ST. LOUIS — Empathy, patience, being a good listener and having knowledge in their field are among the qualities school leaders look for when choosing mentors in their building. The teachers they choose may also already be among the busiest people in the school.
But in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools — named Education Dive’s 2019 District of the Year — principals and administrative supervisors think about what they want the mentoring programs in their schools to achieve.
“There is another layer when you look at mentoring,” Kristin Trompeter, an instructional supervisor with MDCPS said Monday during a session at the annual Learning Forward conference. “What is your program really designed to do? It’s not just about supporting new teachers. It’s about supporting new teachers so you retain them.”
The 345,000-student district hires roughly 1,000 teachers every year and still has vacancies, Trompeter explained, adding that some larger schools may have as many as 30 new teachers in any given year. Through mentoring, however, students can still “get the learning they need.”
The district has also learned that mentoring not only helps retain new teachers, it is also important for those who might have experience but are shifting to a new grade level. And mentoring, Trompeter said, is valuable for the more experienced teachers doing the mentoring and can ultimately improve school culture.
Those with five-to-seven years of experience often “came back and said they stayed because of the relationship they built with their mentee,” Trompeter said, adding that teachers who might have considered leaving became “rededicated” to the field “because they are getting those emotional rewards.”
She provides professional development to principals and area supervisors so they can think about mentoring in the context of their schools’ goals. They become familiar with mentoring standards and understand when to take something off the plate of a teacher leader who is interested in — and has to skills to — support their peers.
Because overseeing mentors is not a sustainable model in a district the size of MDCPS, Trompeter said her primary role is to “build that capacity of mentoring the mentors back in the school site” and essentially identify those who can mentor the mentors in their school, she said.
“Mentors should not stay stagnant," she noted. "They should continue to grow.”
A push to end 'educational redlining'
During a keynote, Baltimore City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises shared an element of the Maryland city’s history that is not necessarily a proud moment — a redlining era when African Americans and other minority groups were restricted from purchasing homes in more affluent areas of the city.
In comparing a 1937 map to a current one showing BCS students’ performance in the district, the former vice president of K-12 policy and practice at The Education Trust suggested that the legacy of redlining continues in education — with some students receiving more rigorous instruction and assignments and time to work independently, while there are “some classes where the release never happens.”
She referred to TNTP’s 2018 report, “The Opportunity Myth,” which showed that while students are doing the work that teachers give them 71% of the time, less than a fifth of those assignments meet standards for college readiness.
Santelises shared a middle school math lesson and a 2nd grade English language arts review assignment to demonstrate the different ways teachers were approaching the content. It’s the little things that teachers do every day, she said, “that accumulate in a trajectory that is either growth, stagnation or loss for young people.”
The district worked with Johns Hopkins University on a curriculum audit, but that was just a first step in addressing inequities throughout the district.
“Curriculum is a solid and needed first step,” she said, “but alone, it is insufficient in disrupting that trajectory of redlining.”
To address the needs of teachers who might not understand how they “water down” the curriculum, Santelises said the district is focusing on “elevating the teacher leaders” in schools who can give their colleagues a “safe space” to discuss these gaps. “If we are going to stop educational redlining, it has to begin with us."
No COLA, PEPSI
Professional learning has been "under attack" in recent years, Frederick Brown, deputy executive director of Learning Forward, told attendees before Santelises' address. In 2017, the Trump administration proposed to eliminate federal funding for professional development.
But Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) who serves as chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies "led the charge" to keep Title II, Part A funding in the budget, said Learning Forward Executive Director Denise Glyn Borders.
On Monday the organization presented Blunt, a former history teacher, with its Federal Policy Award.
"I know first hand what an important and challenging job all of you do," Blunt said in a pre-recorded video message.
The organization is also calling not for a cost-of-living adjustment in spending on PD, but a PEPSI — a Preparing Educators to Prepare Students Increase. Specifically, they want to see a 2% increase federal, state and local levels for PD.
The challenges students face are facing are "more dramatic than they've been in the past," Brown said. "Educators are under increasing pressure."