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District Induction Policy and New Teachers’ Experiences: An Examination of Local Policy Implementation in Connecticut


by Peter Youngs - 2007

Background/Context:

Studies of new teacher induction have typically examined the structural components of mentoring programs or documented the nature of support provided to beginning teachers. More recently, Susan Moore Johnson and her colleagues examined new teachers’ induction experiences across multiple states and preparation routes. In addition, Thomas Smith and Richard Ingersoll used the 1999–2000 Schools and Staffing Survey to investigate the experiences and retention rates of beginning teachers who received different levels of induction support. Despite these advances, there is little understanding in the research literature of the relationship between district induction policy and the nature and quality of the support experienced by beginning teachers.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study:

One purpose of the study was to explore whether variations in district policy seemed to be associated with differences in the nature and quality of instructional assistance experienced by first- and second-year teachers. A second purpose was to investigate how the understandings of induction held by mentors, principals, and other educators seemed to mediate the effects of district policy on new teachers’ experiences.

Research Design:

The research design involved qualitative case studies during 2000–2001 of two urban high-poverty Connecticut districts, Copley and Ashton. Copley and Ashton served similar percentages of students eligible for free and reduced lunch (58.0% and 54.3%, respectively) and had similar policies with regard to mentor training and work conditions. The two districts differed with regard to district policy related to mentor selection and assignment, district policy related to professional development for second-year teachers, and district size (10,216 students and 3,361 students).

Findings/Results:

The study found that beginning teachers in Copley experienced higher quality assistance than their counterparts in Ashton with regard to acquiring curricular knowledge, planning instruction, and reflecting on practice. These differences seemed related to district policy involving mentor selection, mentor assignment, and professional development. In addition, the understandings of induction held by mentors and others seemed to mediate the effects of district policy on new teachers’ experiences.

Conclusions/Recommendations:

Study findings suggest that future research should examine whether there are grade-level and content-area matches between mentors and mentees and how mentors’ and other educators’ knowledge and skills influence beginning teachers’ induction experiences. In addition, scholars should consider how educators’ understandings of induction interact with school and district policies and organizational conditions to shape their work with beginning teachers. Finally, researchers should conceptualize induction as involving multiple individuals in the provision of support for beginning teachers.



In fall 2000, two first-year English teachers began teaching ninth grade in different urban school districts in Connecticut, Copley and Ashton.1 Both teachers—John Muldoon and Darrell King—had questions about their curriculum and how to plan effective units and lessons. Further, both struggled at times to manage student behavior. Although both were assigned to state-trained mentors, their induction experiences differed sharply. In interactions with his mentor, Muldoon focused primarily on acquiring curricular knowledge and planning instruction. In contrast, King’s conversations with his mentor were limited to strategies for promoting higher order thinking and were rarely based on the novice’s concerns. The induction experiences of these two teachers seemed to have some effect on their instructional growth and their attitudes about working in their respective districts. At the end of the year, Muldoon elected to remain in Copley, whereas King applied for teaching positions in other districts.


During the same year, two second-year elementary teachers from the same two districts spent many hours completing an extensive portfolio assessment to earn their professional teaching licenses. One of them, Rich Simmons, taught fifth grade and worked closely with his mentor and principal as he planned literacy and mathematics units for this assessment, analyzed student work samples and videotapes of his teaching, and reflected on his practice. Although the assessment was very demanding, Simmons was grateful for the assistance he received, and he viewed the process as a productive learning experience. The other teacher, Abby Sampson, taught fourth grade and received little structured support from her mentor, school colleagues, or district as she went through the assessment process. By the end of the year, Sampson had decided to apply for teaching positions elsewhere in the state, whereas Simmons looked forward to continuing to work closely with his mentor and principal.


Were the differences in these teachers’ experiences arbitrary? Were Muldoon and Simmons simply matched with mentors who were committed to supporting beginning teachers? Or were the differences in their experiences possibly related to differences in district induction policy or other aspects of their school and district contexts? Further, how, if at all, did district policy or other contextual factors seem to affect the nature and quality of the induction support that these teachers experienced? This article reports on a study that addressed these questions by examining possible connections between district policy and induction support in two urban high-poverty districts in Connecticut, Copley and Ashton. In particular, the study considered the following research questions: (1) What is the nature and quality of the induction support experienced by first- and second-year teachers in two urban districts in Connecticut? (2) What is the nature of the possible connections between district policy and induction support?


In 2000–2001, I studied first- and second-year teachers in Copley and Ashton, focusing on the nature and quality of the instructional assistance they received from mentors, colleagues, principals, and other educators. The study found that beginning teachers in Copley experienced much higher quality assistance than their counterparts in Ashton with regard to acquiring curricular knowledge, planning instruction, and reflecting on practice. In this article, I contend that these variations in the nature and quality of instructional assistance seemed related to district policy involving mentor selection, mentor assignment, and professional development. Further, the article draws on recent research on policy implementation to argue that the understandings of induction held by mentors and others seemed to mediate the effects of district policy on new teachers’ experiences.


Despite recent advances in research on induction, few studies have empirically examined possible connections among district policy, educators’ understandings of induction, and the experiences of beginning teachers. In the first section of this article, I review the research literature on induction and discuss the ways in which I drew on this literature in investigating such connections in two urban low-wealth districts. The second section summarizes the state policy context in Connecticut with regard to teacher licensure, induction, and assessment. Next, I describe the research methods employed in the study, including the selection criteria for districts and teachers, the methods of data collection, and the modes of analysis, including the criteria used for evaluating the quality of induction support. The fourth and fifth sections present findings regarding the nature and quality of induction support experienced by new teachers in Copley and Ashton. In the final section, I discuss the findings from this study in relation to other literature on induction and policy implementation, and I consider implications for future research.


TEACHER DEVELOPMENT, INDUCTION, AND POLICY IMPLEMENTATION


Studies of new teacher induction have typically examined the structural components of mentoring programs (Feiman-Nemser & Parker, 1992; Fideler & Haselkorn, 1999; Ganser & Koskela, 1996; Ruskus, 1988) or documented the nature of support provided to beginning teachers (Anctil, 1991; Andes, 1995; Reiman & Edelfelt, 1990). More recently, Susan Moore Johnson and her colleagues (2004) have examined new teachers’ changing conceptions of careers in teaching, the professional cultures they encounter in their schools, and their efforts to acquire knowledge about curriculum and assessment. In addition, a number of researchers are using the 1999–2000 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) to investigate the experiences and retention rates of beginning teachers who receive different levels of induction support (Luczak, 2004; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004). Further, researchers at the Santa Cruz New Teacher Center are exploring the possible effects of mentoring and induction on student achievement (Strong & Fletcher, 2004).


The growing research interest in mentoring and induction reflects concern on the part of educators and policy makers about teacher quality. Several studies have found that teachers have a strong influence on student achievement and that teacher quality is distributed inequitably across school districts (see, for example, Hanushek, Kain, & Rivkin, 2001; Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2002). At the same time, there is little understanding in the research literature of the relationship between district induction policy and the nature and quality of the support experienced by beginning teachers. In this study, I drew on theoretical and empirical research in the areas of teacher development, induction, and policy implementation to examine possible connections between district policy and new teachers’ induction experiences. Research in these areas suggests that beginning teachers are more likely to move from the survival stage to the mastery stage of teaching when particular district policies are present and when mentors, principals, and other colleagues hold particular understandings of induction.


In this study, the term induction experiences refers to the nature and quality of assistance that first- and second-year teachers receive from mentors, other teachers, and principals in the areas of acquiring curricular knowledge, planning instruction, and reflecting on practice. Further, an educator’s understanding of induction is defined as his or her goals for induction, underlying assumptions about the nature of effective teaching, conceptions of the roles of mentors and new teachers, and understandings of teacher assessment practices.2


During the mastery stage of teaching, beginning teachers grow less focused on themselves and managing student behavior, and more concerned with curriculum, pedagogy, and student learning (Burden, 1990; Fuller & Bown, 1975; Huberman, 1993). Some teachers attend to instructional issues from the earliest weeks of their careers, and others struggle with the transition to teaching and fail to reach the mastery stage until their second year or even later. Many new teachers who are unable to move beyond concerns about classroom management and their own adequacy eventually leave the profession. Those who remain often struggle to identify students’ needs and engage them in learning. Further, they tend to develop coping strategies to survive that can have deleterious consequences for instruction, student performance, and their ability to learn from practice (Feiman-Nemser, 1983; Rosenholtz, 1989).


Theoretical and empirical research on induction suggests that new teachers are more likely to acquire curricular knowledge, plan instruction, and reflect on practice (i.e., move to the mastery stage of teaching) when the mentor selection process stresses mentors’ pedagogical expertise and ability to work with others (Feiman-Nemser, 2001; Odell, 1990); when mentors have teaching experience in the same content area and grade level as their mentees (Tauer, 1999; Vonk, 1993); when mentors participate in training that emphasizes the importance of addressing instruction and reflecting on practice with novices (Feiman-Nemser, Parker, & Zeichner, 1993); and when mentors are paid and receive sufficient time to work with mentees (Feiman-Nemser & Parker, 1992; Little, 1990). At the same time, the nature and quality of the support received by new teachers is not only influenced by district induction policy, but it is also shaped by the district and school contexts in which novices work, and the understandings of induction held by mentors, school leaders, and other educators.


With regard to the district context, beginning teachers’ experiences are often shaped by district policy related to professional development and teacher evaluation (Grossman, Thompson, & Valencia, 2001), by district leaders’ decisions regarding the use of available resources (McLaughlin, 1987; Spillane, 1993), and by the history of district induction practices (Fullan, 1991; McLaughlin, 1990). For example, if district professional development offerings emphasize classroom management techniques and psychological support for teachers, novices may be less likely to develop content-specific instructional knowledge and skills. School contextual factors that shape induction include principal leadership (Bryk, Lee, & Holland, 1993; Smylie & Hart, 1999), teachers’ professional communities (Achinstein, Ogawa, & Speiglman, 2004; McLaughlin & Talbert, 2001), and student demographics (McLaughlin & Talbert, 1993). Principals, for example, can promote teacher growth in direct interactions with novices by creating time for them to meet with mentors and subject-area colleagues and by distributing responsibility for instructional leadership with teachers (Spillane, Halverson, & Diamond, 2001).3


Recent research on policy implementation also suggests that mentors’ and other educators’ understandings of induction will influence new teachers’ experiences (Coburn, 2001a, 2001b; Cohen & Ball, 1990; Spillane, 2000, 2002). Cohen, Ball, Wilson, and their colleagues examined the role of individual teachers’ background knowledge and professional experience in mathematics reform efforts (see, for example, Ball, 1990; Cohen, 1990; Wilson, 1990). Coburn (2001a, 2001b) built on this work by considering how teachers’ professional communities shaped their efforts to make sense of and respond to reforms in reading instruction. In his work, Spillane (2000, 2002) investigated district leaders’ beliefs about teacher change and learning, and their schemes for understanding instruction and how these schemes shaped their interpretations of state policies.


These studies indicate that district induction policies do not always move through educational systems in top-down linear ways. Instead, this research suggests that the prior knowledge and understandings held by mentors, principals, and others mediate the effects of district policies (and other school and district conditions) on beginning teachers’ experiences. For example, if the enactment of district policy matches mentors and mentees by teaching assignment, and mentors view induction support as helping novices acquire content-specific pedagogical knowledge, they may be more likely to provide them with instructional assistance. On the other hand, if mentors view induction support primarily as assistance with classroom management or orientation to school context, they may be less likely to provide instructional assistance even if, as a result of district policy, they have the same teaching assignment as their mentees.


In sum, research on teacher development, induction, and policy implementation indicates that new teachers’ experiences are shaped by district induction policy (i.e., district policy related to mentor selection, assignment, training, and work conditions); other district and school contextual factors; and educators’ understandings of induction and related reforms. The study on which this article is based examined (1) the nature and quality of the support experienced by first- and second-year teachers in two urban Connecticut districts and (2) the nature of the possible connections between district policies (and other school and district conditions) and induction support. In investigating possible connections between district policy and induction support, the study considered how the understandings of induction held by mentors, principals, and others seemed to mediate the effects of district policies on beginning teachers’ experiences.


STATE POLICY CONTEXT


Urban induction programs in Connecticut provided a suitable context for this study because of the state’s strong emphasis on teacher quality over the past two decades (Sykes, 2004). In the mid-1980s, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) and the state legislature moved to significantly increase teacher salaries in Connecticut and make them more equitable across districts while simultaneously raising the standards for licensure. Over a 5-year period, the average teacher’s salary increased dramatically from $29,437 in 1986 to $47,823 in 1991 (Prowda, 1998), and state salary grants were allocated on an equalizing basis to help low-resource districts compete for qualified teachers.4 At the same time, teaching standards were increased through the creation of a three-tiered licensure system featuring levels of beginning, provisional, and professional licensure. In 1989–1990, the state implemented the Beginning Educator Support and Training (BEST) Program, which featured a performance assessment for use in making provisional licensing decisions known as the Connecticut Competency Instrument (CCI). In the same year, also as part of the BEST Program, the state began requiring districts to assign trained mentors to all first-year teachers.


In use from 1989 to 2000, the CCI used classroom observations and interviews to evaluate the performance of first-year teachers in the areas of classroom management, lesson planning, and generic teaching procedures. The implementation of the CCI had far-reaching effects on education in Connecticut in the 1990s. The assessment and support components of the state’s induction program bolstered new teacher development while also helping mentors and assessors to improve their own instructional practices (Baron, 1999). Many principals across the state were trained as CCI assessors, and most districts incorporated aspects of the CCI into their local evaluation programs. During this period, though, CSDE recognized some limitations in the instrument. In particular, it did not provide information about teachers’ abilities to (1) plan instruction across an entire unit, (2) integrate knowledge of subject matter, students, and context in making instructional decisions, or (3) reflect on their practice. Consequently, CSDE initiated efforts in the early 1990s to develop assessments that would better measure teacher knowledge, skills, and performance than the CCI and other existing instruments.


Under the leadership of Raymond Pecheone, Connecticut took a principal role in working with other states through the Interstate New Teachers Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) to develop content-specific portfolios for use in making licensure decisions. Groups of teachers and teacher educators were assembled by CSDE in the early 1990s to devise state teaching standards in a number of content areas. In 1995–1996, CSDE staff began piloting assessments, known as BEST portfolios, in mathematics, science, and English/language arts. By 2000–2001, the state had implemented BEST portfolios in several content areas for use in making licensure decisions for second-year teachers. For each portfolio, teachers must complete several entries that are integrated around one or two units of instruction. These entries include a description of their teaching context, a set of lesson plans, two videotapes of instruction during the unit, samples of student work, and teacher commentaries on their planning, instruction, and assessment of student progress (Pecheone & Stansbury, 1996).


Since 1989, districts have been required by the state to assign trained mentors to all first-year teachers. From that year through 2000–2001 (the year of the study), mentors were required to participate in 3 days (24 hours) of BEST mentor training. This training addressed strategies for instructional coaching, promoting reflective inquiry, and providing portfolio-related support. In addition to mentoring, CSDE provides content-specific seminars for first- and second-year teachers that focus on the teaching standards and portfolio requirements. In most content areas, the seminars address such topics as aligning unit and lesson objectives, instructional strategies, and assessments; linking analyses of student learning to analyses of teaching; creating inquiry-based lessons; and reviewing model portfolios. With regard to scoring, each portfolio is evaluated by a trained assessor, known as a scorer, who teaches in the same content area as the teacher he or she is evaluating.5 Those candidates who earn nonpassing scores can go through the portfolio process again during their third year of teaching. If their performance remains unsatisfactory, they are ineligible for provisional licensure and are not permitted to continue teaching in Connecticut (Wilson, Darling-Hammond, & Berry, 2001).


The recent shift from the CCI to the BEST portfolios for use in making licensure decisions helped to reveal possible connections between district policy in Connecticut and the nature and quality of the induction support experienced by beginning teachers. It also illuminated the ways in which the understandings of induction held by mentors, principals, and other educators seemed to mediate the effects of district policies (and other school and district conditions) on new teachers’ experiences. As districts and states continue to expand induction programs (Education Week, 2004), and concerns grow over high rates of attrition and migration among beginning teachers (Darling-Hammond & Sykes, 2003; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004), it is important for researchers and policy makers alike to understand possible connections between district policies and new teachers’ experiences, and the ways in which such connections may be influenced by educators’ understandings of induction. This article explicates these possible connections and understandings in two urban high-poverty districts and considers the implications of this analysis for further research.


METHODS


DISTRICT SAMPLE


For this study, I employed qualitative methods to conduct research on induction programs in two urban school districts in Connecticut during the 2000–2001 school year. In selecting districts for the study, I sought ones that differed with regard to key aspects of induction policy in order to increase the likelihood of identifying possible connections between certain district policies and certain types of induction support. Because most districts had designed similar policies regarding mentor selection, assignment, and work conditions,6 and all mentors participated in state-provided BEST mentor training, I sought variation in the enactment of district policy related to mentor selection and assignment. Further, because most districts offered comparable professional development activities for first-year teachers (e.g., sessions on curriculum, student assessment, classroom management, and parent involvement), I sought variation in policy related to professional development for second-year teachers.


I also sought districts that served high percentages of minority and/or low-income students in order to examine whether certain induction policies and practices seemed to have some positive effect on new teachers’ experiences in such districts. Because of limitations in resources, I only included districts that had 10,000 students or fewer. Therefore, my study focused on urban low-wealth districts that were medium-sized or small by Connecticut’s standards, as opposed to larger urban districts in the state, such as Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven, which serve about 20,000 students each. In sum, the criteria for selecting districts included (1) variation between the districts with regard to (a) the enactment of mentor selection and assignment policy and (b) professional development for second-year teachers; and (2) that the district (a) serve approximately 10,000 students or fewer, (b) serve more than 50% low-income students, and (c) have at least 25 first- and second-year teachers.


The two districts in the study, Copley and Ashton, varied significantly with regard to the enactment of district policy related to mentor selection and assignment, and the design and enactment of district policy related to professional development for second-year teachers. See Table A1 in the appendix for a summary of the design and enactment of policy in the two districts related to induction, professional development, and teacher evaluation. Most first-year teachers in Copley were assigned to a mentor who (1) taught in the same grade level or content area, (2) had strong teaching expertise, and (3) had demonstrated the ability to work closely with other adults. In contrast, few novices in Ashton were assigned to mentors who taught in the same grade level or content area. In addition, Copley provided second-year teachers with structured assistance related to the portfolios, whereas second-year teachers in Ashton received little organized support as they went through the assessment process.


In 1999–2000, the two districts in the study served comparable percentages of low-income students, Hispanic students, and African American students, although Copley was considerably larger than Ashton (see Table A2 in the appendix for student and teacher demographic information in the two districts). Both districts were in Educational Reference Group (ERG) I7 according to the state’s system for classifying districts. This means that the levels of poverty, income, and education in Copley and Ashton were similar to those in such districts as Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven.


The two districts in the study, Copley and Ashton, were not selected to be representative of a larger population of districts. Although there is a notable difference in the size of the districts (10,216 students and 3,361 students), I decided to include them because they served similar percentages of low-income students (58.0% and 54.3%, respectively, eligible for free and reduced lunch) and because they differed significantly with regard to district induction policy. Given that only seven districts in Connecticut met my selection criteria, I determined that it would be better to include these two districts rather than two districts that were similar in size but served significantly different percentages of students eligible for free and reduced lunch.


In sum, although Copley and Ashton had similar demographics and some similar induction policies, they differed significantly with regard to district size, the enactment of mentor selection and assignment policy, and the design and enactment of professional development for second-year teachers.


TEACHER SAMPLE


In selecting first- and second-year teachers from Copley and Ashton to participate in the study, I focused on teachers in core content areas: elementary (grades 1–6), English/language arts, history/social studies, mathematics, and science. All first- and second-year teachers in these areas were invited to participate, but they had to be teaching full-time and they had to have earned a standard teaching license (certificate) and, therefore, completed university-based teacher preparation.8 In addition, the student demographics in the study participants’ classrooms and schools had to be consistent with those in their districts. Although both districts served comparable percentages of low-income and minority students, I wanted to ensure that new teachers’ experiences were not significantly shaped by having much higher or lower percentages of low-income students than other teachers in the study. In sum, the criteria for selecting new teacher participants included (1) teaching in a core content area, (2) teaching full time, (3) having earned a standard teaching license, and (4) having demographics in their classrooms and schools that were consistent with those in their districts.


In Copley, 22 first-year teachers and 18 second-year teachers in 2000–2001 met the selection criteria. All 40 were invited to take part in the study, and 13 first-year teachers and 8 second-year teachers volunteered to participate. In Ashton, 18 first-year teachers and 14 second-year teachers met the selection criteria. All 32 were invited to take part, and 10 first-year teachers and 7 second-year teachers volunteered to participate. I included 4 first-year teachers and 4 second-year teachers from each district in the study; in other words 20% (8/40) of the beginning teachers from Copley who met the selection criteria were interviewed, and 25% (8/32) of the new teachers from Ashton who met the selection criteria were interviewed. The first-year teachers were selected at random from among those who volunteered to participate, whereas the second-year teachers were chosen at random from among those who taught at the same schools as the first-year study participants.9 Teachers from four schools in Copley (of a total of 14 in the district) and three schools in Ashton (of a total of six in the district) participated in the study.


MENTOR AND ADMINISTRATOR SAMPLES


For each of the first-year teacher study participants, I interviewed their designated mentor. For each of the second-year teacher participants, I interviewed their designated mentor and/or a content-area or grade-level colleague with whom they worked closely in their second year.10 In both Copley and Ashton, a total of 5 mentors participated in the study (in some cases, mentor teacher study participants were providing assistance to both first-and second-year teachers in 2000–2001). For each of the first-year and second-year teacher participants, I also interviewed their principals. Four principals from Copley participated in the study, and 3 principals from Ashton were involved in the study. Finally, I interviewed the district mentoring facilitator in each district (i.e., the district administrator responsible for coordinating the district’s induction program) and a representative of the local teacher union in each district.


DATA COLLECTION


Data collection during the 2000–2001 school year involved interviewing beginning teachers, mentors, principals, and district administrators, and observing mentor-novice meetings and other induction activities. I interviewed the first- and second-year teacher study participants in each district11 two to three times each throughout the year (fall 2000, winter 2001, and spring 2001). In the interviews, I probed to learn whether novice teachers were acquiring curricular knowledge, planning instruction, and/or reflecting on their practice with their mentors or other colleagues. Second-year teachers were also asked about their experiences with, and support received during, the portfolio process. The beginning teacher interviews included questions about teacher collaboration and principal leadership for induction in the new teachers’ schools, and teacher evaluation and professional development in their districts.


Over the course of the year, the mentor teacher study participants from each district were interviewed three times each about the nature of their interactions with their mentees. In the initial interviews, I probed to learn whether mentors were addressing issues related to classroom management, orientation to context, and/or instruction with their mentees. In later interviews, I inquired about the extent to which and the ways in which mentors were addressing issues related to curriculum and instruction with their mentees and engaging them in reflective inquiry. In addition, mentors were asked about their knowledge of and perspectives on the BEST Program, and collaboration and principal leadership for induction in the new teachers’ schools. I also observed meetings between most mentors and their mentees on one or more occasions. I was unable to observe some mentors and mentees from Ashton because they did not meet after the first month of the school year.


To further acquire understanding of school leadership and other aspects of the school contexts in which the novices and mentors were situated, I interviewed the principal and at least one other teacher at each school. In almost all cases, I was able to interview an experienced teacher who taught at the same grade level and content area as the new teacher study participant(s). The principal was interviewed on two occasions (fall 2000 and spring 2001), and the teachers were interviewed once each.12 Although the interviews with principals, mentors, new teachers, and other teachers all revealed information about district induction policy in Copley and Ashton, I also interviewed district mentoring facilitators (i.e., district officials) and local teacher union representatives to obtain additional perspectives on district induction policy and its relationship to other local initiatives.13


MODES OFANALYSIS


For each round of data collection (fall 2000, winter 2001, and spring 2001), field notes were compiled from each taped interview, and observation was conducted during school visits. The field notes were then used to write case reports for each district that examined the nature of district policy related to induction, professional development, and teacher evaluation, and the nature of instructional support experienced by beginning teachers. For the winter and spring reports, the interview and observation data were coded in order to determine the quality of support that first- and second-year teachers received from mentors and other educators with regard to acquiring curricular knowledge, instructional planning, and reflecting on practice.


The quality of support with regard to acquiring curricular knowledge was rated highly if mentors or others helped new teachers understand the purpose of teaching subject matter to students at certain grade levels, appropriate curricular scope and sequence, and connections among different topics or ideas. Assistance with curricular knowledge was rated lower in quality if mentors or other colleagues shared information about the content of the curriculum, or school or district curricular goals, without consideration of the purpose of teaching subject matter to particular students or the horizontal or vertical curricula for a subject. The quality of support with curricular knowledge was rated lowest if beginning teachers had few or no opportunities to address curricular issues with their mentors or other colleagues.


Support with instructional planning was rated highly if mentors or others talked with new teachers about the most appropriate instructional strategies, materials, and representations to use in teaching about particular topics, and if they helped them focus on students’ ability levels, backgrounds, and prior understandings in planning instruction and assessment. Assistance with planning was rated lower if mentors or other colleagues shared lessons, units, strategies, or materials but did not address the students’ ability levels, backgrounds, or understandings. Support with instructional planning was rated lowest if beginning teachers had few or no opportunities to address instructional issues with their mentors or other colleagues.


Support with reflection was rated highly if mentors or other colleagues analyzed student work with beginning teachers or otherwise prompted them to consider the impact of their curriculum, instruction, and assessments on the learning of individual students. Assistance with reflection was rated lower if mentors or other colleagues talked with new teachers about their experiences without encouraging them to consider the implications of their teaching for student learning. Support with reflection was rated lowest if beginning teachers had few or no opportunities to reflect on their practice with their mentors or other colleagues.


In the first stage of the analysis, I used the district reports to look for systematic patterns of variation in district policy related to induction, other aspects of district and school contexts, and support experienced by beginning teachers, and to examine whether certain district policies (and/or other contextual factors) seemed to be associated with support that helped new teachers acquire curricular knowledge, plan instruction, and reflect on their practice. For the second stage of the analysis, when certain district policies and/or other contextual factors seemed to be associated with several teachers experiencing instructional support of high quality, I drew on interview and observation data from the district reports and research on policy implementation (e.g., Coburn, 2001a, 2001b; Spillane, 2000) to discern the ways in which these policies and contextual factors seemed to have some effect on new teachers’ experiences. In this stage, I considered how the understandings of induction held by mentors, principals, and others seemed to mediate the effects of district policies (and other school and district conditions) on induction support for beginning teachers.


In sum, the first stage of the analysis concentrated on identifying possible associations between district policy and induction practice (i.e., beginning teachers’ experiences), whereas the second stage of the analysis examined how district policy, other school and district contextual factors, and educators’ understandings of induction seemed to shape new teachers’ induction experiences.


DISTRICT POLICY AND INDUCTION SUPPORT FOR FIRST-YEAR TEACHERS


The study found considerable differences in the nature and quality of the induction support that beginning teachers experienced across the two districts. First- and second-year teachers in Copley acquired curricular knowledge, planned instruction, and reflected on practice with their assigned mentors and colleagues to a much greater extent than their counterparts in Ashton (see Tables A3 and A4 and in the appendix). Further, assistance for second-year teachers in Copley addressed the BEST portfolio requirements much more thoroughly than it did in Ashton.


These variations in induction support seemed related to differences in district policy involving mentor selection and assignment, as well as district professional development policy. In particular, many mentors, other teachers, and administrators in Copley viewed induction support as helping beginning teachers acquire content-specific pedagogical knowledge and analyze the effects of their teaching on student learning. In contrast, very few mentors, administrators, or educators in Ashton perceived or carried out induction support in this way.


This section describes the induction support received by some of the first-year teacher study participants in Copley and Ashton in order to illustrate how first-year teachers’ experiences in each of the districts seemed to be influenced by district induction policy and educators’ understandings of induction.


COPLEY


Three of the 4 first-year teacher study participants from Copley received instructional assistance that was rated high in quality, compared with only 1 of the 4 from Ashton (see Table A3 in the appendix). The high quality of assistance that the 3 first-year teachers from Copley experienced seemed related to (1) the district’s efforts to select mentors with teaching expertise and the ability to work closely with other adults, (2) the district’s efforts to assign each new teacher to a mentor who taught in the same grade level and/or content area, and (3) the understandings of induction held by mentors and principals at their schools. In contrast, only 1 of the 4 mentor study participants in Ashton taught the same content area and grade level as the mentee, and even this mentor had a limited ability to address instructional issues with beginning teachers.


One first-year teacher in Copley, Julie Gillis, taught fifth grade at Sentinel Elementary School in 2000–2001 and was matched with a mentor, Meg Nelson, who taught fourth grade at the school.14 Throughout the year, Gillis acquired curricular knowledge from Nelson and had frequent opportunities to plan instruction and reflect on practice with her. The quality of this assistance was rated highly because Nelson helped Gillis understand the purposes of teaching reading and writing to fifth graders and focused on students’ abilities in planning instruction with her and reflecting on her teaching.


Although she taught fourth grade, Nelson had a strong understanding of the fifth-grade curriculum at her school, especially in language arts, because she had previously taught a fourth-grade/fifth-grade loop at Sentinel.15 In other words, Nelson had knowledge and skills related to Gillis’s curriculum and was able to use these in her work with the first-year teacher. Further, Nelson had participated in BEST mentor training in 1999–2000, and this experience seemed to influence her approach to providing content-specific instructional assistance.


In the first months of the year, Gillis talked with Nelson frequently about the fifth-grade reading and math curriculum and appropriate short- and long-term objectives for her students. In February, they began to focus on writing instruction during their weekly meetings;16 at a meeting in March, they discussed students’ responses to writing prompts.


Gillis: Some of my lower students did a better job than last month. I’d like to talk about which ones are ready for more independent work.


Nelson: OK, then let’s look closely at a couple of prompts. Do you have two students from the lower group who have been making progress?


Gillis: Yes, right here.


Nelson: Good, let’s compare their work. Which piece is clearer? Which one do you have less questions about? Which one’s descriptions are more vivid?


Gillis: This one is clearer in terms of the author’s meaning and it’s also better organized. I guess the other student still needs help making the body of her paper consistent with her opening paragraph. And some of the sentences are incomplete or simply don’t make sense!


Nelson: Good—those are things to keep in mind when you look at the prompts. Even if they seem to do well in small groups, we also need to consider evidence from their actual writing.


Along with addressing literacy instruction with Nelson, Gillis had opportunities to discuss her mathematics curriculum with a grade-level colleague, Naomi Stone. In the fall, for example, Stone helped her plan a unit on equivalent fractions. While she taught the unit, Gillis talked with Stone about strategies for formatively assessing student understanding, and ways to modify her instruction to meet the needs of students who were having difficulty. In Gillis’s words, “She really showed me a useful way to teach equivalent fractions and then helped me monitor student learning while I taught the unit.”


The high quality of instructional support that Nelson and Stone provided to Gillis seemed related to their strong knowledge of the fifth-grade curriculum, and the influence of Donna Gordon, the principal at Sentinel. Gordon had served as a BEST portfolio scorer, and this experience shaped her approach to teacher evaluation and her efforts to advance Gillis’s work with Nelson and her other colleagues. Gordon used evidence of student learning, in the form of work samples, to identify new teachers’ needs and to guide their interactions with mentors and others.


Like Gillis, another study participant from Copley, John Muldoon, addressed instructional issues with his mentor, Laura Crenshaw, and other colleagues during his first year of teaching. Muldoon taught five sections of ninth-grade English at Southern High School in 2000–2001, including three college-track sections and two lower-level tracks, and Crenshaw taught English to sophomores and seniors. The quality of assistance that Muldoon received from his mentor was rated highly because she encouraged him to integrate attention to student learning into his planning and reflections. The fact that Crenshaw taught English and served as a portfolio scorer for the state seemed related to the quality of assistance that she provided to him.


In October, Crenshaw observed Muldoon and reflected with him on his teaching. Prior to these observations, Muldoon had been preoccupied with classroom management. In talking with Crenshaw, he began to see more clearly how his lesson plans and decisions during class could affect student engagement and behavior. He noted, “I’m going to try to incorporate more discussions into my lessons. I’ve been doing a lot of talking, probably too much, at least with my college tracks.”


As a BEST portfolio scorer for the state, Crenshaw emphasized the importance of subject-specific instructional knowledge and focused on the need for Muldoon to consider students’ background knowledge and interests in planning instruction. She stressed these issues in a meeting in February.


Crenshaw: What are you planning to teach next?


Muldoon: I have a unit on mythology. We’re going to study how myths in different cultures are often parallel. I plan to start with creation myths.


Crenshaw: How will you relate this to students’ lives?


Muldoon: We’ve had several discussions about cultural differences, but we’ve also talked about how different cultures sometimes share things in common. They were very interested in this, especially students in my lower classes.


Crenshaw: Good—you’re making the point that beliefs are an important part of cultures, not just people’s physical attributes. It sounds like this will connect to their interests.


Muldoon also acquired curricular knowledge and planned instruction with Tina Gorrence, a third-year English teacher at Southern High. For example, she helped him distinguish between appropriate instructional goals and activities for his college-track students and appropriate ones for his lower-level students. They discussed how writing instruction for lower ability students might initially focus on helping them express their ideas and sharing their experiences, and how he might later work with them on persuasive essays. In contrast, instruction in college-track classes could address writing persuasive essays from the outset of the school year.


The high quality of instructional support that Muldoon received from Crenshaw and Gorrence seemed related to the fact that they were knowledgeable about his English curriculum, they focused on content-specific pedagogy with him, and they emphasized the need for new teachers to focus on student learning. Crenshaw was a BEST portfolio scorer, whereas Gorrence had gone through the assessment process in 1999–2000, and these experiences appeared to influence their understandings of and approach to induction.


ASHTON


In contrast to their counterparts in Copley, first-year teachers in Ashton experienced much lower levels of induction support (see Table A3 in the appendix). The low quality of assistance in the district seemed related to the fact that few beginning teachers had regular opportunities to address instructional issues with mentors or other colleagues who were knowledgeable about their curriculum. Among the 4 first-year study participants in Ashton, 3 were matched with mentors who taught in different grade levels and different subject areas. Two of these 3 addressed instructional issues with their mentors to some extent early in the year but had little contact with them as the year went on.


A second-grade teacher, Kelly Gentry, worked at Nelson Elementary School and was assigned to a mentor, Christine Kellogg, who taught kindergarten at her school. Gentry approached Kellogg early in the year with some questions about teaching language arts. As the year went on, though, Gentry had less and less contact with her mentor. The quality of assistance that Kellogg provided to her was rated low because it was limited to a few interactions early in the year. Even though Kellogg had attended mentor update training, her ability to address content-specific pedagogy was limited because she taught kindergarten and had little knowledge of the second-grade curriculum. In Gentry’s words,


It would probably be better if I was with a second-grade teacher. She’s never taught second grade. She’ll look for information for me, but it’s not the same. I feel if I was with a second-grade teacher, it would be easier for me or I would at least have more questions. If it was first grade or even third grade, they would probably know more about my curriculum.


Another study participant, Miguel Esteban, taught sixth graders at Central Middle School in Ashton. Esteban addressed behavioral management issues to some extent early in the year with his mentor, Sarah Green, who taught fifth grade at Central, but he had less contact with her as the year went on. When he did try to raise questions about instruction with Green, she usually offered expedient solutions that had few implications for student learning. In a meeting in the fall, for example, Esteban raised questions about using the math curriculum, Everyday Mathematics (EM), with his students. Instead of substantively addressing his concerns about the step-by-step nature of the EM curriculum, Green told him, “I really like the games and the hands-on aspects of Everyday Math. I suggest that you focus on that.”


The low quality of support provided by Green seemed related to her teaching a different grade and subject. Like Kellogg, Green had attended mentor update training, and both of them had mentored second-year teachers in 1999–2000 as they completed their portfolios. Although both were familiar with the state teaching standards and portfolio requirements, they seemed to be limited in their ability to support their mentees by the mentor assignment policy in Ashton; that is, the lack of close matches between these mentors and their mentees with regard to teaching assignment meant that they had only partial knowledge of the curricula that Gentry and Esteban were trying to teach. In this way, district policy related to mentor assignment seemed to combine with mentors’ understandings to have limited positive effects on new teachers’ experiences.


In contrast to the other first-year teacher study participants in Ashton, Darrell King taught in the same content area and grade level—ninth-grade English—as his mentor, Ben Saunders. The quality of support that King received from Saunders with regard to planning was rated medium because Saunders talked with him about ways to promote high-order thinking in his instruction and assessments. At the same time, King felt that his mentor was not very accessible, and he rarely had opportunities to discuss curriculum or reflect on practice with him. Further, although King struggled with managing students’ behavior over the course of the year, he rarely addressed this issue with Saunders (or how it was related to curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment) because he had little influence on the topics of their conversations.


Overall, the low quality of support that King received seemed related to not having adequate time to meet with his mentor, and to Saunders’s understanding of induction. Saunders was president of the local teacher union and an outspoken critic of the BEST Program. In one interview, he stated, “It is preposterous to assume that a person can learn what I’ve learned in 36 years by my going into that individual’s class four or five times, and that individual coming into my class four or five times.” This comment revealed a poor understanding of the purpose of the BEST Program in that it was designed to promote teachers’ growth in the first years of their careers, as opposed to accelerating their development.


Unlike Kellogg and Green, Saunders had the same teaching assignment as his mentee, but he demonstrated little apparent understanding of the process by which new teachers learn to construct and apply pedagogical content knowledge. In part as a result of Saunders’s approach, King had a very challenging and difficult experience in his first year of teaching. By February, he had started to actively seek teaching positions outside Ashton for 2001–2002. In June, he accepted a position in another district.


In sum, the differences in the quality of induction support experienced by first-year teachers in Copley and Ashton seemed related to variations in district policy related to mentor selection and assignment, and mentors’, principals’ and other educators’ understandings of induction. Mentors, school administrators, and others in Copley were much more likely than their counterparts in Ashton to focus on content-specific pedagogy and student learning in their interactions with first-year teachers.


DISTRICT POLICY AND INDUCTION SUPPORT FOR SECOND-YEAR TEACHERS


All 4 second-year teacher study participants from Copley received instructional support that was rated high in quality compared, with only 1 of the 4 from Ashton (see Table A4 in the appendix). These differences seemed related to differences in district policy related to professional development for second-year teachers, and differences in the understandings of induction held by mentors, principals, and other educators in the districts. That is, several educators in Copley viewed induction as helping new teachers acquire content-specific pedagogy and analyze student learning, and their understandings seemed to mediate the effects of district professional development policy on second-year teachers. In contrast, Ashton did not offer comprehensive districtwide assistance to second-year teachers as they went through the assessment process, and few second-year teachers in the district addressed content-specific pedagogy or student learning with colleagues.


This section describes the induction support received by second-year teacher study participants from each district; the purpose is to show how district policy and educators’ understandings in Copley and Ashton appeared to have some effect on instructional assistance for second-year teachers.


COPLEY


In the late 1990s, the state of Connecticut piloted the BEST portfolios in mathematics, science, and English/language arts (E/LA), and all second-year teachers in these content areas were required to complete portfolios. During the pilot, some second-year teachers in Copley had opportunities to address instructional issues and portfolio requirements with their mentors, but many others did not. In recognition of this, when the portfolios were implemented in several additional areas (including elementary education) in 2000–2001, Copley assistant superintendent Valerie Richards arranged for portfolio scorers from the district to facilitate separate workshops for elementary and secondary teachers (in January 2001).


At the elementary level, the January workshop was facilitated by the principal of Sentinel, Donna Gordon, and an administrator from another school. At the secondary level, teachers in varying content areas ran the workshops. The E/LA workshop, for example, was cofacilitated by Laura Crenshaw, a mentor who participated in the study. Following these initial workshops, teachers were encouraged to contact or meet with scorers as they worked on their portfolios.


This district policy ensured that all second-year teachers in Copley had access to extensive support as they went through the assessment process. In fact, most second-year teachers in the district, including all 4 study participants, worked closely with their mentors and/or with portfolio scorers between January and April to plan instruction, analyze student work, and reflect on their teaching (see Table A4 in the appendix). For example, Rich Simmons, a fifth-grade teacher at Sentinel Elementary, received assistance from both his mentor, Meg Nelson, and Gordon, his principal. Early in the school year, Simmons talked with Nelson about school policies related to grading, discipline, and parent conferences. They also discussed the scope and sequence of the fifth-grade language arts curriculum in Copley. In the spring, he talked with her about his objectives for the numeracy unit for his portfolio, how the lessons went (after he had taught them), and his written reflections.


Throughout the year, Simmons discussed instructional issues and reflected on practice extensively with Gordon. For example, the most challenging part of the portfolio for Simmons, in his words, was related to the fact that


there are things in my way of thinking of teaching that are so built-in that it’s hard for me to pull them out and present them on paper. Gordon is very familiar with my teaching style and what I’m doing in my classroom. When she reads over my journals, she knows things that were probably there that I’m not indicating. She questions it. It will make me think that I need to add more.


Simmons added that Gordon was adept at scrutinizing student work in both literacy and math, and she helped him ascertain whether he had met his instructional objectives for a given unit or whether some students had not assimilated the skills or concepts he was trying to teach.


In sum, Simmons addressed instructional issues and reflected on his teaching with Nelson and Gordon throughout the school year. The quality of this assistance was rated highly because they were skilled at eliciting Simmons’s thoughts about his practice and helping him analyze the implications of his pedagogical decisions for student learning. The high quality of this support can be traced to Gordon’s strong commitment to instructional leadership and to the fact that she and Nelson viewed induction as assistance with content-specific pedagogy.


Another second-year teacher in Copley, Jerry Patrick, taught seventh-grade language arts at Pelham Middle School. In 1999–2000, Patrick worked closely with his mentor, Benita Sawchuk, who taught eighth-grade language arts at Pelham. Having taught the subject to seventh graders at the school, she helped Patrick acquire knowledge of the curriculum, shared instructional activities and materials, and talked with him about strategies for classroom management. The high quality of the support that Patrick received from Sawchuk seemed related to the fact that she knew the seventh-grade language arts curriculum, had participated in mentor update training, and focused on subject-specific pedagogy in her work with him.


In an interview toward the end of his second year, Patrick remarked that the January E/LA portfolio workshop provided by the district had helped him understand the rigorous nature of the assessment requirements:


It was the best thing. I thought it was even better than the state seminars. I felt more confident coming out of there than coming out of the state ones. I thought the realism was there. There were real-life people—the state had that, too—but there were real-life people and they weren’t lying to you. They were very clear about what’s involved with the portfolio.


As he worked on the portfolio, Patrick received a fair amount of support from Sawchuk, who had attended BEST mentor training in 1998, and mentor update training the following year. In her words, the update training addressed


how to actually write a portfolio and they gave you samples of portfolios, things to look for—so I had a pretty good idea of what he was supposed to be doing. BEST is very good; they’ll send me a lot of materials on what to look for, what to do with them. There’s a lot of guidance.


In sum, Patrick received high-quality assistance related to curricular knowledge, planning instruction, and portfolio development from his mentor, Benita Sawchuk, and through the district workshop on the state E/LA assessment.


As with Simmons and Patrick, another second-year teacher in Copley, Christine Gulliver, received extensive support from colleagues who were knowledgeable about the state teaching standards and portfolio requirements. In 2000–2001, Gulliver was in her second year of teaching E/LA at Southern High School in the district. As she went through the portfolio process, she had frequent opportunities to discuss instructional issues with Laura Crenshaw, the January E/LA workshop facilitator, and Tina Gorrence, a third-year teacher (mentioned above) who had successfully completed her own portfolio in 1999–2000. The quality of the assistance that Gulliver received from Crenshaw and Gorrence was rated highly because both helped her understand appropriate relationships between instructional objectives and strategies, and both stressed the importance of analyzing student learning.


For her portfolio unit, Gulliver had her students read and write about the book Night by Elie Wiesel. As she prepared this unit, she talked with Gorrence about her objectives and how to accomplish them, whereas Crenshaw assisted her in analyzing student learning and reflecting on her practice. In a meeting I observed when Gulliver was midway through this unit, Crenshaw provided her with feedback on her first reflective log:


Crenshaw: This is exactly what your reflection should be. That is exactly the type of thing you want to do.


Gulliver: Is the main purpose of the reflections to analyze what happened? I’m not sure what else to add.


Crenshaw: Make sure you look at individual students as you reflect. You’re supposed to be looking at how you would present it and how you would do it differently to improve learning.


For her unit on Night, Gulliver talked with Gorrence about her objectives and how to accomplish them. According to Gulliver, she wanted her students to consider how the Holocaust affected different characters. In her words, “I wanted the students to come to the conclusion that different people react differently—some are in a state of denial, some lose their faith, some find their faith strengthened, some go insane.” Gorrence helped her to clarify her objectives and link them to her instructional strategies.


ASHTON


Unlike their counterparts in Copley, few second-year teachers in Ashton—and only 1 of the 4 study participants—received extensive instructional assistance as they went through the portfolio process (see Table A4 in the appendix). For example, Abby Sampson taught fourth grade at Nelson Elementary and had few opportunities to acquire curricular knowledge, plan instruction, or reflect on practice with her mentor or other colleagues. She had little contact with her mentor, Cathy Logan, a math resource teacher, because Logan worked part-time at Nelson and did not know the fourth-grade curriculum very well. Although Sampson focused on the needs of individual students with Maria Batista, a bilingual transition teacher at Nelson, she was not able to address whole-class instruction with her.As she worked on her portfolio, Sampson received some assistance from Christine Kellogg (mentioned above), who had participated in mentor update training and was knowledgeable about the BEST portfolio requirements. In particular, Kellogg helped Sampson understand the overall structure of the assessment and the specific requirements of the various tasks. At the same time, Kellogg’s ability to help Sampson plan units for her portfolio and reflect on her teaching during the units was limited by the fact that she taught kindergarten and was not familiar with Sampson’s curriculum. Sampson noted that she would have preferred to have had a mentor who taught fourth grade or perhaps third grade and who was at the school full time. In her words,


If I had a mentor that I felt comfortable with, that I could really have worked closely with on my portfolio—it would have definitely been a lot easier for me because I really ran around looking for help. It wasn’t offered to me. It was not offered to me. The only thing that the district did was to send me reminders about what I had to do. And you know, “I know what I have to do and I’m stressed already.” That didn’t help.


In sum, the quality of assistance that Sampson received from Kellogg in the area of portfolio support in literacy was rated medium, whereas the quality of support she received in other areas (from Kellogg, Logan, and others) was rated low. Although Kellogg had knowledge of the state teaching standards and portfolio requirements, the quality of support she provided to Sampson was limited by her lack of relevant curricular knowledge.


Another study participant, Cassie Putnam, taught Algebra I and II at Ashton High School. In her first year, Putnam was assigned to a mentor, Jerry Belvoir, who was also an algebra teacher, and they met regularly to discuss issues related to curriculum, instruction, and classroom management. In her second year, though, Belvoir took an extended leave of absence for health reasons, and Putnam was unable to find another veteran math teacher with whom she could discuss her teaching,


For the portfolio, Putnam did a unit for Algebra II on conducting experiments and displaying and analyzing data. As she went through the unit, she met frequently with another second-year algebra teacher, Keith Stiggins, to share lesson plans, learning objectives, and reflections. The nature of the assistance that Putnam received from (and provided to) Stiggins in the areas of planning and reflection was rated medium because they talked regularly about students’ background knowledge and about the effects of their instructional decisions on student learning. At the same time, the quality of assistance she received from him was limited by the fact that he was still learning about the district’s algebra curriculum and the BEST portfolio requirements.


Putnam received little support from the school administration as she went through the portfolio process. In her view, the principal and assistant principal at Ashton High School had little knowledge of the portfolio requirements: “They’re supposed to be BEST-trained, but they had no clue what went into the portfolio, the amount of effort and time and energy it took.” The administrators’ lack of knowledge about the BEST Program seemed related to their failure to provide Putnam with release time or to ensure that she had access to experienced educators as she worked on her portfolio.


In sum, the variations in the quality of induction support experienced by second-year teachers in Copley and Ashton seemed related to variations in district professional development policy and in the understandings of induction held by mentors, portfolio scorers, principals, and others. As compared with their counterparts in Ashton, second-year teachers in Copley were much more likely to have opportunities to address content-specific pedagogy and student learning in their interactions with other educators as they went through the portfolio process in spring 2001 and throughout the entire 2000–2001 school year.


CONCLUSIONS


The results of this study extend existing scholarship on mentoring and induction, and suggest implications for future research. The study found that beginning teachers in Copley experienced much higher quality assistance than their counterparts in Ashton with regard to acquiring curricular knowledge, planning instruction, and reflecting on practice. These variations in the nature and quality of instructional assistance seemed related to district policy involving mentor selection, mentor assignment, and professional development. In addition, the understandings of induction held by mentors and others seemed to mediate the effects of district policy on new teachers’ experiences. In this concluding section, I consider the implications of these findings for future research on mentoring and induction, and I discuss some limitations of the study.


My study provides evidence that beginning teachers’ experiences in two urban Connecticut districts seemed to be affected by whether they had access to mentors or other colleagues who were strongly familiar with the content area and grade level they taught. This finding of the possible importance of a grade-level and content-area match is consistent with other qualitative research studies involving new teachers and mentors (Feiman-Nemser & Parker, 1992; Tauer, 1999; Vonk, 1993). This result is also consistent with Smith and Ingersoll’s (2004) national study of mentoring and induction. In their analysis of more than 3,200 beginning teachers using the 1999–2000 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) and the Teacher Follow-Up Survey (TFS), they reported that having a helpful mentor who taught in the same field reduced the likelihood that a new teacher would leave the profession by 32% (Smith & Ingersoll).


My study’s finding of the possible importance of a grade-level and content-area match points to the potential value of linking new teachers with mentors and other colleagues who have knowledge of their curriculum, and pedagogical expertise and the ability to work closely with other adults. That is, one implication for future research is that the grade levels and subject areas taught by mentors and other colleagues can be thought of as proxies for knowledge and skill sets that are useful and relevant to beginning teachers. For example, mentors—such as Meg Nelson, Laura Crenshaw, and Benita Sawchuk in Copley—who teach one or two grades above or below their mentees and have extensive knowledge of their curriculum may be more effective than mentors or colleagues at the same grade level with less instructional expertise or who are less able to work collaboratively with others. In future research, it would be useful for scholars to examine not only whether there are grade-level and content-area matches between mentors and mentees but also how mentors’ and other educators’ knowledge and skills influence beginning teachers’ induction experiences.


This study points to the need for researchers to focus not only on induction policy design but also on the ways in which the implementation or enactment of policy is shaped by the understandings of induction held by mentors, principals, and other educators. Although mentor assignment policy in both Copley and Ashton attempted to match each first-year teacher with a mentor at the same grade level or content area, there were significant variations in the enactment of this policy across the two districts, possibly attributable to differences in district leaders’ understandings of and actions regarding induction.17 Further, this study provides some evidence that the understandings of induction held by mentors, principals, and other educators seemed to mediate the effects of district policy on new teachers’ experiences. In this way, the study builds on research (e.g., Coburn, 2001a, 2001b; Spillane 2000, 2002) that has considered the role of educators’ cognitive frames or sense-making processes in interpreting and responding to reform messages in their environments. In sum, a second implication for future research is that scholars should consider how educators’ understandings of induction interact with school and district policies and organizational conditions to shape their work with beginning teachers.


The findings from this study suggest a need for researchers to conceptualize induction as involving multiple individuals in the provision of support for beginning teachers. There can be several obstacles to the formation of strong one-on-one mentor-mentee relationships, including differences in teaching assignment, differences in teaching philosophy, differences in personality, proximity in the school, and whether trust is established (Edick, Fluckiger, & McGlamery, 2001; Johnson et al., 2004; Little, 1990; Tauer, 1999). Even when strong mentor-mentee relationships are established, beginning teachers are still likely to seek occasional assistance from other colleagues who have more expertise in a particular area and/or are more readily accessible than their mentors.


Consistent with other research (e.g., Bainer & Didham, 1995; Johnson et al., 2004; Little, 1990; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004), the findings from this study suggest that district policy can positively influence beginning teachers’ experiences by offering them multiple sources of support. In Copley, most first-year teachers were assigned to a mentor who taught in the same content area or grade level, and all second-year teachers had access to portfolio scorers as they went through the assessment process. In almost all cases, beginning teachers in this district acquired curricular knowledge, planned instruction, and reflected on practice with multiple individuals: their assigned mentors, colleagues, and/or portfolio scorers. In contrast, new teachers in Ashton, who did not have access to multiple sources of support, were less likely to address instructional issues or receive portfolio-related support from their mentors, scorers, or other educators. In sum, a third implication for research is the importance of viewing induction as involving multiple sources of support.


One limitation in this study involves the generalizability of the results. Because the study included 8–10 first- and second-year teachers from each district, I was not able to discern significant quantitative relationships between district induction policy and the nature and quality of assistance for new teachers. Further, the two districts in the study were not representative of a larger population of districts. As a result, it is unclear whether the differences between these districts would be systematic in a larger sample of similar district types. Therefore, a goal for future research could be to use larger data sets to examine connections between the nature and quality of induction support, and district policy related to mentor selection, mentor assignment, and professional development. Other researchers have begun to employ nationally representative data to study mentoring and induction (e.g., Luczak, 2004; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004), but they have not yet considered the relationships between these aspects of district policy and the nature and quality of new teachers’ induction experiences.


A second limitation to the study was my limited ability to gather data on the understandings of induction held by the new teacher study participants, in part because their understandings were changing over time. As a result, I was unable to examine how beginning teachers’ own beliefs about new teacher development and induction shaped their interactions with mentors, principals, and other educators. The understandings held by mentors, other experienced teachers, principals, and district administrators seemed to be more stable and, thus, more readily identifiable. With regard to future research, a useful contribution would be to examine the sense-making processes that new teachers, mentors, and school and district leaders employ as they construct understandings of induction and teacher development (Coburn, 2001a, 2001b; Weick, 1995).


Third, because of time and resource limitations, I did not systematically examine the influence of student demographics in individual teachers’ classrooms and schools on their induction experiences. At the same time, my study did compare the experiences of new teachers in two urban districts—Copley and Ashton—that served very similar populations of students in terms of race and socioeconomic status. Given the comparable student demographics in Copley and Ashton, it appears that the differences in the nature and quality of induction support received by first- and second-year teachers in the two districts were related to factors other than variations in race and social class.


Fourth, I was unable to fully explain the reasons that Copley and Ashton differed in terms of the relative numbers of experienced teachers in each district who were willing to serve as mentors. Several factors seemed to contribute to these differences, including district leadership, district size, the role of local teacher unions, and teacher mobility. Although I inquired about each of these factors in my interviews, limitations in my data prevented me from clearly attributing differences in mentor teacher supply to one or more of these factors. Consequently, a potentially fruitful area of research would be to examine the role of district leadership, district size, local teacher unions, and teacher mobility on induction policies and practices, including the supply of mentors.


Finally, although this study provides evidence regarding the nature and quality of induction support for first- and second-year teachers, it will ultimately be important to understand how teachers’ induction experiences during their first two years influence over time (1) their knowledge and skills, (2) their instructional practices, (3) their retention in their schools and districts and in the teaching profession,18 and (4) the academic performance of their students. New teachers in Copley had extensive opportunities to acquire curricular knowledge, plan instruction, and reflect on practice, in part because of district policy related to mentor selection, mentor assignment, and professional development, and the understandings of induction held by mentors, principals, and other educators. At the same time, it is not clear from this study the extent to which these high-quality induction experiences are likely to affect teachers’ knowledge, skills, and practices; their decisions about whether and where to teach; or their impact on student learning as they continue on in their careers.


Appendix


Table A1. District Induction Policy in Copley and Ashton (2000–2001)


District Policy

Copley

Ashton

Mentor Selection

(Design: same across districts)

Selection criteria include instructional expertise and ability to work with others

Selection criteria include instructional expertise and ability to work with others

Mentor Selection

(Enactment: variation between districts)

Rare shortages of applicants for mentor positions who meet criteria

Constant shortages of applicants for mentor positions who meet criteria

Mentor Assignment

(Design: same across

districts)

Attempt to match each first-year teacher with mentor at same grade level and content area

Attempt to match each first-year teacher with mentor at same grade level and content area

Mentor Assignment

(Enactment: variation

between districts)

Most first-year teachers assigned to mentors who teach in same content area or grade level

Few first-year teachers assigned to mentors who teach in same content area or grade level

Mentor Training

(Design and Enactment: same across districts)

State BEST mentor training; mentor update training

State BEST mentor training; mentor update training

Mentors’ Work Conditions

(Design and Enactment: same across districts)

No stipends or release time from district

No stipends or release time from district

Professional Development for First-Year Teachers

(Design and Enactment: similar across

districts)

Workshops address curriculum, student assessment, classroom management, parent involvement

Workshops address curriculum, student assessment, classroom management, parent involvement

Professional Development for Second-Year Teachers

(Design and Enactment: variation between districts)

Workshops on BEST portfolios, portfolio scorers work with second-year teachers

Does not address BEST portfolios

New Teacher Evaluation

(Design: similar across districts)

Based on Connecticut Competency Instrument (CCI)

Based on Connecticut Competency Instrument (CCI)

New Teacher Evaluation

(Enactment: similar across districts)

Variation in standards and evaluation procedures across district

Variation in standards and evaluation procedures across district


Table A2. Student and Teacher Demographic Information in Copley and Ashton (2000–2001)


Copley

Ashton

Number of Students

 10,216

3,361

Location

Geographically large urban community surrounded by suburban communities

Geographically small urban community surrounded by rural communities

% eligible for free or

reduced lunch

58.0%

54.3%

Race/ethnicity of students

16.8% African American

47.7% Hispanic

32.9% White

2.6% Asian

 

6.1% African American

45.7% Hispanic

47.1% White

0.8% Asian

% with non-English home language

31.9%

27.5%

Race/ethnicity of teachers

85.2% White

14.8% Minority

90.7% White

9.3% Minority


Table A3. Nature and Quality of Instructional Support for First-Year Study Participants in Copley and Ashton (2000–2001)


Copley

Curricular Knowledge

Instructional Planning

Reflection

Carolyn Demarest, first grade, Notting Elem. School; 300 students (K–5), 70% low income

Medium - Literacy

Low - Mathematics

Medium - Literacy

Low - Mathematics

Low - Literacy

Low - Mathematics

Julie Gillis, fifth grade,

Sentinel Elem. School;

650 students (K–5),

61% low income

High - Literacy

High - Mathematics

 

High - Literacy

High - Mathematics

High - Literacy

High - Mathematics

Shelly Conway, seventh grade E/LA, Pelham Middle School; 775 students (6–8), 70% low income

Medium

High

High

John Muldoon, ninth grade E/LA, Southern High School; 2,400 students (9–12),

54% low income

High

High

High


Ashton

Curricular Knowledge

Instructional Planning

Reflection

Kelly Gentry, second grade, Nelson Elem. School; 275 students (K–4), 72% low income

Low - Literacy

Low - Mathematics

Medium - Literacy

Low - Mathematics

Low - Literacy

Low - Mathematics

Miguel Esteban, sixth

grade, Central Middle

School; 1,000

students (5–8), 63%

low income

Medium - E/LA

Low - H/SS

Low - Mathematics

Medium - E/LA

Low - H/SS

Low - Mathematics

Medium - E/LA

Low - H/SS

Low - Mathematics

Leslie Matson, sixth grade, Central Middle School; 1,000 students (5–8), 63% low income

High - E/LA

High - H/SS

Low - Mathematics

High - E/LA

High - H/SS

Low – Mathematics

Medium - E/LA

Medium - H/SS

Low - Mathematics

Darrell King, ninth grade E/LA, Ashton High School; 925 students (9–12), 63% low income

Low

Medium

Low


Table A4. Nature and Quality of Instructional Support For Second-Year Study  Participants in Copley and Ashton (2000–2001)*


Copley

Curricular

Instructional

Reflection

Portfolio

Knowledge

Planning

Support

Stephanie Kingsley, first grade, Sentinel Elem. School;

650 students (K–5),

61% low income

High - Literacy

High - Math

High - Literacy

High - Math

High - Literacy

High – Math

High - Literacy

High - Math

Rich Simmons, fifth grade, Sentinel Elem. School;

650 students (K–5),

61% low income

Med. - Literacy

Med. - Math

 

High - Literacy

High - Math

High - Literacy

High – Math

High - Literacy

High - Math

Jerry Patrick, seventh grade E/LA, Pelham Middle School; 775 students (6–8), 70% low income

High

High

High

High

Christine Gulliver, 10th grade E/LA, Southern High School; 2,400 students (9–12),

54% low income

High

High

High

High


Ashton

Curricular

Instructional

Reflection

Portfolio

Knowledge

Planning

Support

Abby Sampson, fourth grade, Nelson Elem. School; 275 students (K–4), 72% low income

Low - Literacy

Low - Math

Low - Literacy

Low - Math

Low – Literacy

Low – Math

Med. -Literacy

Low - Math

Marina Kerry, fifth

grade, Central Middle

School; 1,000 students

(5–8), 63% low income

Med. - Literacy

Med. - Math

Med. - Literacy

Med. - Math

Low – Literacy

Low - Math

Low - Literacy

Low - Math

Cassie Putnam, Algebra I, II, Ashton High School; 925 students (9–12), 63% low income

Low

Medium

Medium

Low

Jack Wesley, U.S. History, Ashton High School; 925 students (9–12), 63% low income

High

High

High

High


Notes


1 Pseudonyms are used for all districts, schools, and personnel.


2 Some educators view induction as involving orientation to school context and assistance with classroom management (Gold, 1996). According to this conception, the role of mentoring, other induction activities, and teacher assessment is to help new teachers acclimate to their work environment and to promote and evaluate their ability to manage student behavior. In contrast, induction is viewed by other educators as helping new teachers get oriented to their school context, manage student behavior, acquire content-specific pedagogical knowledge, and examine links between their teaching and student learning (Feiman-Nemser, 2001). According to this conception, mentoring, other induction activities, and teacher assessment should not only focus on orientation to school context and classroom management, but these activities should also help novices acquire curricular knowledge, plan instruction, and reflect on practice.


3 This article focuses primarily on how district policy in two Connecticut school districts seemed to influence beginning teachers’ experiences. In another article (Youngs, in press), the author examines the effect of principal leadership and other school contextual factors on new teachers’ experiences in three districts, including the two featured here.


4 Even when adjusted for the high cost of living in the state, teacher salaries in Connecticut have remained among the highest in the nation for the past several years (1991–1992 through 2004–2005).


5 Some scorers also serve as mentors, but the state does not allow them to evaluate the portfolios of their mentees.


6 With regard to the design of district policy, most districts in Connecticut had similar policies in the areas of mentor selection, mentor assignment, and mentors’ work conditions. With regard to the enactment of district policy, there were significant variations across the state in district policy related to mentor selection and assignment.


7 CSDE employs a classification system involving Educational Reference Groups (ERGs) to group together school districts that serve public school students from similar socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds. Grouping similar districts together enables CSDE to make legitimate comparisons among districts with regard to student performance on state tests and other student and teacher outcome measures. Seven variables are used to categorize districts into ERGs including income, education, occupation, poverty, family structure, home language, and district enrollment. All variables are based on families with children attending public school. The seven districts in ERG I include Copley and Ashton and have the lowest SES levels and highest need levels of all groups. Median family income is below $25,000 and is significantly lower than any other group. Further, this group's percentage of children from single-parent families (51.4%), percent of children receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC; 42.6%), and percent of families who do not speak English at home (37.4%) are significantly higher than any other group. Average enrollment in ERG I districts is just above 13,000.


8 I sought teachers who were teaching in core content areas because I was interested in understanding possible connections between district policy and new teachers’ experiences acquiring curricular knowledge, planning instruction, and reflecting on their practice. I believed that beginning teachers in core content areas, even highly competent ones, were likely to have questions about, and seek support regarding, curriculum, planning, and student learning. I sought teachers who were teaching full time because I believed that their needs and instructional growth would be different from part-time teachers and that they were more likely to develop close working relationships with mentors, colleagues, and/or principals. I sought teachers who had earned standard licenses because I felt that their needs and instructional growth would be different from teachers who had entered the profession through alternative or emergency routes.


9 There is no reason to believe that those new teachers in Copley and Ashton who volunteered to participate in the study had significantly different induction experiences compared with those who did not volunteer their participation. Indeed, there are several reasons that the induction experiences of the two groups (i.e., those who volunteered to participate and those who did not) were similar. For one, first-year teachers in both districts were invited to participate in the study in September 2000, when they were just beginning to develop relationships with mentors and other colleagues; this decreases the likelihood that only novices receiving strong support would have selected to participate and vice-versa. Second, the experiences of second-year teachers in Copley and Ashton were strikingly similar within, but not across, these districts. As discussed next, second-year teachers in Copley consistently received extensive instructional assistance, whereas their counterparts in Ashton had much fewer opportunities to work with colleagues.


10 In 2000-01, the state required districts to assign mentors to first-year teachers, but districts were not required to provide mentors or other types of support to second-year teachers. Consequently, some mentors provided assistance to their mentees for only one year (or less).


11 The beginning teachers in the study taught elementary education (grades 1–6), English/language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science. The mentors in the study taught elementary education (grades K–6), special education, English/language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science.


12 Principals were asked about their direct interactions with beginning teachers; their involvement with mentor recruitment and assignment; their efforts to facilitate mentor-novice, grade-team, and subject-area meetings; and their knowledge about and views of the BEST Program. Teacher participants were asked about curriculum, instruction, and assessment at their schools; opportunities for grade-level or subject-matter colleagues to meet; principal leadership related to induction and professional development; and the nature and extent of their contact with new teacher study participants. Information about principal leadership and school context was also obtained from interviews with mentors and beginning teachers in the study.


13 I interviewed the mentoring facilitators in fall 2000 to learn about the history of the induction programs in their districts and their status at the time I began my research. I interviewed them again in June 2001 to learn about the status of their programs at the end of the school year and whether any changes were in store for 2001–2002. I interviewed the union leaders on one or two occasions (fall 2000 and spring 2001) in order to hear their perspectives on the history and current status of their districts’ programs.


14 In 2000–2001, Meg Nelson also mentored Rich Simmons, a second-year fifth-grade teacher at the school; Simmons also participated in the study.


15 Looping in Copley involved teaching the same group of students over two consecutive school years (e.g., teaching a group of fourth-grade students in one year and teaching the same group the following year, when they are fifth graders).


16 In February, Donna Gordon, the principal at Sentinel, recommended that Nelson focus on strategies for teaching writing in her work with Gillis. This recommendation was based on an observation of Gillis that Gordon conducted in January, and a postobservation conference in which Gillis shared some student writing samples with the principal.


17 In other writing (Youngs, 2003), the author describes the different ways in which district leaders in Copley and Ashton responded to CSDE’s implementation of the BEST portfolios, and considers how their responses shaped the design and enactment of district policy related to mentor selection, mentor assignment, teacher evaluation, and professional development.


18 In other writing (Youngs, 2004), the author analyzes data on teacher retention, migration, and attrition in Copley and Ashton from 1998–1999 through 2001–2002. Although it was not possible to establish causal relationships between district induction practices and teacher retention, the data suggest possible associations among high-quality induction practices, teacher salaries, and levels of retention in urban high-poverty districts.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 4, 2007, p. 797-837
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12872, Date Accessed: 12/4/2021 9:41:04 PM

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About the Author
  • Peter Youngs
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    PETER YOUNGS is an assistant professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University. His research interests focus on policy and practice in the areas of teacher education, induction, and professional development. Recent publications have appeared in Educational Policy and Review of Educational Research.
 
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