Transforming Teacher Retention through Mentorship

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Summit : Minneapolis, MN

School : Technology and Innovation in Education

District : South Dakota Schools

State : South Dakota

Level : Higher Education, K-12

Team Lead : Sharla Steever

Topics: Equity, Mentoring, Whole Child

Sharla Steever, a Learning Specialist, wanted to address the critical need for teacher retention in her rural district, particularly within its higher-needs schools. Sharla and her team created partnerships between new teachers and experienced teacher mentors to help aid in navigating complex student landscapes often associated with serving in Native American reservation communities. The support provided by The WoLakota Project offers guidance for how to serve as culturally responsive educators, helping create safe and healthy learning environments for all students.

Problem and Solution

The WoLakota Project seeks to address an issue of high turnover rates among high-needs schools in the district–often as high as 100% in a given year–and low applicants for newly available positions. Family issues on many Native American reservations in the region, including gang and community violence, high rates of suicide, teen pregnancy, and unemployment, present a uniquely challenging environment for new educators.Sharla’s team created a structure that provides both in-person and virtual mentoring opportunities, seasonal retreats for mentors and mentees, and research-based guidance on serving as culturally responsive educators.


Since attending the Teach to Lead Summit, the WoLakota Project hosted a Leadership Lab, attended a Tea for Teachers with U.S. Secretary of Education John King, attended gatherings among leaders at the Department of Education and the Bureau of Indian Education, and has partnered with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to help develop their HEART (Helping Educators Achieve, Reflect, and Teach) Project. They also presented at the Grantmakers for Education conference in San Francisco in October of 2015.

Teacher Leadership Tips

In reflecting on teacher leadership Sharla notes, “Teacher leadership is about empowering teachers to address the concerns and needs they have… in a way that leads to transformation of those issues into solutions.”

Interested in learning more about this project? Contact Sharla Steever at