Northwest NEWS

August 14, 2000

Front Page

Northshore creates strategies to energize teachers


by Bronwyn Wilson
   It's a gorgeous day and sixty-eight teachers could be outside soaking up the summer sun at the beach or whacking a ball on a tennis court. Instead, the Northshore School District teachers are seated in groups at the Ricketts Auditorium. And none seem to give tans or tennis a second thought. They're in training to mentor new teachers, those fresh out of school or new to the District or changing assignments. The atmosphere is alive with conversation.
   "We've all been first year teachers and we know it's important to give support and help," said Catherine Hennum, Special Ed teacher at Hollywood Hills Elementary.
   Her colleague, Jeannie Kuban who teaches fourth grade at Hollywood Hills added, "This is a brand new refreshed approach to mentoring."
   In the past, new teachers were hooked up with one teacher who would mentor throughout the year. This school year, new teachers will be treated to a different mentoring program designed to give them the best headstart possible.
   "We're starting school based mentor teams," said Gail Robbins, Director of Teaching and Learning at Northshore. "We really want to draw good, new teachers to Northshore and we want to provide a strong support system when they get here."
   According to Robbins, sixty new teachers have been hired with forty more positions to be filled. And there are eighty-eight veteran teachers who have volunteered to be a part of a mentor team.
   The teams will work as a group in assisting and welcoming a new teacher. One mentor will make the initial contact and might invite the new teacher to coffee. Another mentor will orient the teacher to their assigned building and facilitate introductions to fellow teachers. Robbins stated that the team effort produces greater benefits than a single mentor trying to help answer every question and taking care of the entire orientation process. The teams have different people with different expertise and a group allows for more time given to each new teacher. Supported by grant funds and district in-service funds, the program is a needed boost, especially for first year teachers.
   Kuban, who is a team facilitator, explained the mentors' enthusiasm for the program.
   "It's in response to caring about the profession," she said. "And to provide an opportunity for teachers to have a deepened professional dialogue."
   She went on to say that as educational reform is implemented, the requirements of effective mentorship have changed. She also stated that another facet to effective mentorship is helping to bridge the idealism new teachers develop in college with the practicalities that go with teaching. Kuban emphasized that good teachers aren't necessarily good mentors. "We're trying to identify good teachers who also have the characteristics to be good mentors."
   Another innovation the District will implement to help new, and veteran teachers alike, is the strategy of 'time banking.'
   The idea is to extend each school day by five minutes, thereby allowing the District to 'bank' time for early release days. For example, school might start at 9:10 a.m. rather than the past start time of 9:15 a.m. This pooled time translates to blocks of time which will go toward release days. For Northshore, there will be six early release days in the upcoming school year.
   "It's a strategy that is becoming more common," said Becky Clauson, Executive Director of Elementary Education.
   Other districts have used the strategy of banking time and it works in different ways. Bellevue used a version of it. Clauson said that the change was needed to give teachers a larger block of time to meet the demands of educational reform that is more complex than before. New curriculums, higher standards, and the increasing range of student needs places a much greater demand on the need for teachers to have an opportunity to collaborate about instruction, curricular material and the sophisticated Washington Assessment Student Learning (WASL) test.
   "In my view the need is for innovative and creative problem solving about how to do this complex work with limited resources."
   To do their job effectively, and successfully, teachers need the blocks of time and this is a step the district is taking to help meet the need. However, this is not extra time, but rearranged time. The strategy only saves up time and gives it back in a larger chunk. But Clauson would like to see more time for the teachers, not just time rearranged.
   On release days, teachers will have the opportunity to tackle such things as: analyzing and discussing student work; designing new strategies to bring student to standard; short and long-term lesson planning; and meeting with specialists to coordinate instruction, such as the Librarian, Reading Resource, Special Ed.
   Mentoring new teachers and banking time are positive ways to show teachers they are valued. The bottom line‹students reap the benefits when teachers are energized with a renewed sense of purpose.