8 Ways to Help New Teachers Thrive (and Veteran Teachers Too!)

Immediately, we can start to help new teachers and help each other in the process. The research gives us some insight into how each of us can help other teachers thrive. In this post, I'll share the research about teacher retention and eight practical ways we can all make our schools and profession better. We can help new teachers and each other thrive.

I was inspired to write this post because of the soon to be released episode 536 (to be released on August 5, 2019), where a third-year teacher, Edwin Thomas Minguela, and I talk about the lessons he’s learned in his first two years of teaching. Interestingly, he also admits that he almost quit teaching this past school year. We have to do better. We have to help and encourage each other.

The Research About Keeping Teachers

First, let's dive into some research about how to help teachers thrive (and not quit teaching.) In their July 14, 2019 article “Why Teachers Quit,” We Are Teachers summarizes,

“A recent study by the Learning Policy Institute shows that if a teacher receives mentoring, collaboration, and extra resources, and is part of a strong teacher network, first-year turnover is cut by more than half. Unfortunately, just 3% of beginning teachers receive such comprehensive support.”

Learning Policy Institute

As I delved into the study cited above, I was struck by this finding,

Research shows that stability, coupled with shared planning and collaboration, helps teachers to improve their effectiveness,(24) and that teachers improve more rapidly in supportive and collegial working environments.(25)

Learning Policy Institute. (24) Jackson, C. K., & Bruegmann, E. (2009). Teaching students and teaching each other: The importance of peer learning for teachers. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 1(4), 85–108. (25) Kraft, M. A., & Papay, J. P. (2014). Can professional environments in schools promote teacher development? Explaining heterogeneity in returns to teaching experience. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 36(4), 476–500.

Now, let’s explore some ways we can help new teachers thrive and survive.

1. Empathize and Remember What It Was Like To Be a New Teacher

I remember being told that I smiled too much before I started teaching. I also recall overhearing some veteran teachers remarking that I “wouldn’t be smiling long” after having students. How terrible is that? Please don't say such a thing!

A Smile is the Teacher's Game Face

This summer, I met Rob Brown, elementary school principal at Southside Christian School in South Carolina. To emphasize this point about smiling, he said to me,

”Every child deserves to be taught by a happy teacher. The first thing I expect of teachers is that they should smile. I ask them to call me on it if I’m not smiling too.”

Rob Brown, Elementary School Principal
Southside Christian School, South Carolina

In brief, I realized this important fact: A teacher’s smile is a teacher’s game face. It should be.

So, whether you listen to Edwin Minguela on episode 536 (coming soon) or reach back into your mind and early days as a teacher, remember what it was like, be an encourager, and do not steal their joy.

2. Be a Mentor

Formal mentoring programs work. The Learning Policy Institute says in their 2016 study,

Well-designed mentoring programs improve retention rates for new teachers, as well as their attitudes, feelings of efficacy, and instructional skills.(32) The keys to success include having a mentor teacher in the same subject area, common planning time with teachers in the same subject, and regularly scheduled collaboration with other teachers. Beginning teachers’ practice is enhanced further when their mentors also receive formal training and are released from some of their own classroom duties to provide one-to-one observation and coaching in the classroom, so they can demonstrate effective methods and help new teachers solve problems of practice.(33)

Learning Policy Institute. (32) Ingersoll, R. M., & Strong, M. (2011). The impact of induction and mentoring programs for beginning teachers: A critical review of the research. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 201–233; Headden, S. (2014). Beginners in the classroom. Stanford, CA: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; Henke, R. R., Chen, X., Geis, S., & Knepper, P. (2000). Progress through the teacher pipeline: 1992–93 college graduates and elementary/ secondary school teaching as of 1997. Postsecondary education descriptive analysis report. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement; California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. (2015). Report on new teacher induction. Sacramento, CA: California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. (33) Bartell, C. A. (1995). Shaping teacher induction policy in California. Teacher Education Quarterly,(Fall), 27–43; Olebe, M. (2001). A decade of policy support for California’s new teachers: The beginning teacher support and assessment program. Teacher Education Quarterly, 28(1), 71–84; Smith, T. M., & Ingersoll, R. M. (2004). What are the effects of induction and mentoring on beginning teacher turnover? American Educational Research Journal, 41(3), 681–714; Wang, J., Odell, S. J., & Schwille, S. A. (2008). Effects of teacher induction on beginning teachers’ teaching: A critical review of the literature. Journal of Teacher Education, 59(2), 132–152.

But what if your school doesn’t have a “well designed” program at all. What if it is up to teachers?

Meet Informal Mentoring

When I think of informal mentoring, I recall a scene in the Blue Bloods “Highway to Hell.” The daughter of Erin Reagan, Nicky, was accused of possessing drugs. But in a slick move, Nicky got one of the boys she was with to admit that the drugs were his, thus getting Nicky off the hook and out of prison.

In the meantime, Nicky's mom is trying to figure out how a nineteen-year-old girl knew a ploy that only a seasoned cop would know. Then, she discovers that Sargeant Gormley had told Nicky an old “trick” of a seasoned police officer. In short, Nicky was mentored.

Why should a new teacher have to learn lessons the hard way if a seasoned teacher can go ahead and mentor the new teacher? As a result, what pain and heartache could be prevented for both new teachers and their students!

Likewise, why should a more seasoned teacher have to struggle with a newer technology that the new teacher knows and can help her learn?

Be a Mentor By Your Own Design

As a professional who cares about our profession, I think it is our responsibility to intentionally mentor. Young. Old. There's a place for all of us to help each other.

Start with those who ask, but you can also get with other veteran teachers and figure out who has the same subject and if you have common planning times. With this in mind, stop what you're doing this moment and schedule some intentional collaboration time. Be proactive. Be a teacher leader of your own volition.

Don't wait for someone to take you under their wing. Find a good wing and climb up underneath it.

Frank C. Bucaro

Mentoring Best Practices

If your principal is on board with what you’re doing, consider sharing the research with him or her so you can have some more time to coach and observe your mentee. However, as can be seen by the two teachers and one administrator below, mentorship can be done creatively! We can help new teachers and administrators with collaborative technology tools.

Get Some Ideas for Mentoring

Stephanie Goldman
Stephanie Goldman

A veteran teacher who describes how she mentored first year teacher, Lindsay George

Lindsay George
Lindsay George

During Lindsay's first year, Stephanie mentored her using a collaborative space in Google Drive.

Jodie Pierpoint
Jodie Pierpoint

Mentorship can happen online. Jodie Pierpoint helped found a virtual online mentorship for emerging leaders.

For example, last year, I interviewed veteran teacher Stephanie Goldman and first-year teacher Lindsay George who used Google Drive to collaborate. Like many successful mentoring relationships – it was a two way street of sharing and encouragement with Stephanie helping Lindsay with teaching and pedagogy and Lindsay helping Stephanie with some tools and tech.

At the same time, administrators need mentors too. Sometimes it can be a bit harder for administrators to find someone on site, but it can be done virtually! Jodie Pierpoint talks about a virtual mentorship program she helped create online to help new administrators.

3. Include New Teachers

As cited previously a “collegial environment” helps teachers want to stay. My happiest years of teaching, including this past school year, were the years I had at least one real face-to-face friend. This past year, I had quite a few and it blew me away. Finding a face to face friend reminds me of this quote,

“But it does not seem that I can trust anyone,’ said Frodo.

Sam looked at him unhappily.

‘It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick with you through thick and thin — to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours — closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

We all need the kind of friends who will not let us face trouble alone. And yet, in a world where we all have more “friends” than ever, it seems we have less friends than ever. In a world where we “follow” lots of people, we’re no longer following our friend in tears to the ladies room to offer a shoulder — or are we? In contrast, some of you are, and you're better for it.

Some colleagues of mine and me at Disney this past week. We had so much fun (and learned a lot too!) It was just a joy to relax and laugh for a moment. Not everyone can go off somewhere, but I realize that I have these ladies with me every day and am going to be more intentional about finding them and other friends to not only work but build our relationships.

Some of you have friends and have learned. Notably, friendship is somewhat of a trial and takes time. An acquaintance is like a penny and just happens to be in your path. But a true friend is always earned.

And yet, if you do not reach out and make the first steps, you’ll never walk hand in hand laughing at the sunset as you tell stories about your grandchildren when you get older.

Although taking the first steps may be true, it could be a stretch to say that all of us will find a friend at every school where we work. But I will say this — we have to start somewhere and if you’re going to be there for a year, you might as well try.

And always, please, always make room for the new guy or gal.

Intentionally include someone. I was that new person someone they included last year.

They don’t have to be part of your clique for you and that person to click. (I hate “cliques” anyway.)

Make room. Include. Encourage. Ask them to sit with you at lunch. Ask them to sit with you at the faculty meeting. Be intentional and ask.

4. Let Them Know You Notice Them

So, my colleague and new friend Jill Johnson has been so thoughtful. She gave me several gifts throughout the year — a travel bag, a candle, and a hilarious mug I keep on my desk, “Geek on Fleek.”

My friend and colleague Sabrina Davidson remembered my 50th birthday and decorated my room with 50 balloons and 50 silver bells and surprised me. (See the video below.)

My friends Sabrina and Jayson (and their two awesome kids) surprised me on my 50th birthday. It meant so much. And yes, I rejoice in every birthday and am not ashamed of my age. The most remarkable women I know wear their age like the crown of a queen.

As a first-year teacher at a new school, your colleagues don’t know the days that are special — or hard — to you. They don’t know much about your story. But if you can notice and encourage that first-year teacher, it sure does leave an impact as it did me. Just notice people. Don't wait for them to notice you. Notice them!

5. Be Uplifting and Fun

Put yourself in the presence of those who have a habit of being uplifting and you’ll lift your head to a brighter day too.

Listen to podcasts or books that reframe your attitude. Have a healthy way of responding to stress – vent and then move on to a brighter day. Share quotes. Send encouragement. Be the light.

But also have fun.

Ernest Hemingway said, in True at First Light

“When you stop doing things for fun, you might as well be dead.”

So, we are at Disney this past week for a PD opportunity sponsored by Disney (more on that later) and we rode everything we could. In fact, we're on Splash Mountain and the Disney cast member says we should all get in one seat. Well, once we got in, it was too late. And although everyone in line, even the little kid who could barely walk, laughed at the three teachers crammed in the back seat of the boat — we just laughed and had fun. Sometimes when we're in the “squish” and “splash” of life, we can have great joy if we just relax and enjoy the ride. These laughs happen at school with me and my colleagues all the time. Take time for fun!

The impact you have when you’re positive (or negative)

So, there’s this incredible study done back in 2002 called The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion and its Influence on Group Behavior. – it was quoted in a 2015 article by InformED Refuse to Be a Boring Teacher

In this study, Yale University researcher, Sigal G. Barsade put 94 business students into groups all doing the same task. However, each group secretly had one “planted” student who would act out one of four emotions: enthusiasm, hostility, serenity, or depression. This “infiltrator,” for example, would show enthusiasm by smiling, looking intently in people’s eyes, and would speak rapidly. Those showing depression would speak slowly, avoid eye contact and slouch in their seat.

When Barsade measured participants’ moods before and after the exercise, he found that the groups with the “positive plant” perceived themselves as more competent, cooperative, and collegial than those in the bad-mood groups.

Interestingly, though, none of the students picked up on the mood plants – instead, these students said they had better skills.

“People don’t realize they are being influenced by others’ emotions,” Barsade said.

As quoted in Refuse to Be a Boring Teacher by InformED

Mimicry is part of who we are and has a massive impact.

So, let me ask you this. If you are “planted” in a group — are you a positive plant or a negative plant? When people mimic you, what kind of face will you see? You can help new teachers and your colleagues with your attitude.

Consequently, our attitudes are never neutral.

Your mood and vibes are either successing or depressing to any group you join!

So, what is it?

Or perhaps, I should say, what are you?

  • What are you to your colleagues?
  • What are you to your classroom?
  • What are you to the new teachers in your school?

6. Celebrate and Nurture the Unique Creativity of Your New Colleagues

This world should be a win-win. It can be. I believe a school can have hallways and classrooms full of amazing teachers. All of them.

Just because someone dresses up down the hall doesn’t mean you have to. I had a great talk with Dr. Valerie Camille Jones, Presidential Math Award winner and teacher at Ron Clark University, this past week as we were both going through the Disney Youth Program (sponsored by Disney – more on that later.) I asked her about how Ron, Kim, Hope, and Wade dress up and ask her if she did too. She said something that struck me,

”Dressing up is not my thing but I believe I’m still a great teacher.”

Find your “thing”

Your thing doesn’t have to be the same thing as the teacher next door. In fact, in today’s age of easily bored children, I think it is massively better if we are all unique, different and passionate about different things in our lives.

As an illustration, one teacher can be a knitting fanatic and bring it to math class while another loves gardening and uses it in her science class and another teacher dances his way to teach adverbs.

Diversity, uniqueness, and creativity should be celebrated in every role in our school from the principal to the janitor and certainly in every classroom.

Your way may work for you but not for others.

Some amazing teachers think that just because they are amazing that everyone else has to be like them. In reality, I would feel sorry for a world where everyone was like me — because that would be boring. I hope you also release your colleagues from having to be like you to have merit in your eyes.

Be encouraging and celebrate and nurture the uniqueness of other teachers. Also remember that while they might come to you for advice, look to them for their unique skills and passions. Encourage them to find their own passion and angle for teaching their content.

7. Don’t Throw Darts or Be Cynical

Cynicism is a poison that is contagious. So, Just because you’ve sat through seemingly one thousand staff meetings doesn’t mean you have to pass along the poison.

Furthermore, the first step in dealing with cynicism is to realize you have it. As soon as you know you've gone down the drain of cynicism, go on a cynicism detox and challenge yourself to do everything without grumbling or complaining. All of it.

Personally, I keep a list every day of three things I am grateful for. After doing this for over a month, I’m so full of joy (faith has a lot to do with it too.)

But also know that new teachers are looking for someone to trust. If you push someone “under the bus” their first week of school, will that person trust you again? Can you help a new teacher who you threaten with your criticism?

Encourage and help. Don’t stoke the fires of discontent. Don’t make your new colleague watch their back around you.

Be trustworthy, helpful, and positive. And if you can’t, take some time alone for a moment to consider if you really want to be human toxic waste. It is a waste of your life, time, and purpose to be negative, angry, and fussy all the time. You are better than this.

It isn’t easy to turn around such an attitude but I’m living proof you can. I’ve certainly had my own bouts of negativity but thankfully have moved past that to be full of joy.

8. Be an Advocate for the Profession of Teaching

Some people talk about “students these days” but I would like to comment on “teaching these days.”

Teaching isn’t easy. It is hard. The pressures are more than ever. You know this! And yet, we have an amazing profession.

Now that I’ve taught seventeen years and going into my eighteenth, I can see some amazing things that have happened. I have a treasure trove of stories, heart events, and transformation from hopeless to triumphant with students.

Share Your Treasure of Transformational Teaching Stories to Help New Teachers

These stories are the flint to light a lifelong fire and love of teaching for colleagues.

We can get down, but let’s try not to all get down at the same time. Let’s remind each other of the beauty and splendor of the life of a teacher who really gets it. The teacher who loves relating to kids. The teacher who has a passion for their content area. The teacher who shines a spotlight on the unique beauty of each child.

I get to do this! You can too!

People have told me to leave the classroom and alas, as time passes, eventually I will have to. It will come.

But these are my glory days.

The days where I am in love with the kids and in love with this profession and in love with what I’m teaching.

I Was Going To Quit Just a Year A Go

But lest you think I’m perfect, just one year ago, I was about to quit teaching. I was ready to leave the classroom.

But I will say it had nothing to do with the kids or the subject and much more to do with other “stuff” for which I’ve forgiven in order to move on and thrive in my new school. I have nothing but love for my previous school and jump any time they call to help them when they let me. And yet, I’m right where I’m supposed to be and love where I am now. Change is hard but sometimes it is necessary and we have to be brave and do it.

They Made Room for Me

And a big reason I’m so happy is that when I was a first-year teacher at my new school, that some of my colleagues saw fit to schooch over at the lunch table, make room in the break room, and decided to let the new kid on the block be part of their inside jokes and lives.

And that, my friends, is the power of what you can do.

You can change the lives of your students.

But you can also change the lives of new teachers.

Take this challenge to not only teach kids with love but to help new teachers and colleagues. This, my friend, makes you more exceptional than X Men, more marvelous than any Marvel superhero, and a greater guardian of future than any Guardian of the Galaxy. You are more super than Superman and the fact we can do this job is more wonderful than Wonder Woman. I am a teacher, watch my students fly!

Take this challenge to not only teach kids with love but welcome new teachers and colleagues. This, my friend, makes you more exceptional than X Men, more marvelous than any Marvel superhero, and a greater guardian of future than any Guardian of the Galaxy. You are more super than Superman and the fact we can do this job is more wonderful than Wonder Woman. I am a teacher - watch my students fly! Vicki Dadvis

We get to teach.

And that is exceptional, marvelous, super, wonderful that we are guardians of the future of these kids and also the attitudes and longevity of our colleagues. Your impact is immense. So, what kind of impact will that be?

How will you help new teachers? How will you help other teaches?

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere
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