For more than a decade, the Tennessee Department of Education has recognized that supporting new teachers with mentoring activities addresses a significant need and has numerous benefits. The Tennessee State Board of Education stated in its 2003 Master Plan for Tennessee Schools: Preparing for the 21st Century, that the current teaching force is relatively stable with an overall 8 percent turnover rate, but Tennessee loses almost half of its new teachers in their first five years. This statistic reflects an unacceptable situation that is a cause for concern. The Plan states that one of Tennessee’s most pressing needs is to support beginning teachers through mentoring. Teacher mentoring encourages new teachers to remain in the profession, improves their instruction, and enables them to become members of a learning community.
The State Board of Education Master Plan recommendation puts increased emphasis on an area of concern that has been part of Tennessee’s agenda for over five years. The following timeline describes important collaborative activities and unexpected opportunities that have resulted in what is now known as The Tennessee Model for Mentoring and New Teacher Induction.
In 1998, the Tennessee Standards for Teaching: A Guide for Mentoring document was developed to guide the content and focus of teacher mentoring. The standards were based on the underlying principles of the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC). The standards were also correlated with the Framework for Evaluation and Professional Growth, the state model for evaluating teachers, which presents a set of competencies and indicators as minimum standards for all teachers.
In 1999, Tennessee received a three-year Title II Teacher Quality Enhancement Grant (TQE) awarded by the U.S. Department of Education through Section 206 of the Higher Education Act of 1998. One of the purposes of the grant was to develop and implement a strong beginning teacher mentoring program to reduce attrition of new teachers and to assure quality induction. A TQE Beginning Teacher Mentor Task Force was formed with the responsibility of developing a teacher mentor training curriculum. The curriculum was piloted in the summer of 2000 with teacher mentors in two-day TASL (Tennessee Academy for School Leaders) training workshops. The curriculum addressed the benefits of teacher mentoring, the needs of new teachers and strategies for meeting those needs, incorporation and use of the Tennessee Standards for Teaching, and a plan for implementing teacher mentoring.
From 1999-2003, the Tennessee Department of Education was fortunate to have the leadership of two major universities and school system partners in collaboratively strengthening the mentoring initiative as an outgrowth of a second Title II Teacher Quality Enhancement Grant, URBAN IMPACT. This partnership (The University of Tennessee, Knox County Schools, University of Tennessee Chattanooga, Hamilton County Schools, and the Tennessee Department of Education) focused primarily on improving teacher preparation, induction, and student achievement in urban schools, with teacher mentoring as the central component. The mentoring model that evolved was an outgrowth of the previous mentoring activities, but was a more encompassing and systemic approach that established mentor teams comprised of an administrator and mentor teachers at each participating school. The teams participated in three days of professional development activities through TASL academies that resulted in plans and strategies for both one-on-one mentoring between novice and experienced teachers and the development and implementation of mentor programs within their schools. These schools were strongly encouraged to sustain their mentoring efforts by linking the mentor program to their school improvement plan.
During the same time period, Peabody College at Vanderbilt University also provided strong leadership with teacher mentoring. Training activities for individual mentors was provided in three consecutive days. The training addressed the role of the mentor, needs of new teachers, and ways mentors could assist novice teachers in developing skills related to classroom management, classroom climate, and student behavior. The training culminated with the development of individual action plans for teacher mentoring.
From 1999-2003, the State Department of Education trained and certified approximately 1,800 educators utilizing teacher mentor training developed by three sources: the TQE Task Force, Vanderbilt University and URBAN IMPACT. The response from the mentors and mentoring teams was exceedingly positive in terms of their results—novices and mentors both expressed high levels of professional satisfaction from mentoring experiences, but more importantly, more new teachers were deciding to stay in teaching!
The demand for mentor training consistently exceeded the availability of opportunities. In an effort to address the need for more professional development, a task force was convened to discuss the need for individual school systems to be able to meet their local needs by training their own mentors and in establishing (or maintaining) mentor teams in their schools. This task force provided input on guidelines, structure, and content of the mentor training model realizing that this was an opportunity to eliminate any possible inconsistencies in mentoring approach and philosophy. These inconsistencies were problematic when three models existed. The recommendation of the task force was to follow the URBAN IMPACT model for mentoring and teacher induction in curriculum and structure. This group also requested that professional development materials be revised to make them representative of rural and suburban systems, as well as the urban systems for which the program was initially developed. Training materials were also developed for preparing Lead Mentors to deliver the mentor workshops.
During spring 2003, three Training of Trainers for Teacher Mentors (renamed Lead Mentor Training) academies were offered in each division of the State. Participants were experienced and effective mentors nominated by their Directors of Schools to receive additional training and serve as Lead Mentors in their school systems. Upon completion of the training, these Lead Mentors were then qualified to train mentors and teams within their school systems and had the necessary materials to deliver the mentor workshops. Metropolitan school systems with a number of high priority schools were given the majority of the openings for this initial training. Additional Training of Trainers for Teacher Mentors (Lead Mentor Training) workshops are planned for the 2003-2004 school year for teams of mentor trainers from individual systems or a consortium of smaller systems.
As the State’s teacher mentoring and new teacher induction program continues to evolve, the Department of Education envisions a consolidated, systemic, uniform approach to teacher mentoring. Under the No Child Left Behind legislation, local school systems were given greater responsibility for developing and implementing teacher mentor programs within their systems. A major portion of Title II funds is channeled directly to local school systems, enabling them to use part of these funds to support teacher mentoring efforts. It is the goal of the Tennessee Department of Education to provide the professional development and support needed to assure that there is at least one Lead Mentor in each school system available to establish teacher induction programs that are aligned with school improvement plans. We believe that when administrators, mentor teachers, and other stakeholders support novice teachers through their critical first years of teaching, all children are being taught by highly qualified teachers who are committed to their students and their schools.
The Tennessee Model for Teacher Mentoring marks the beginning of a new era of teacher mentoring in Tennessee. The State Department of Education wishes to acknowledge the efforts of those who have been instrumental in shaping the mentoring initiative in Tennessee.
Our thanks are extended to:
The initial Teacher Quality Enhancement (TQE) task force, which included the following educators: Vance Rugaard, Cindy Fagan Benefield, Dr. Elizabeth Vaughn-Neely and Dr. Carol Groppel, Tennessee Department of Education; Dr. Mary Ann Blank and Dr. Cheryl Kershaw, The University of Tennessee in Knoxville; Dr. Bonnie Warren-Kring, The University of Tennessee in Chattanooga; Mary Ann Blankenship, Tennessee Education Association; Dr. Sandy Smith and Dr. Gene Talbert, Tennessee Technology University; Felicia Duncan, Mt. Juliet Teacher Center; Jeannie LaRue, Dyersburg Teacher Center; and Dr. Marti Richardson, Knoxville Teacher Center.
Professors, Dr. Margaret Smithey and Dr. Carolyn Evertson of Peabody College at Vanderbilt University who provided leadership and training in their model of teacher mentoring.
Directors of the University of Tennessee Partnership Title II URBAN IMPACT grant, Dr. Cheryl Kershaw, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Dr. Bonnie Warren-Kring, The University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. Our special thanks go to Dr. Cheryl Kershaw and Dr. Mary Ann Blank, adjunct assistant professors at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Education, Health & Human Sciences, for their creation of The Tennessee Model for Teacher Mentoring Handbook. Their materials were originally developed for a TASL academy entitled Raising the Bar for Teacher Performance and Student Achievement through Mentoring.
As the State Department of Education expanded its program to include development of system-level Lead Mentors, Dr. Kershaw and Dr. Blank gave the Department of Education permission to promulgate and print the handbook, now entitled The Tennessee Model for Teacher Mentoring. In addition, Dr. Kershaw and Dr. Blank developed the materials for Training of Trainers for Teacher Mentors, which has been incorporated into the handbook. They have piloted the training materials in three academies, located in Nashville, Knoxville, and Memphis.
We especially thank the teachers and administrators who have made commitments to teacher mentoring by completing teacher mentor training, implementing mentor programs, and providing mentoring for novice teachers within a community learning environment.