Cross Pollination

Allison Riddle (2)Allison Riddle, with the support of her principal, created a hybrid position to mentor teachers without leaving the classroom.

School:  Foxboro Elementary School
District: Davis School District
State: Utah
Source: Allison Riddle

After twenty-one years of teaching elementary school, I took a leap of faith and became a full-time mentor leader for my school district. I was hired on a three-year contract. During the first year, I was trained in both coaching and mentoring, and I mentored twenty-two level 1 teachers in my district.

That spring amidst a failing economy, my district cut the entire
mentorship program. Poof! Gone.

I was fortunate to be placed for the following school year teaching my favorite grade, fifth grade, at a school that had just been constructed. My school was staffed with many involuntary transfers, and I found myself working on a faculty with ten provisional teachers. My principal asked me to be the school’s mentor, and I gladly accepted.

The problem was that there were so many teachers who needed help and they needed much more than just a visit after school every couple of days from me. My district had no organized mentorship program at this point other than assigning a teacher at each school to help new teachers on top of their regular work. I knew there was so much more that I could do if I had more time with them.

In spring of the first year, I went to my principal with a plan. I asked if he would give me the support of an aide who could work with my class once a week so that I could make visits to  teachers during the school day, modeling lessons for them, team teaching with them, and offering reflective questions about best practices while in the classroom with them. He happily approved, and pledged his support by funding more hours for one of our aides.

My program started very well, and I was thrilled by the opportunity to run down the hall once or twice a week to model a lesson or teach alongside one of these emerging educators. I will admit that I felt a little overworked some weeks, but my teachers were making progress, and that energized me and kept me motivated. By the second year of the program, our school had grown and had also become a French dual immersion school. That meant more new teachers hired, some of whom had not experienced any pedagogy in their university courses. My mentor program was growing, and I needed more support. My district still had no existing mentorship program, so I was on my own. I also wanted to begin taking teachers out of their classrooms to observe excellent teaching in our building. I enlisted the help of our school’s reading coach and assistant principal. The three of us worked together to model lessons, cover classes, and take these teachers to observe other colleagues while coaching alongside them. It was thrilling! Three years later, we are still modeling lessons, taking teachers out on observations, and offering reflective questions to guide these teachers.

For two years, we were on a year-round schedule, and my principal paid me while I was off- track to come in and mentor. During those years, we had twelve level 1 teachers at my school, including four with no education background before this teaching job. This was challenging, but my principal continued to support me with funding for aide time, and I eventually added one other teacher to our coaching team.

With the completion of a newly constructed elementary school nearby, my school returned to a traditional schedule. Last spring, I presented a plan to my district area director and superintendent. I asked for extra prep time each week to mentor and coach these teachers rather than just having an aide cover my class. My plan was approved, and this year I continue to mentor six teachers with the ease of an extra prep during which my students attend a second PE class each week. I am the only elementary teacher in the district with an extra prep, and I am thrilled to continue my coaching knowing that my students are benefitting from additional physical activity!

There have been many obvious outcomes I have observed in these provisional teachers over the past three years. Each now exhibits a greater sense of authority and confidence while teaching and working with his or her students. In our conversations, several of these teachers have described the increase in instructional time they have experienced as a result of their improved classroom management. Where some were constantly “Shhshh-ing” their students initially, now they are using quiet signals and echoes successfully. Procedures run smoothly, cooperative learning strategies are being used, and there is a sense of teamwork in every class. I have noticed that the pedagogical vocabulary of these teachers, particularly the immersion teachers, has also increased dramatically.

Perhaps the biggest surprise from all of this has been the reaction of the veteran teachers in my building. Whenever I have asked a colleague to allow us to come and observe, each teacher has gladly accepted and felt genuinely flattered. Several veteran teachers ended up asking if I would take them out on an observation. So we started taking any teachers who wanted to observe a specific instructional strategy to another teacher’s class! No matter how much press I have received about this program, I have not felt any resentment or jealousy from my colleagues; in fact, the reaction has been quite the opposite. They have come to me, asking for help, opinions, ideas, and opportunities to improve their own instructional practice with my guidance. The best part is, while doing all of this, I have still been a productive and happy fifth grade teacher! I am a better teacher because I mentor, and I am a much better mentor because I am still in the classroom and can relate to the challenges that all teachers face!

2014-10-17T20:02:54+00:00 October 17th, 2014|