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Induction Programs Improve Teacher Retention


More of the time and money spent recruiting teachers should be spent retaining them, according to educators and authors Annette L. Breaux and Dr. Harry K. Wong. Schools and districts with comprehensive, years-long induction programs for new teachers and newly-hired teachers have less turnover and better trained educators, Breaux and Wong note in their book New Teacher Induction: How to Train, Support, and Retain New Teachers.

School districts spend hundreds of thousands of dollars recruiting teachers, but invest almost nothing -- in terms of time or money -- to keep their teachers from leaving the schools or the profession. Left alone in a room full of students, plagued by self-doubts and unanswered questions, many young teachers quit in frustration after only a year or two.

Annette L. Breaux, the curriculum coordinator for the Lafourche Parish Public Schools in Thibodaux, Louisiana, witnessed that sieve effect in her own district: new teachers were pouring in, but few were retained. "They said we had nothing for them," Breaux told Education World. "They were leaving because they got no support." In 1996, Breaux's district contacted Dr. Harry K. Wong, a former high school science teacher who is now one of America's most prominent education authors and lecturers, and asked for assistance. Wong told administrators they needed a program that instructed and supported new teachers -- an induction program. "That's how we [Breaux and Wong] met and started working together," Breaux said.

Hoping to stem the defection of young, effective teachers, Breaux created the Framework for Inducting, Retaining, and Supporting Teachers (FIRST), which reduced the school system's teacher attrition rate by 80 percent. The state went on to adopt FIRST as a model induction program.

To spread the word about the effectiveness of induction programs, Wong and Breaux wrote New Teacher Induction: How to Train, Support, and Retain New Teachers. In the book, the authors not only show the value of comprehensive, long-term teacher induction programs, they also describe successful programs and outline how to start one. "An induction process is the best way to send a message to your teachers that you value them and want them to succeed and stay," write Breaux and Wong.

Besides her position in the Lafourche schools, Breaux also travels to other school systems giving presentations about induction programs. She recently talked with Education World about the educational and economic value of teacher induction programs.

Education World: What are the differences between orientation and induction?

Annette L. Breaux: Everybody has orientation! That's where all the new teachers come together for a day to learn about the policies and procedures of the school and district. That's it -- one day and it's done. Induction, on the other hand, involves ongoing, systematic training and support for new teachers beginning before the first day of school and continuing throughout the first two or three years of teaching. In other words, orientation is one small activity that takes place during an overall systematic two- or three-year training process known as induction.

EW: Why don't more school systems use staff induction programs?

Breaux: Many school districts do not have induction programs because they mistakenly believe that mentoring and induction are the same. They're not! Even if some school districts do realize there's a difference, they think that mentoring, in and of itself, is enough. It's not! Just as orientation is only one small component of an overall structured induction process, mentoring is only one of many components of a successful induction program. The fact is, simply providing a new teacher with a mentor does little, if anything, to improve that teacher's effectiveness.

That's not to imply that mentors are wasting their time. They can offer much-needed support to new teachers. But a mentor is just that -- a person who provides support when he or she is not busy teaching. Induction is an ongoing training process; mentoring usually is one component of that. A mentor alone cannot provide all the feedback, support, and ongoing training a new teacher requires. Induction, however, can -- and does!

Mentoring can't do it all -- and more than 20 years of research has yet to prove mentoring's effectiveness. Induction, on the other hand, has been shown to improve teacher effectiveness and increase teacher retention. In the words of Leslie Huling, "Simply assigning a mentor teacher does little to remedy the situation of teachers becoming discouraged and leaving the profession. Induction and mentoring must go hand in hand."

It's not rocket science. If you train and support new teachers, your chances of retaining them increase a hundredfold. At worst, it's much better to train new teachers and risk losing them than not to train them and risk keeping them!

EW: What are the key elements of a successful induction program?

Breaux: No two induction programs are exactly alike; each caters to the culture and needs of its unique school or district. Several common components, however, underlie the most successful induction programs:

  • an initial four or five days of training before school begins.
  • ongoing, systematic training over the course of two or three years.
  • strong administrative participation in, and support of, the overall induction process.
  • a mentoring component.
  • study groups in which new teachers network and support one another.
  • a structure for modeling effective teaching during in-services and mentoring.
  • numerous opportunities for inductees to visit demonstration classrooms taught by successful veteran teachers.

EW: How do staff induction programs affect student learning?

Breaux: Research has proven time and again that it is the teacher who makes the difference in the classroom; just as it is the pilot who makes the difference on the airplane; just as it is the surgeon who makes the difference in the operating room. The better trained the pilot, the better the chances of arriving safely at your destination. The better trained the surgeon, the better the chances of successful patient recovery. Likewise, the better trained the teacher, the better the student achievement in the classroom.

Induction programs that are specifically designed to train new teachers help increase teacher competence, which, in turn, directly impacts student achievement. It seems like it would be a much better use of resources if we stopped conducting research to prove the obvious -- that teacher quality makes a difference -- and instead use those resources to ensure teacher quality by training our teachers better!

EW: What is the hardest part about starting an induction program?

Breaux: The most difficult part about implementing an induction program, for some districts, is wasting time, energy, and resources trying to reinvent the wheel. There's no need to do that. That's the reason we wrote New Teacher Induction -- to save school districts time, energy, and money while providing the induction training new teachers need and deserve. Also, many school districts across the country not only have successful induction programs in place, they also are more than willing to share their successes with others.

In New Teacher Induction, we go beyond just providing resources, however. We devote an entire chapter to "how to structure an induction program." We literally walk readers through seven simple steps to structuring an induction program. If they follow the steps, they have got an induction program in place!

EW: How long should induction programs last? Who should participate?

Breaux: The most successful induction programs begin with four or five days of training before the first day of school and continue throughout the new teachers' first two or three years of teaching. The intent is to not only train new teachers throughout their first few years, but to instill in them the importance of becoming lifelong learners so they will continue to grow professionally throughout their careers.

As for who should participate: ideally, we should induct all teachers who are new to the district, whether they have prior teaching experience or not. Experienced teachers entering the district should not require as much training and support as first-time teachers, but they still need to learn what will be expected of them and where to turn when they have questions or concerns. All teachers new to a district need to learn policies and procedures, missions, philosophies, and the overall culture of their particular school and district.

Many districts provide separate and specific induction training for first-time teachers and for experienced teachers who are new to the district.

EW: Where can districts and schools that want to start induction programs find resources?

Breaux: New Teacher Induction provides overviews and contact information for more than 30 highly successful, easily replicable induction programs used in rural, urban, and suburban school districts across the United States. A reference section provides research articles, agendas of successful induction programs, sample handouts, induction guidelines, and much more.

The best part of those induction programs is that they are actually saving money for their schools and districts! For example, the operating budget for FIRST, the Lafourche Parish (Louisiana) induction program, is $50,000 a year. Since implementing the program in 1996, the attrition rate of new teachers has decreased by more than 80 percent. In their research, Leslie Huling and Virginia Resta found: "If a bad hire costs a company nearly 2 times the employee's initial salary in recruitment and personnel costs as well as lost productivity, then each teacher who leaves the profession during the induction years likely costs taxpayers in excess of $50,000." Based on that conclusion, if Lafourche retains only one new teacher a year, it recoups its entire FIRST budget!

What a small price to pay for an investment on which no dollar amount can possibly be placed—our children, our future.


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
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