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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
May 1, 1999
Vol. 56
No. 8

In Kentucky / Mentoring with a Mission

Kentucky's successful initiative to support first-year teachers uses a collegial team approach to help new teachers develop a strong, lifelong career foundation.

Only two weeks on the job and Jeff was seriously questioning his career choice. The lack of discipline in his classroom, the frenetic daily pace, and the record keeping and responsibilities felt like an oncoming train. Tight schedules made connecting with other teachers difficult, and he had many questions. What should he do about Jamie, who was antagonizing other students? How could he motivate Laura, who seemed bright but never did her homework? Jeff felt overwhelmed, discouraged, and alone. Maybe he wasn't meant to be a teacher. Maybe it wasn't too late to find another way to put his love of biology to good use.
Is this scenario familiar? Many new teachers join the profession with enthusiasm but experience frustrations when reality takes hold. Teaching, they quickly realize, means more than sharing a subject they enjoy. It means managing, communicating, decoding behavior, keeping records, planning ahead, juggling priorities, and expressing a positive attitude all day long, regardless of the situation. It means leadership under pressure, an awareness that often collides with idealistic preconceptions nurtured in teacher education programs. Many highly qualified teachers are lost as a result.
The situation is different for new teachers in Kentucky. By statutory mandate, all first-year teachers receive a level of support and assistance that develops a strong, lifelong career foundation. Legislation enacted in 1985 established a collegial team to induct new professionals into teaching and to establish a culture of continual growth for the profession. The Kentucky Teacher Internship Program guides each new teacher through a structured process of assistance and assessment with the active involvement of a committee of seasoned educators: a mentor teacher, a university representative, and the school principal.
This program serves as a catalyst for growth for the beginning teacher as well as for each member of the support committee. Although the program supports new teachers as they form their professional identities, it also allows mentors to sharpen their analytical skills as they examine specific curricular issues with their mentees. In this sense, it breaks down what Hulig-Austin (1990) describes as barriers of isolation that hinder induction. Because inexperienced and experienced educators forge partnerships, educators view the program as comprehensive and transformational. Best of all, the program serves K–12 students by emphasizing student learning as the ultimate goal of all good teaching.

Structured for Success

The primary goal of Kentucky's internship program is to nurture and retain good teachers by providing all beginning teachers with meaningful mentoring to help them develop the necessary skills to become more effective. Because the heart of the program is the premise that reflection about student learning is crucial to teacher effectiveness, the program is built on a reflective teaching model that highlights analyzing student learning. First, teachers focus on their actions: What did they do? Next, they reflect on the impact of their actions: What effect did their actions have? The third element of the process is refinement: What will they do next? The cycle then begins again.
This model is deliberately continuous and is meant to guide the intern's reflections about the impact of instruction. However, the Kentucky initiative goes a step further by creating a forum for reflection through conversations with committee members and documentation in a portfolio. The model operates within a structured support and assessment process that allows committee members to observe and confer individually and collectively with the intern at regular intervals throughout the year as the new teacher's thinking and teaching evolve.
The intern receives guidance and support during conferences and committee meetings as well as during the 50 hours for which the mentor is paid to work with the intern on growth issues. Committee members use observations and portfolio reviews to measure the intern's satisfactory progress in the eight teacher standards adopted by the Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board.
The system fits naturally into the teachers' workflow. Generally, the program is organized around three cycles, each of which involves observations and conferences as well as a committee meeting. This process allows time for each committee member to meet with the intern to discuss observational data and to review the portfolio before the full meeting when data are aggregated and progress is determined. The committee compares the recorded information to reach consensus about progress toward meeting each standard. Con-sensus decisions are sent to the state certification office at the end of the year.
To maximize the mentoring opportunities that help the intern develop a reflective approach, assessment remains formative, or advisory, during the first two cycles. Summative evaluation, which determines certification eligibility, comes at the end of the year during the third cycle when the intern presents the completed portfolio to the entire committee.

Taking Charge with Plans and Portfolios

In addition to providing invaluable feedback from the committee, the program encourages the intern to take charge of the process through a plan for professional growth and a portfolio. Both are integral parts of the intern's experience.
The Professional Growth Plan helps the intern document areas of strength as well as determine specific actions to address identified areas for growth. Using data from the first observation cycle, the intern develops an initial plan and presents it to the committee. During the second and third cycles, the intern updates this plan with committee assistance and documents his or her growth. At the final committee meeting, this documentation serves as evidence about the intern's progress during the internship year and as a basis for a plan to guide the new teacher during the next school year.
An example from last year's intern pool illustrates the potential of this plan to guide the growth process. It was clear from lessons observed during the first cycle in this middle school teacher's classroom that history, his admitted passion, was a strength. His students seemed engaged in the investigations he had organized. However, during a conference with his mentor teacher, he expressed his discomfort with science, his second teaching area.
After the intern reviewed the science curriculum with his mentor, he specified his concerns on the Professional Growth Plan and outlined his goals for participating in a university program designed to help teachers develop expertise in science. On a subsequent plan, the intern documented what he had learned; during the third cycle, he arranged for committee members to observe a lesson that was part of the instructional unit he developed in the university program. The plan helped the intern stay on course.
If, as this example suggests, the Professional Growth Plan serves as a compass for guiding progress, the portfolio represents a log for recording evidence of progress on the teaching standards, particularly in the areas of student assessment, reflection, collaboration, and professional development.
The highly structured portfolio is built incrementally as the intern prepares specified entries for the committee's review during each observation cycle. During the first two cycles, these entries focus on individual lesson plans for each observation. Before the observation, the intern lays out a map that explains objectives in terms of how they relate to students' prior experiences, to broader instructional goals for building understanding, to standards for learning, and to methods for scaffolding and assessing learning. The intern writes the most important part of the plan, however, after conducting the lesson, when he or she discusses its impact in terms of student response and suggests further actions to improve or extend learning.
During the third cycle, the portfolio entry consists of related lessons on one particular concept or set of concepts. By focusing on a specific instructional sequence, the committee considers how the intern analyzes the impact of teaching concepts on student learning over time and the connection between related lessons. Thus, the portfolio becomes a summative document because it records growth for the entire year. The committee uses the portfolio as a major data source for deciding whether the intern has met the New Teacher Standards and is ready for full certification.
A 4th grade teacher's portfolio underscores the value of this tool. This teacher introduced her instructional sequence by explaining that her goal was to have students write a biography. She organized a series of lessons—reading short biographies, sharing a biography she had written about her German grandmother, explaining how she had interviewed relatives, and drafting instructions for peer-editing sessions. To conclude the sequence, she discussed in her portfolio the difficulties that students encountered and the specific assistance that she offered. She also included samples of student work and a videotape of peer-editing sessions. By juxtaposing this entry with earlier entries containing individual lesson plans, she not only substantiated the success of this unit but also showed evidence of how her analytical skills had developed during the year.

Impact with a Future

By emphasizing instructional impact, the program structure shows a clear desire on the part of the state legislature and program designers to support and sustain a high-quality teaching force. This commitment to substantive issues helps address criticisms suggesting that mentoring programs are superficial and largely social (Gratch, 1998).
Although Kentucky has not formally tracked retention trends, policymakers have tried to quantify the benefits. Results of a 1996 survey prepared for the Kentucky Institute for Education Research indicate that new teachers perceive the program as a useful induction tool. When more than 1,000 teachers with three or fewer years of experience rated its helpfulness on a 5-point scale (with 5 being extremely helpful and 0 being no help at all), the program received an overall rating of 3.85 and the mentor teachers received a rating of 4.26 (Wilkerson & Associates, 1997).
Another survey representing 15 percent of last year's 2,500 interns corroborates these findings. Ninety-seven percent of the respondents reported that committee members provided helpful suggestions to improve practice, and 91 percent said that the process helped them grow professionally. In the same survey, 87 percent of the respondents indicated that the time spent with the resource teacher was helpful, and 93 percent affirmed the value of the handbook, a document delineating the process, expectations, and elements of successful teaching (Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board, 1998).
But statistics tell only part of the story about the program's success. Another important data source comes from participants' comments. About developing confidence, one new teacher said, "I feel much more comfortable in the classroom and with my lesson plans now." Another underscored the value of time spent together: "We were able to plan together, develop ideas together, reflect together."
Experienced teachers who participate in the program seem to receive far more than the $1,000 compensation. Although some see the 50 hours they spend with the intern outside the school day as excessive, most agree that working with new teachers has helped them reexamine their own methods. One indicated that she had learned a great deal from the other participants with their different perspectives and that participation reminded her why she decided to enter the profession in the first place. Another said that she thought the program provided "a wonderful opportunity to collaborate about curriculum issues."
Faculty from the state's public and private institutions of higher education who serve on committees also reported a positive benefit from working in K–12 schools. One comment represents a widely held sentiment: "The relationships I have developed with the building principals, resource teachers and intern teachers have made my instruction 'real.'" In short, the partnership that this program creates between new and master teachers appears to foster a collaborative spirit and inject an important element of mutual respect into the profession.

Commitment That Counts

The Kentucky Teacher Internship Program is unique because it mandates support for all new teachers in a thoughtful, structured way. By participating in a system that provides first-year teachers with the support and assistance needed for professional growth, experienced educators in Kentucky are assuming an important leadership role in their profession while reinvigorating their practice. And interns feel supported from the outset and develop confidence in a collegial atmosphere.
Although the summative evaluation is included in the process for certification purposes, the heart of this program is an innovative mentoring partnership among the school, higher education, and the state's chief policymaking group. This "mentoring with a mission" is designed to help interns meet the demands of the first year of teaching while laying a foundation for a long-term professional commitment. In a sense, these first-year teachers fulfill the promise of the program with growing confidence and dedication. In the end, this new spirit among young teachers will filter into classrooms across Kentucky and help shape the minds of generations to come.

Gratch, A. (1998). Beginning teacher and mentor relationships. Journal of Teacher Education, 49, 220–227.

Hulig-Austin, L. (1990). Teacher induction programs and internships. In W. R. Houston (Ed.), Handbook of research in teacher education (pp. 535–548). New York: Macmillan.

Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board. (1998). Interns' perceptions of the Kentucky teacher internship program: 1997–98. Frankfort, KY: Author.

Wilkerson & Associates. (1997). The preparation of teachers for Kentucky schools: A longitudinal study of new teachers. Louisville, KY: Kentucky Institute for Educational Research.

Sharon Brennan has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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