5 Mentorship Tips for Retaining New Teachers

Every school leader knows the importance of retaining and nurturing new teachers. In fact, research shows that retaining quality educators is one of the most impactful ways leaders can boost student achievement – but many new teachers find their first few years challenging, especially those who’ve entered the classroom during the pandemic. That’s why I recommend collaborating with the veteran educators on your team to provide the mentorships new educators need to grow, thrive – and bring their best to your students.

You may already have a mentoring program in place – but this is a complicated year, and it’s not always easy to keep mentorships going strong. As a former school leader, I now serve as a teacher recruitment and retention specialist, working with principals and teacher leaders to support new educators. I want to share a few tips on creating and sustaining a mentorship structure to support the new teachers in your building:

1. Collaborate with veteran teachers who have a heart for mentorship

To get started, think about the teachers you always see stepping up to support their colleagues. Gather those teachers to brainstorm what new-teacher mentorship could look like in your building – and emphasize sustainability. You don’t want teachers to feel worried that they might be asked for more than they can give, so I’d suggest brainstorming mentorship structures that will promote balance for everyone involved. Next, I’d suggest sharing a quick survey with all your senior educators, gauging capacity by asking a few questions like these:

  • Why would you like to support teachers who are entering the profession?
  • What aspects of teaching would you feel comfortable helping a novice educator with?
  • How could I help create the time you would need to support a new teacher?

2. Build mentorship time into the school day

Matching up mentors and mentees might seem daunting – for example, you may have three new math teachers in your building, but only one senior math teacher with the desire and capacity to mentor! That’s why I’d suggest creating a pool of mentors who can jump in and support new teachers in a variety of ways, rather than trying for a series of perfect pairs. Then, I’d suggest creating intersections between mentors and mentees during the school day: 

  • Cover a class for each new math teacher, so she can meet with the veteran math teacher during her planning period.
  • Take something off the veteran math teacher’s plate, so she can drop into the new math teachers’ classrooms and help support students.
  • Pitch in on cafeteria duty once a month so all four can have lunch together.

3. Scaffold standards-based lesson planning

Sometimes, new teachers don’t feel rock-solid on the “why” behind what they’re teaching, and that means they may struggle to promote mastery for students – especially when this pandemic disrupts plans. That’s why I recommend giving a new teacher the chance to sit down with a mentor and plan a lesson from start to finish. I’d suggest asking mentors to bring these questions into the lesson planning process and provide guidance as needed:

  • What resources is the novice teacher using to promote progress? 
  • What adjustments are they making to support students through pandemic disruptions, and how are those adjustments affecting achievement? 
  • Most importantly, do they know the standards they need to teach, and are they tying each lesson to those standards?

4. Scaffold relationship-centered classroom management

The new teachers I work with care so much about culturally responsive, relationship-centric teaching. But when they hit a classroom management snag, it can be easy for them to instinctively fall back on the negative reinforcement strategies they likely experienced as students, such as taking away a privilege or sending a kid to the office. Those choices create a lack of emotional safety for students, which makes it hard for them to stay engaged. Then the teacher may get worried about keeping lessons on track – but any relational disconnect between teacher and students will always interrupt learning! That’s why I’d suggest asking mentor teachers to visit new teachers’ classrooms and provide guidance on relationship-centric classroom management:

  • Offer insights on making each student feel seen and valued during class
  • Share resources on recognizing and addressing implicit bias in student relationships
  • Model connection-building with students – especially students the new teacher hasn’t been able to connect with
  • Model strategies for getting students to invest in group learning

5. Promote a culture of collective growth on your team

We veteran educators know that great teaching requires taking risks and learning from failures. But when a new teacher’s lesson plan flops, it’s easy for them to get discouraged. That’s why I’d suggest inviting seasoned teachers to model risk-taking and resilience in staff meetings: sharing what’s working in their classrooms, what isn’t and what to try next. By centering this growth mindset in your team culture, you can empower new teachers to grow their practice – and fully support their students.

If we want to encourage new educators to become the kind of career teachers who make a lasting difference for students, year after year, we need to prioritize making them feel equipped and valued. A mentorship structure can do so much to support both priorities! Over time, as your mentoring program promotes growth on your team, it will promote capacity in your building too: As your first few mentors step forward and support new educators, more teachers will start to say, “Oh my gosh, they’re really making a difference on our team. I’d love to do that.” That’s the kind of school culture that inspires each new educator to grow their practice, invest in your learning community – and inspire every student they teach.