Supporting New Hires Uniquely in SY 20-21
Your first year as a teacher is always challenging, but the school year ahead might be
the most stressful on record. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on schooling, there are many questions but very few answers. And we know answers can change without warning, anyway.
As living beings, our biological systems strive to maintain order. When disorder occurs, our cognitive systems do not function at their peak performance. External chaos like sudden schedule disruptions and stay-at-home orders can cause the brain to work harder than usual: it “[enters] a hypervigilant status” and expends a lot of energy. While working harder to diminish stress, the brain subsequently can become overloaded. If the strain continues, as with a global pandemic and economic uncertainly, we can have difficulty recalling information and are at increased risk for cardiac events and other medical crises.
I will highlight 4 strategies to proactively reduce stress for novice educators as we enter uncharted territory this fall.
1. Purposefully match mentors and mentees. When pairing new teachers with experienced guides it is advantageous to consider teachers’ personalities and interaction styles. If your incoming educator seems likely to need a lot of support, he should be matched with a mentor who understands that desire, and is willing to spend time with the novice. Conversely, if a mentor interprets communication and interactions with a negative view, that individual might not be the best mentor match for anyone. Temperament and dispositions are important to consider at any time but in the year ahead they will be vital to teachers’ success.
2. Pair second year educators too. Mentor and induction programs typically reach out to support teachers during their first years in the profession, often with targeted support to educators in their inaugural year. However last spring's sudden change from traditional schooling to pandemic teaching negatively impacted those bringing their first year to a close. Although my school division's mentors coached for more than 3,000 hours from April 1 through May 15, the 2019-20 that support likely consisted of information-sharing and real-time support rather than providing long-term, professional support. The cohort of novice professional educators who are beginning their second year would most likely benefit from and appreciate extended support into the new school year.
We don’t know the details of how the approaching school year will transpire, but we can assume teaching and learning will take place and the circumstances will be more stressful than usual. Procedures and protocols are likely to change – a lot and frequently! Second year educators will benefit from a mentor’s support, whether the match is formal or an informal one. By pairing teachers with mentors at the start of the year, the second year professionals will receive steady guidance in a chaotic time. Pairs will benefit from designated connections and new-ish teachers will continue learning while secure scaffolding is in place. After all, providing proactive support is a better choice than reactive problem-solving.
3. Consistent, timely communication. Dependable, precise communication will be exceedingly important in a continually evolving physical and emotional environment. My division's mentor program shares a weekly Smore newsletter with building level lead mentors, a modified version with mentors, and further modified digital content with new hires. Each recipient group receives timely, targeted content on a consistent basis; each Monday. By continuing this practice in the year ahead, novice educators will have convenient access to calendar updates, urgent notices, and articles that support online teaching and learning.
Schools should provide consistent bulletins to their staff, with a focus on novice educators and their unique challenges. By sharing information in a clear, orderly manner, teachers might feel less stressed knowing they have all information currently available. It is important to share newsletters and information consistently so teachers can anticipate and plan for updates (unless, of course, urgent information needs to be shared immediately). In an informal May 2020 survey of the population with whom I work, lead mentors, mentors, and all levels of new hire teachers expressed a desire for frequent, clear communication to guide them during distance teaching.
4. Encourage new teachers to share expertise. Although first year educators are new to their profession, they bring unique and current knowledge to their schools. While most of us are learning about distance education, recent university graduates are often in the forefront with technology tools. Schools can leverage novice’s skills to benefit the entire staff. When a mentee knows how to create and edit videos for a YouTube channel, she can coordinate with her mentor to present learning opportunities for the entire staff. The mentee learns how to design a high-quality lesson and the mentor receives assistance with video editing. Faculty members can then create and share video lessons, reducing overall anxiety and increasing collaboration and collegiality.
The 20-21 school year is shaping up to be a challenge for educators as well as for parents and students. Stakeholders will look toward teachers for reassurance and confidence. Creating successful mentor-mentee matches for first- and second-year educators will provide academic, organizational, and emotional support to a vulnerable population of professionals. In turn these novice educators can serve as staff leaders for specific technology tools. Newsletters can include a list of teachers and areas of expertise, as they provide connections between and among staff members.