–54.

Chad Lang is the assistant superintendent of school improvement and human resources for Glenwood Community School District in Glenwood, Iowa.

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