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Q&A: Adapting Professional Learning in an Era of Teacher Shortages

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The current shortage of certified teachers has created a pivotal challenge for school districts: how to effectively develop and administer professional learning programs amidst this scarcity.

In a recent webinar, four K-12 experts explored how districts are rethinking teacher placement, tailoring professional learning content to diverse experience levels, optimizing limited resources, and securing funding.

In this post, we’ll summarize their conversation, provide you with actionable takeaways, and more. 

Interested in a preview? Check out this snippet!  

Webinar Speakers: 

Frontline Education 

  • Susan Walters, Solutions Director 
  • Jaclyn Harvey, Education Solutions Executive 

Jenks Public Schools 

  • Randy Williams, Director of Professional Learning 

Brevard Public Schools 

  • Lynnette Thorstensen, PD Specialist, Brevard Public Schools  
  • Lisa Stanley, Professional Learning & Development  
  • Bridget Reed, Learning & Development 

Webinar Topics:  

  • Strategies for effective placement and support of non-certified teachers within the professional learning framework.  
  • Innovative approaches to maximizing limited resources and funding for professional learning in districts facing teacher shortages.  
  • Best practices for sustaining high-quality education for students when navigating the challenges of teacher shortages and non-certified teaching staff. 
  • And more! 

Best Practices for Providing Support to Alternate Certification Teachers  

Webinar Q:  What advice would you give to leaders who need to be able to support alternate certification teachers who started on their own journey? 

A: Check out our summary from Jacyln below! 

  • Intentional Placement: School districts and principals need to be deliberate and strategic about where they place teachers with alternative certifications. It’s crucial to consider the team dynamics and the subject area to ensure that these educators are set up for success, rather than being positioned in environments where they might struggle due to a lack of support or alignment with their skills. 
  • Peer Observation Opportunities: Creating opportunities for alternatively certified teachers to observe their peers is essential. This exposure allows them to learn practical teaching strategies and classroom management skills firsthand. Facilitating peer observation can involve administrative efforts to cover classes, thereby freeing up teachers to engage in these valuable learning experiences. 
  • Frequent Classroom Observations by Leaders: Administrators and leaders should frequently observe classrooms, especially those of new and alternatively certified teachers. These observations are not only for evaluation purposes but also to provide constructive feedback and support. Regular walkthroughs by various leaders ensure a comprehensive understanding of a teacher’s progress and challenges. 
  • Structured Mentor Programs: Establishing a well-defined mentor program is critical. New teachers, particularly those who are alternatively certified, benefit immensely from having a mentor who can offer guidance, support, and feedback from a place of experience. It’s important that mentors are adequately trained to address the unique needs of these educators, fostering a nurturing environment that encourages growth and confidence. 

Being a first-year alternatively certified teacher with no experience is super, super overwhelming. It’s just nice to know that you have somebody that has your best interest at heart.”
– Jaclyn Harvey 

The Importance of Cultivating a Culture of Learning in School Districts  

District Spotlight: Jenks Public Schools 

Webinar Q What’s the importance of cultivating a positive climate and culture for learning and growth?  

A:  Check out our summary from Randy below 

  • People-Centered Approach: It’s so important to prioritize a culture that is both people-centered and student-centered, recognizing that support for teachers directly impacts student outcomes. This involves understanding the unique needs of each teacher and providing tailored support. 
  • Layered Support Systems: Be sure to implement layers of support that adapt over time and recognize that the needs of teachers change as they progress through their careers. This includes providing the right resources and professional development opportunities at the right times. 
  • Building Relationships: Foster strong relationships within your educational community, between teachers, administrators, and peers. It’s critical to create social learning spaces and opportunities for informal learning and relationship-building. 
  • Continuous, Adaptive Learning: Ensure professional learning and support are continuous and data-driven, and that they’re adapting to the evolving needs of teachers and the educational landscape. Offer choices in professional development to tap into teachers’ intrinsic motivations to help ensure they are competent and confident in their roles. 

It’s about being people-centered, it’s about being student-centered… being able to cultivate and foster relationships… that’s where sometimes we need to just connect with people, have that understanding that yes, I understand what you’re going through.”
– Randy Williams

The Critical Role of Mentor Programs in K-12 PD 

District Spotlight: Brevard Public Schools 

Webinar Q:  How do you support educators at various stages of their career through mentor programs? 

A: Check out our summary from Lynette, Lisa, and Bridget below! 

  • Comprehensive Support for Diverse Educator Needs: Be committed to supporting both new teachers, including those with alternative certifications, and seasoned leaders. This dual focus ensures that all educators, regardless of their experience level or certification pathway, receive tailored professional development and mentorship opportunities. 
  • Robust Induction and Orientation Programs: Consider implementing targeted induction programs for new teachers, focusing on crucial areas like classroom management and lesson planning. These programs are designed to prepare educators practically for the classroom environment, addressing the specific challenges faced by teachers with temporary certificates. 
  • Strategic Mentorship Initiatives: Do you emphasize the importance of on-the-ground support in your district? Your mentoring program, spanning both school-based and district-wide efforts, should aim to provide continuous, practical guidance to educators, thereby enhancing their teaching effectiveness and well-being. 
  • Continuous Feedback and Adjustment: Regular surveys and communication channels enable the identification of educators’ needs in real-time, allowing for timely adjustments to the support provided. 
  • Emphasis on Mental and Emotional Wellness: It’s important to recognize the challenges and stresses of the teaching profession. Consider incorporating wellness initiatives into support programs. This focus on mental and emotional health is crucial for sustaining educators’ long-term engagement and success. 
  • Celebration of Successes: Host annual events to celebrate the achievements of mentors and mentees. These events not only acknowledge the hard work of educators but also reinforce the value placed on their growth and contribution to the educational community. 

“Real mentoring really starts with getting that mentee to be able to see the things that they want to change in their classroom and then providing that feedback to the mentor. And the mentor is just there to be the cheerleader in that support.”  

– Lynette Thorstensen

“We evolve through the year, depending on what the needs of our new teachers are and the feedback that we’re continually receiving.”

– Lisa Stanley 

“Right now, we’re at 96% of our new teachers have said they feel supported and I’m telling you, we go in with that other 4% to find out, okay, where are we going wrong? What more can we do here to support you, to keep you here.”   

– Bridget Reed 

Adapting Professional Learning in an Era of Teacher Shortages

The takeaway: By fostering a community of continuous learning, providing structured mentorship, and focusing on the well-being of educators, districts can navigate the challenges of teacher shortages and ensure that all educators, regardless of their certification path, are prepared to offer high-quality education to their students.  

Watch the full on-demand webinar here. 

Looking to learn more about Frontline Professional Growth? Learn more here.