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In Focus: New teachers get a good start through ATA mentorship program

June 12, 2018 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor
Protegé Rayel Reid (left) collaborates with mentor Trina Harris during a group day.

Adele Lowen remembers how difficult it is to be a beginning teacher.

That’s why she’s now a teacher co-ordinator for a formal mentorship program that her Northern Spirit local provides in partnership with the Peace Wapiti School Division and the Alberta Teachers’ Association.

The program pairs new teachers with experienced colleagues who act as volunteer mentors, providing protegés with a guide and a sounding board so they can get established without having to figure everything out on their own.

“It gives them a chance to have almost constant professional development at their fingertips,” Lowen says.

Throughout the school year, mentors and protegés communicate regularly, whether it be in person or by email, phone, social media or Skype. The program also includes three scheduled “group days” each year that enable all the division’s mentors and protegés to gather for workshops, PD sessions, networking and collaboration.

For protegés, the program provides a feeling of welcoming and warmth, Lowen says.

“It’s that support that they need so they don’t have that breakdown in the middle of the year or at the end of the year and want to leave the profession.”

The Association has been involved in formal mentorship programs for more than two decades. Through the Professional Development program area, the current version of the program operates as a partnership between the ATA, locals and their corresponding districts, says Monique Gravel, an executive staff officer in the PD program area.

When initiating the program, the partners establish a formal steering committee comprising members from the ATA, the local and the district. While some districts have less formal mentoring programs, Gravel says the ATA’s formalized structure brings the benefit of being a true partnership.

“It demonstrates that we have a relationship with the district,” she says. “We all have an equal voice at the table and we are working toward a common goal – professional growth.”

Another key aspect of the program is that locals and districts each contribute funds to cover the cost of substitutes when program participants need release time. And when requested Association PD staff officers visit schools in their region to deliver workshops for administrators who will be involved in the program.

“Administrators play an important role because not only do they supervise teachers, but they have to evaluate them as well,” Gravel says.

Districts and their administrators benefit from the program through higher teacher performance and reduced attrition, she says.

Mentors benefit by increased learning, renewal and teaching performance, enhanced focus on instructional practices and development of reflective skills.

“Even if you’re a teacher with 20, 25 years of experience, you’re still learning through this program because that beginning teacher is bringing new things, new initiatives, new ideas to you,” Gravel says.

“It’s reflective practice because now you’re questioning yourself through what this beginning teacher is asking you. It’s a win-win partnership.”

Last year at Summer Conference, Rhonda Schneider of Trumpeter Local No. 26 witnessed a presentation by Northern Spirit’s Adele Lowen. Although her district has had its own mentorship program for the last eight years, Schneider was convinced that she should initiate the Association’s mentorship program in her district.

“I liked how it was a partnership between the district and the ATA,” she says.

The program is set to roll out in the fall. Schneider is eager because she sees a real need to do more to help new teachers.

“Too many of our new teachers leave the profession because they feel overwhelmed,” Schneider says.

“It’s kind of like kids — they need to have a good start in life — you need to have a good start in your career in order to want to continue.” ❚

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