by Fayge Safran
Two recent articles posted on eJewish Philanthropy caught my attention, as they focused on the pressing issue of nurturing and retaining talented and committed educators in our Jewish day schools. In her article, Deborah Fishman asked the question, “How do we instill autonomy, mastery and purpose into day school educators’ jobs,” in order to drive job satisfaction and increase retention? Fishman suggests that networks are the answer, as they can allow educators to achieve mastery, develop autonomy and be endowed with purpose.
In his response to Fishman’s article, Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz shares research from the Pardes Educators Alumni Support Program on the role of workplace and a teacher’s network in the retention of day school educators. Of particular interest to me was the statement, “The novice teachers’ concerns are not financial, but rather are focused on teaching well. For that to occur, the school environment is the critical variable, including issues such as the feeling of the freedom to develop, job security, and the presence of a mentor and/or sufficient system of collegial support.”
At the Jewish New Teacher Project (JNTP), we have developed a vast network of over 150 mentors and 500 teachers through our work in more than 70 Jewish day schools and yeshivot since our inception. Bridging the points made by both Fishman and Kopelowitz, our solution to teacher retention is to help instill autonomy, mastery and purpose into day school educators’ jobs by providing intensive mentoring to beginning teachers, so that they “teach well” and “feel good about their jobs.” New teachers mentored through JNTP have a higher level of professionalism and mastery – our data show that after two years in our program, second year teachers are teaching on a fourth year level. And, while the national retention rate for new teachers is 50%, 90% of JNTP-mentored new teachers are still in the field of Jewish education after 5 years!
Our new teacher induction program, modeled on the award-winning, research-based New Teacher Center induction program for public schools, involves 90 minutes per week of one-on-one instructional mentoring, plus weekly classroom observations and feedback. Highly trained JNTP mentors use professional teaching standards to guide beginning teachers in developing practical skills in classroom management, lesson planning and pedagogy. They also provide emotional and practical support as teachers adjust to their first years of teaching.
JNTP’s induction program guides new teachers in developing mastery, autonomy and purpose by helping them:
- Establish professional standards and shared language
- Build practical skills and knowledge
- Develop their own self-image as a professional
- Build habits of mind, including reflective practice and setting professional goals
- Understand how to use objective data as the basis for understanding practice and differentiating instruction to meet their students’ needs
In addition, central to JNTP’s approach to mentoring is being respectful of new teachers, bringing out their inherent talents and passion for teaching rather than imposing “mentor” points of view.
Furthermore, we have learned that working with beginning teachers benefits the veteran teachers as well – JNTP mentors also have increased job satisfaction and retention. Mentors report that they are re-energized through their roles, becoming more reflective of their own practice as they articulate best practices for their new teachers and taking professional pride in becoming master teachers. Tapping veteran teachers as mentors provides schools with a means to recognize, challenge and retain some of their best career teachers, often at a juncture when those teachers need new challenges. As Kopelowitz’s Pardes research showed, “the likely role of a network for veteran teachers is not retention, but rather access to resources and support for becoming master educators and leaders for positive change in their schools…” Through JNTP, veteran teachers have the desired opportunity to gain resources and support as they become teacher leaders in their schools’ professional communities.
The idea of networks as a solution to the personnel issue in day schools today is compelling. Networks create communities of learning and provide support for new and veteran teachers, which allows for mastery, autonomy and purpose and helps develop teachers who teach well and feel satisfied with their jobs. JNTP takes the idea of networks promoted by Fishman and Kopelowitz to the next level, with formalized instructional mentoring as a key component to teacher effectiveness and retention. We believe that mentors need to be trained to be instructional mentors, learning the language and art of mentoring in order to be facilitative and reflective, rather than evaluative and prescriptive. JNTP mentors learn how to encourage reflection and provide feedback in order to move the novice teacher’s practice forward. We also believe, based on our proven track record, that it’s not enough to have casual sharing of best practices with peers and informal mentors – which, of course, is very important – but that intensive, directed mentoring has a stronger and quicker impact.
JNTP impacts retention by 1) helping new teachers see Jewish education as a long-term profession and giving them the tools to engage and succeed and 2) giving veteran teachers an avenue to grow in their practice and become teacher leaders in their schools. Thus, JNTP’s new teacher induction program is an important part of the solution to nurturing, training and retaining excellent teachers in our schools, a vital component to the crisis facing Jewish day schools today.
Fayge Safran is the Interim Director of Jewish New Teacher Project, which provides intensive mentoring and ongoing professional development to beginning teachers in Jewish day schools and yeshivot across the U.S., elevating the quality of educators and impacting student learning.