Global Perspectives: Mentoring and Support for New Teachers in Ontario and Finland

Teacher in Classroom

Nathan Driskell
by Nathan Driskell

As this month’s Statistic of the Month shows, teacher preparation in the top-performing jurisdictions involves practical experience working with and learning from experienced teachers in schools. But many of the top performers do not stop there. They recognize that even after completing pre-service training, new teachers need structured support from trained mentors. Mentors observe their mentees, coach them and provide detailed feedback on their teaching. This induction experience ensures that collaborative continuous professional learning is structured into teachers’ days from the very beginning of their careers.

This month’s Global Perspectives will explore teacher induction practices in two jurisdictions that have begun implementing them within the last 10 years. One of these jurisdictions, Finland, has gradually been rolling out induction in a pilot phase. The other, Ontario, Canada, has a program that has been in place province-wide for nine years. Both cases demonstrate that supports for new teachers are a major part of the system even in countries where pre-service education is strong. Furthermore, for such systems to work at scale, jurisdictional governments play an important role in regulating the training of mentors and the dosage of mentoring activities, even in cultures with a strong tradition of local control.

The Case of Finland:

Finnish studentsand teacherFinland’s comprehensive teacher recruitment and training process has led the country to focus less intensively on induction, because Finns assume that their teachers are already well-prepared. That being said, Finnish policymakers trust that each school and municipality will take care of new teachers’ entry to their teaching assignments. Across the nation, teachers are given a probationary period of six months, during which it is assumed many municipalities and schools, as part of their mission, have adopted support systems for new staff. However, evidence of broad participation is mixed. According to the 2013 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), 68 percent of principals reported that new teachers at their school had access to induction programs, but only 28 percent of teachers reported that they participated in those programs.[1]

In order to address this gap, the Ministry of Education and the teachers’ union have both recommended that Finland provide a standardized, nationwide induction phase for newly certified teachers. To that end, a pilot induction program called the “Osaava Verme” (“Expert Peer Group Mentoring”) launched in 2008. It gives new teachers the opportunity to meet together monthly in teams, facilitated by experienced and trained teachers, and supported by faculty expertise from the eight teacher preparation institutions and funding from the Finnish Work Environmental Fund. Due to the positive reception from participants, both mentees and mentors, the pilot network has grown each year over the last seven years, from a single pilot to numerous networks across the country. Depending on an evaluation of the results, it may soon be codified into national education policy.[2]

In these monthly meetings, new teachers reflect on their experiences in small groups and brainstorm how to address the problems they are facing. New teachers are expected to come to each meeting with a problem from practice, and solicit the support of their peers. This model of peer-group mentoring is drawn from the tradition of constructivist learning. The hope is that new teachers will take collective ownership for the challenges of their peers, and grow professionally by learning not only how to overcome those challenges, but also how to think creatively about how to support one another. The facilitator of this group is an experienced teacher who is given training on coaching and facilitation, so that he/she can step in and prompt reflections when necessary, settle interpersonal conflicts and so on. Although as long-time teachers, the facilitator may have viewpoints on solutions to the problems at hand, the expectation is that he/she will guide the conversation to draw these solutions out of the group, rather than lecturing from his/her own experience.

The Case of Ontario, Canada:

Teacher'sArmIn Ontario, all newly hired teachers are required to spend one year in the New Teacher Induction Program, which was established and fully funded by the Ministry of Education in 2006. This program is particularly valuable in Ontario because an oversupply of teachers means that prospective teachers may go two to five years after their preparation program before being hired fulltime, and may need additional support to readjust to school settings or relearn what they have learned.

Although the Ministry mandates participation in the New Teacher Induction Program, it is designed by individual local school boards, and so may look different from district to district. However, the Ministry sets guidelines to ensure that quality across the province is consistent. Every district’s offering of the New Teacher Induction Program must include three components: an orientation to the school where the new teacher will teach; ongoing mentoring throughout the year; and professional development and training.

While the local school boards determine individual policies for the recruitment and selection of mentors, the Ministry requires
 all mentors to be teachers in good standing with knowledge of curriculum and teaching strategies and demonstrated problem solving skills. They must receive training on topics including: developing a mentoring plan; delivering feedback sensitively and effectively; and resolving crises.[3] [4]

Unlike Finland, where one mentor facilitates a communal group of mentees, mentoring meetings in Ontario are typically one-on-one, although communal models exist in some districts. Often, each new teacher may have two or three mentors: one content specialist and one grade level specialist, for example. The goal is to create a “mentoring web” that mentees can customize to fit their needs and the level of support they feel they require.

Both mentors and mentees must receive release time to participate in the program. The amount varies by jurisdiction, but new teachers have reported receiving approximately six release days per academic year to share with their mentors.[5] This can be used for collaborating on lesson plans, observing and debriefing delivered lessons, collaborating on grading student work, and conferencing about upcoming professional development opportunities.

Principals are required to conduct two performance evaluations of new teachers during the first year; teachers who do not score well may be placed in the program for a second year, although teachers can and do elect to stay in the program for a second year if they wish. In fact, the program is considered so helpful that 81 percent of all new teachers participated in the program for a second year in 2012, and 90 percent of participants rated the support of the program as “helpful” or “very helpful.”[6]

Lessons Learned

Flexibility vs. Autonomy

In jurisdictions that value local control, teacher induction practices may look different from locality to locality. For example, some districts in Ontario may instruct their mentors to offer one-on-one coaching, while others may focus on collaborative group work. However, municipal, state, or national governments tightly regulate several components to ensure that they are effective:

  • Ensuring that mentors receive training, both on interpersonal skills such as best practices for coaching, and on the pedagogy they will observe;
  • Giving mentors and mentees release time and mandating a set amount of time for them to meet regularly, so that mentorship does not become an afterthought; and
  • Setting a list of qualities for selecting mentors, to ensure that district leadership or principals are selecting the best candidates for the role, rather than allowing anyone to volunteer.

 

Developing an Induction System Even When Teacher Preparation is Strong

Finland and Ontario are both countries with renowned teacher preparation programs. This has not stopped them from developing, piloting, and moving to codify induction programs, because they recognize that even well prepared teachers need support once they get into the school building.

Valuing Expertise of Both Mentors and Mentees

Mentees are viewed not merely as neophytes in need of more support, but as a community of less experienced experts who can come up with the solutions to their problems with the right facilitation and support. Mentors are not given a set curriculum and rubric to evaluate and coach their mentees, but are instead offered training and guidance on best practices, trusted to deliver appropriate support tailored to mentees’ needs, and expected to correct course based on their mentees’ feedback.

Other Global Best Practices

HKPrimaryTeacherOntario and Finland are far from the only top performers using induction to support their new teachers, although they each have one of the more recently adopted induction programs. For an overview of what fellow top performers Shanghai and Singapore are doing to create professional work environments for teachers, including tying mentoring and induction to highly articulated career ladder systems, see July’s Global Perspectives piece.


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[1] OECD (2015). Supporting New Teachers. Teaching in Focus. Retrieved from http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/ 
download/5js1p1r88lg5.pdf?expires=1433517789&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=49ECC952FC1DB9AD126645125F70 
59A2

[2] http://www.osaavaverme.fi/eng

[3] Isaacs, T., et al. (2015). “Aligned Instructional Systems: Canada.” P. 21.

[4] Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (2014). The New Teacher Induction Program. Retrieved from http://www.etfo.ca/AdviceForMembers/PRSMattersBulletins/Pages/New%20Teacher%20Induction%20Program.aspx

[5] Campbell, C., Osmund-Johnson, P., Lieberman, A., & Sohn, J. (2015). International Teacher Policy Study: Ontario Case Report [draft], p. 79.

[6] Campbell, C., Osmund-Johnson, P., Lieberman, A., & Sohn, J. (2015). International Teacher Policy Study: Ontario Case Report 
[draft], p. 77.

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