In my opinion, maintaining personnel is the most crucial piece to the continued success and growth of public education. I think James Else sums it up best by stating that we ultimately want to ensure that the “best people have compelling reasons to stay.” Hiring the best people is the first important step but making sure they don’t leave is even more imperative.
Having a strong mentoring program will definitely help improve the likelihood of maintaining strong, capable, and long-lasting staff members. The first few years of teaching are definitely the hardest. Making sure that schools have a good mentorship program in place is extremely important to those beginning teachers. Hanover has a structured mentoring program in place at each school for beginning teachers, which includes one-on-one partnerships with veteran teachers and periodic group support workshops. Hanover also trains the veteran teachers on how to be mentors and provides them with specific tools to help them coach the new teacher throughout their first year. Mentors and mentees meet weekly during the first one to two months of school. After that, they meet every other week for about a month before moving to a once a month meeting schedule for several months. Around May, they go back to meeting once a week until the end of the school year. The mentor is responsible for helping the mentee with a variety of things such as how to fill out certain paperwork and record keeping tasks, handling discipline and parent concerns, giving them insight into the culture of the building, completing their professional growth portfolio, grading procedures, SOL testing need to knows, etc. The mentee also knows that they can depend on that person to answer any questions they may have. They are also there to be a trusted person that the mentee can confide in about their successes and failures. New teachers need a lot of support and resources to help get them started which is why a mentoring program is a must!
Professional development is another important piece to help maintain qualified and dedicated personnel. Education is constantly evolving and because of that, educators need to be continuously growing as well. Hanover employs a Professional Development Coordinator named Amy Thompson. Her role is to determine the professional development needs of the county and find presenters and schedule sessions to help meet those needs. Most of the professional development is done “in-house” and led by other teachers. She feels that this helps with gaining more buy in from teachers. Professional development courses are posted all throughout the year and staff gets emails when new ones open up. We have our own online program that allows staff to sign up for the sessions that interest them. Hanover also has 2 mandatory professional development days each summer that teachers must attend. Staff is required to take 4 classes over the course of those 2 days. Two of the classes are ones that are mandated by the county and 2 are teacher’s choice. Hanover also offers some other forms of PD such as tuition assistance, which allows employees to further their education and add endorsements. They also offer a teacher leadership academy which is geared towards aspiring administrators and other school leaders. Spotsylvania is different in that most of their PD is done at the school level versus the county level. They meet use a PLC model. However, they too just hired a Professional Development Coordinator so I think they are moving more in the direction of where Hanover already is.
The main goal of Hanover County’s evaluation process is to optimize student learning and growth through improving the quality of instruction. This is done by ensuring accountability for classroom performance and teacher effectiveness. They believe that the performance evaluation process promotes collaboration between the teacher and evaluator and therefore, increases self-growth, instructional effectiveness, reflection, and improvement of overall job performance. There are seven performance standards for teachers as outlined and determined by the Virginia Department of Education. When teachers are evaluated, they are evaluated against those performance standards. In Hanover, our evaluations are done on a three-year cycle. We are evaluated every year on Standard 7, which deals with student growth. We must come up with artifacts and write a reflection to show that we have mastered the other six standards by the end of the three-year cycle. The evaluation process also involves, goal setting, goal setting conferences, formal and informal observations, and a summative evaluation. Our evaluations are based on how we score on rubrics for the various standards.
Overall, I think Hanover has a lot of things in place that help them not only maintain their personnel but also attract people to the county. However, no system is perfect and there is always room to grow. Hanover is also a very traditional school district and sometimes has a hard time changing the way they have always done things, unless they are forced to do so. Our mentoring program has definitely had a huge overhaul in the past few years and I think is on the right track. However, the program is still voluntary and therefore, some schools only have one trained mentor in the building. This can become a problem if there is more than one beginning teacher. Also, the mentor may not necessarily be on the same grade level as the mentee, which can be challenging. One of the mentees that I spoke to felt that having a mentor on a different grade level was an inconvenience at times because she didn’t feel like her mentor understood what she was dealing with on a daily basis. Also, some information is grade level specific so the team helped her more than her mentor did. She sometimes felt that they just talked because they had to talk and it was a waste of her time. As for our professional development model, I think it is great that Hanover has someone in charge of this. However, I find that at times, we spend a lot of time receiving the PD but then are not given the time to reflect on the PD and figure out how to implement it. Also, because she is looking at countywide data, some of the sessions we have to choose from are not always ones that are beneficial to myself and my personal growth. I like Spotsylvania’s idea of having the PD more geared towards the needs of your school and classroom. I also think it is difficult to have teachers who are already overwhelmed be the ones doing the presenting. Some volunteer because it is their passion and they are typically great sessions, others are “voluntold” and so it isn’t as meaningful coming from them. Lastly, I think our teacher evaluation process needs some more work. I feel like it should be aligned with our licenses and therefore, be on a 5-year cycle. Also, it involves a lot of paperwork on the part of the evaluator and evaluatee. Because of this, I think things get rushed and teachers aren’t given the attention and/or the feedback that they deserve. I spend hours writing up the reflections on my artifacts and have had times where I know they were never even looked out. I also think that they tend to just give every teacher proficient and if that is the case, why do we even need an evaluation system…if we are all the same? It seems to be that it is just another check off type of activity instead of being meaningful and helping the professional grow. In my dream world, administration would have less task lists and be more of the instructional leaders that they need to be. If that can’t be the case, then we need to start thinking about adding some new leadership positions into schools that can help give those teachers the feedback, resources, and support they need to continue to cultivate and enhance their craft.
In closing, my opinion is this; If you want to keep good teachers, you need to make sure they feel supported, appreciated, and have access to the resources that they need.