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In Turlock USD, mentors and new teachers use 15 minutes of video footage per term as inspiration for a conversation about classroom practice.

How mentorship (and video) help new teachers grow

In Turlock USD, mentors and teachers use 15 minutes of video footage per term as the inspiration for an ongoing conversation about how to improve classroom practice

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to become the coordinator of professional development and induction at Turlock Unified School District. I leapt at the chance! In my 20 years with the district, I had served mostly as a high school English teacher, with four years as an instructional coach.

In those four years, I learned a tremendous amount and returned to the classroom a much stronger teacher. Aside from refining my own practice and learning so much from my mentees, I found that I really enjoyed working with new teachers to help them unlock their potential and grow into the best teachers they could be. I also saw firsthand that our newest teachers needed additional professional development and support in their first few years in the classroom.

Related content: 10 tips for new teachers

As I stepped into the new role, California was adopting new standards for teacher induction, which is a requirement in our state for teachers to receive their certification. My first step was to write our teacher induction program. We managed to be the first district in the state to have its induction program provisionally approved under the new standards, and this year we’re slated to be the first to move from provisional to full accreditation. Here’s what our program looks like.

The need for teacher induction

Just as with any professional calling, teachers fresh out of school still have much to learn. They may be world-class educators, but there is plenty of room for growth. An induction program certainly helps with that, but when a district creates its own program, it provides the opportunity to tailor it around district initiatives and culture.

The new induction standards in California revolve around two key components: an individualized learning plan (ILP) and mentorship. Our ILPs include work on district initiatives, and this year we’ve added mini-sessions for our pre-formal autism teachers and moderate-to-severe special education teachers, because they often use different strategies than our general education staff. We also include a lot of classroom management work in all of our professional development because it’s an area where new teachers tend to need more assistance.

The other component, mentoring, is so important for new teachers because that first year in the classroom is very challenging! We know that mentoring improves teacher retention because new teachers need to become invested in their districts and schools and to feel their district is invested in them. They need to feel they have support–that they’re a part of a larger educational community that understands their challenges and is helping them grow to meet those challenges. If they feel left out or on their own, they just won’t last.

I want our new teachers to have the very best experience in their first few years, so they want to stay here. Mentoring is crucial to accomplishing that. To ensure both that our mentorship program is rooted in self-reflection and that our mentors are growing in their own roles, we’ve found video technology to be an indispensable tool.

Why is video important?

Our mentors all set goals for themselves to achieve during their mentoring, such as pausing and paraphrasing what their mentees are saying or making sure they’re not consulting so much that they end up telling a new teacher what to do.

By capturing video of mentoring sessions, they are able to ensure they actually achieve those goals. When they sit down and watch the footage later, they can see if they did indeed pause and paraphrase, or they might catch themselves sliding into the habit of telling a new teacher how to teach—which is never what we want.

As part of our regular training, our mentors practice with one another, however, role-playing just isn’t the real thing. Reviewing video of mentoring sessions gives them an opportunity to truly reflect on their practice. When they actually see themselves, they’ll often realize, “Oh, you know what? I had an opportunity there to just be quiet for another minute and let them speak more.”

That ability to see their own performance outside of the moment and assess how well they actually met the goals they’ve set for themselves—and to see where they can improve to set future goals—has brought our mentors so much further along than the regular trainings we’re able to offer.

How it works

We don’t ask our mentors to record all of their sessions, or even to record a single session in its entirety. We ask for them to record a session with their new teachers once each term. Sometimes personal issues or challenges need to be discussed, and that should not be on camera, so we told mentors early on they needed to get permission from their mentees before they hit record.

The videos usually end up being about 15 minutes long, which is plenty for the mentors—and me, when I see them—to see where things are going and on what areas they need to work.

They reflect on their own videos later, then share them with me and we debrief together. We can’t always do that in person, but the platform we use, Insight ADVANCE, allows us to collaboratively consult with one another via video as well. This is marvelous because it has allowed me to identify talented mentors who have become wonderful role models for our other mentors. On the flipside, it has helped me to see who’s struggling a bit with mentoring so we can work more personally to address those issues.

This year, we’re expanding our approach a bit to have mentors bring their videos to our support sessions to watch and discuss as a group.

Earning mentor and teacher buy-in

Getting our mentors onboard with the idea of recording their sessions was pretty easy. For the most part, they saw the value right away, especially after the first video. The fact that I share videos myself helped a lot, as well.

Using the Insight ADVANCE platform was very helpful here, because it allows you to specify to whom the videos are available. We chose not to make them available to our administration, so the only people who can see them are the new teachers involved, their mentors, and myself, as the induction coordinator.

Being able to say upfront and with confidence, “Principals will never see this. These videos won’t go anywhere. They’re for us so that we can improve our mentoring program,” was a big help for them.

Our new teachers had the same concerns, but they took a little more coaxing and cajoling. Last year, it took a month and a half after videos were due to get them all turned in. This year, I had all but two on the due date.

One teacher in particular comes to mind. It felt like I was trying to get video from her for half a year. She’d say, “Oh, I hate to see myself. I hate to hear myself.”

I’d say, “Me too! I don’t like any of that!”

But once she recorded her video, she really blossomed! She’s such a deep reflector. Once she started looking at her videos, she was able to say, “Oh my goodness! I did this really well right here as I applied this strategy. But you know what? I missed those two in the back. I need to pay more attention there.”

It just took one video and the opportunity to reflect on it, and she was hooked. She stands out to me because the struggle to get her started and the success she had with video were in such stark contrast, but that journey is similar for most of our new teachers.

In the beginning, as teachers talk about their first videos with their coaches, they give a play-by-play, almost narrating the video as if you’re not sitting there watching it with them. But as they keep doing it, they get more comfortable and you can just see them growing and the reflection becoming deeper and deeper. As that happens, they begin to see behaviors they didn’t before, and they learn to deal with those in the classroom. It becomes truly empowering for them.

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