Listening to Learn

College consults on induction proposal

by Brian Jamieson

Chaotic. Messy. Challenging. Exhausting. Intense. These are among the adjectives used by Ontario's newest teachers when describing the complex experience of their first year teaching. The words had come up in the College's Transition to Teaching study of first- and second-year teachers and they were reiterated during a series of consultations on the College's white paper New Teacher Induction: Growing into the Profession during May and June this year.

Deputy Registrar Brian McGowan consulted with new teachers and board administrators in Hamilton, Windsor, Toronto, Ottawa, Sudbury and Thunder Bay this spring. McGowan and a team from the College met to gather reaction and input regarding the College's white paper proposal for a fully funded, government-mandated, two-year pr-ogram of support for novice teache-rs in every Ontario school board.

Novice educators and school board representatives - including principals, supervisory officers, parents and administrators - expressed a desire to help those new to the profession to become comfortable, confident and successful quickly.

"If you improve teaching practice, you improve student learning," says McGowan.

The College's induction paper calls for one-on-one mentoring - pairi-ng an experienced teacher with a new one to provide support and encouragement during their critical first years of teaching.

The paper builds on the College's educational research, data from its Transition to Teaching study and interaction with members over the last several years. Components of the proposal include mentoring, professional development, structured orientation, recognition and program evaluation, as well as recognition of the need for release time. (Click here to view a copy of New Teacher Induction:Growing into the Profession.)

The right start

"The College initiated the proposal and discussion on induction to ensure that new teachers get the right start in what we hope will be long, satisfying careers as teaching professionals," said McGowan. "This is part of the continuum of professional development that begins in the faculties and continues on the job, in the classroom.

"We want the people who have made a commitment to students to feel our commitment to their professional growth and development. The more quickly they become comfortable in the classroom, the more confident they will be as teaching professionals. All of this can only improve learning for Ontario's students."

The College's consultation process showed that Ontario's administrators and teachers strongly supported a recommended two-year commitment to new teacher support. But many suggestions were made that would refine the proposal.

It was suggested that smaller and remote school communities might require different models of induction. Some thought recently retired teachers should be invited to act as mentors.

Others suggested clustering several new teachers with a single veteran. Cautions were raised about the selection and assignment of mentors and the need of a process to reassess and reassign those involved in unproductive partnerships.

Consensus, however, was clear on one point. "Boards can't do this without the funding," as one Hamilton-area educator said.

Dollars and sense

The funding model proposed in the white paper put a price tag of $40 million on new teacher induction. The figure and the model raised various questions and the observation that the estimate was low.

During consultations, it was pointed out that the rate for mentor training would need to be increased.

Several board administrators also noted that some accommodation would need to be made for a board-level induction program co-ordinator.

Not surprisingly, teachers praised the induction paper's recommendation of an $850 allotment for each new teacher for professional development opportunities for each of the two years.

Special Education was identified as a priority area for early professional development. Support for fully funded mentor training was accompanied by a recommendation that this training should be paid and undertaken in the summer, outside of the regular school year. Mentor training, in fact, was considered essential.

"Until we come up with the resources, we're paying lip service to the program," another Hamilton-area administrator said.

Nuts and bolts

The most consistent feedback requested for local flexibility to determine the program at the board and school level and the assertion that provincial funding for induction be new, sufficient, restricted to induction and sustained.

Teachers and administrators agreed that to succeed an induction program must provide release time for mentors and protegés. The College's paper recommends that mentors and new teachers receive significant release time for ongoing mentoring activities and professional development.

Novice teachers noted that the additional work required in preparation for being out of the classroom - to prepare supply teachers to take their places - could in fact be an added stress.

There were additional concerns: the availability of supply teachers to cover the needs of the program and the reduction of experienced teachers' time in their classrooms.

Some suggested the merits of job shadowing and observation as a means of reducing the need for supply teachers and for its own sake. "Some of the best teaching can happen after new teachers visit an exemplary classroom," one Toronto-area administrator noted.

At a provincial stakeholders' consultation in Toronto, one participant suggested creating an "orientation buddy" system to enable mentoring relationships to occur informally during orientation and to allow either partner to save face if the relationship didn't work.

All novice teachers who had received board-level orientation (only one in four do, according to the College's Transition to Teaching study) appreciated it. They felt, however, that orientation to school staff, resources and procedures was just as important.

Long-term occasional teachers and those hired after September or later in the school year also cited the importance of proper orientation. Many said they felt isolated and unsupported during their initial placements.

New teachers said they struggled with teaching split-grade classes, subjects outside their areas of expertise and EQAO testing responsibilities. They also expressed concerns about inadequate classroom supplies.

The College's proposal recommends that teachers receive the curriculum resources they need and that they be given teaching and classroom assignments that suit their qualifications and experience

Those consulted strongly stated that induction programs and not the participants be evaluated. Several thought that induction should be tied to school improvement plans. They also said that more needs to be done to acknowledge the challenging and complex nature of teaching in general.

Multiple benefits

During the course of consultations, many who had come to teaching as a second or third career said they had no idea how difficult - or satisfying - it would be.

"I had more satisfying moments in my first year of teaching than I had in 10 years in the private sector," said one Toronto-area teacher.

Ottawa educators whose schools had mentoring programs spoke about their value to school culture. Both veteran and novice teachers benefited from the partnerships, they said.
"Mentoring improves my teaching too," said one secondary school teacher. "As far as my own lifelong learning, it's the key component right now."

"Mentoring builds support systems, collegiality and networks," said an attendee at one of the Toronto sessions.

Implementation challenge

Stakeholder representatives from educational organizations and teacher federations supported the proposal while pointing out many implications and operational challenges that will need to be addressed for its effective implementation.

"This is an opportunity to provide models for schools to support new teachers at whatever time they come into a school," said Helen Spence, president of the Ontario Principals' Council. "It can be done and can be done well."

However, respondents noted a cultural change in schools will be required. School administrators must be brought on board and supported because many principals and vice-principals are themselves new to the positions.

"We have to find ways to support new teachers and give them permission to say, 'I feel overwhelmed.'" said Sue Robertson, a representative of the Ontario Federation of Home and School Associations. "They need someone to talk with every day about the challenges."

Not surprisingly, participants in the consultation process raised many related issues. Some wondered how an induction program would be connected to the Professional Learning Program, how new teacher would be defined and whether there was merit in expanding the Bachelor of Education program at Ontario's faculties of education.

Face-to-face feedback as well as submissions made via the College web site were reviewed this summer and incorporated in a rewrite of the induction paper. The revised paper is to be presented to College Council at the end of September. Pending Council approval, this final paper with recommendations will be presented to the Minister of Education later this fall.

New Teacher Induction: Growing into the Profession is available, and upon approval the final proposal will be posted, on the College web site at

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