By SHAUN KIRBY
PROVIDENCE—Members of the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) were on hand this past Saturday to inform school committee members from across the state about Rhode Island’s ‘Beginning Teacher Induction Program.’ Participants of Rhode Island School Committee Association’s annual meeting took in a detailed presentation about the steps Rhode Island schools have taken in transitioning new teachers into the classroom culture and larger community.
The induction program has been instituted through Race to the Top funding in order to mold more effective teachers early in their careers. According to the program’s structure, relatively experienced teachers are fully released from their regular positions in order to train and serve as a coach for new teachers entering into the Rhode Island education system. Potential mentors are carefully selected and assessed as they continue through their participation in the induction program.
“We had 99 teachers apply state-wide and 17 were accepted, which overwhelmed us,” said Lisa Foehr of the Rhode Island Department of Education. “That signals a desire on the part of teachers to be leaders in the community and to advance their own skills, helping others to do the same.”
Foehr cited a number of benefits for teachers who participate in the induction program, including a flexible time schedule, the ability to focus wholly on new teacher mentorship, and the development of a system-wide perspective of pedagogy in Rhode Island.
“There are 257 brand-new teachers in Rhode Island this year, and our induction coaches’ focus is 100 percent on them,” said Foehr. “We keep teachers on as mentors for two to three years, at which point we return them to their school district with newly developed skills.”
Members of various school committees from across the state asked questions about the implementation of the program, specifically how RIDE plans to sustain the program when Race To The Top funding runs out.
“If we are not successful through this program in benefitting our kids, then why do we have it?” said Foehr. “That is the question we ask. We need to look at student information to learn if they are doing better when teachers are observed through the induction program. We have to prove that we’ve kept effective teachers who are good for students.”
“The other piece of what happens to the program is funding, for which we have had a very open dialogue with superintendents across the state,” she added. “We will need to maintain a regional approach, through which we can do more than when each district administers mentor programs like this on its own.”
Induction coaches also spoke at RISCA’s annual meeting in order to provide personal impressions of the program from an internal perspective. Alicia Manganelli, a nine-year teacher at Deering Middle School in West Warwick, offered her insight into the program.
“It is really exciting to see what goes on in other school districts and the similar struggles that new teachers face across the state,” said Alicia Manganelli, an induction coach and Warwick teacher. “We are in the classroom with teachers for 90 minutes a week, spending a lot of time working on things like lesson planning.”
“The teachers are excited to work with parents and other school-related issues, but there are so many moving parts to the job,” she added. “It helps new teachers to have someone who’s sole responsibility is to help them get through.”
Narragansett Superintendent Katherine Sipala discussed how the induction program has been implemented in her district’s schools Wednesday evening, citing that although the program has great potential, it is still in an embryonic stage and needs further real-time application.
“This is a very new program,” said Sipala. “We have two induction coaches assigned to Narragansett who work with seven of our first year teachers, right out of college.”
“It is too early to fully evaluate the program’s success because the coaches are still in training while they are in the field, and they were brought in just this summer,” she added. “Induction enhances our already existing mentorship program and is not meant to replace it. There is also still a need for mentoring new teachers altogether, not just ones new to the profession, but those new to the district need to be acclimated.”
Sipala noted that with upcoming teacher negotiations, the school system’s ability to demonstrate quality assistance programs for teachers in their development, including induction, may help in collective bargaining.
“Mentoring is a big part of the teacher negotiations,” said Sipala. “A weakness of the induction program may be that coaches only work with a new teacher for one year. We have discussed potential redesigns for the program’s future, such as implementing induction in the second year of a teacher’s mentorship.”
“The program has a lot of potential, but it is still in development,” she added.