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Field Trip: Fight Burnout (and the Teacher Shortage) with New Teacher Mentoring


Today we delve into the critical issue of teacher shortages – and how mentoring programs can be a game-changer. Lynette Thorstensen, a PD specialist in Brevard Public Schools in Florida, shares how her district is tackling this nationwide challenge head-on. 

Get an in-depth look at Brevard’s comprehensive approach to supporting new teachers, including alternative certification pathways and the powerful role of mentorship. From “Survival Orientations for Success” to mock classrooms and ongoing mentor-mentee partnerships, Lynette’s detailed breakdown shows how support and continuous professional development can lead to higher retention and a more robust teaching workforce. 

What You’ll Learn: 

  • Expanding the Path to Teaching: Discover how Brevard Public Schools are addressing teacher shortages through alternative certification pathways.
  • Mentorship Impact: Understand the critical role mentors play in supporting new teachers and reducing burnout.
  • Scaffolded Support: Learn about the step-by-step support systems in place, from Survival Orientation for Success (SOS) to New Teacher Academy.
  • Feedback-Driven Improvement: Explore how Brevard uses frequent feedback to continuously refine and improve their mentoring programs.
  • Practical Implementation: Get ideas for implementing similar mentoring structures in your own district to foster teacher retention and success. 

Full Transcript  

RYAN ESTES: Welcome everybody to the Field Trip podcast. My name is Ryan Estes. I’m with Frontline Education, and today I’m very excited for something a little bit different that we’re going to be doing today. I have with me Susan Walters, who is a colleague of mine at Frontline Education, and we also have Lynnette Thorstensen, who is a PD specialist at Brevard Public Schools in Florida. And I’m just really happy to have both of you on the podcast today. Thank you for joining us. 


SUSAN WALTERS: Thank you, Ryan. 

RYAN: And now I’m just going to turn it over to Susan and Lynnette, who are going to be discussing some of what Brevard Public Schools is doing with alternative certification pathways and teacher mentoring as an effort to address the teacher shortage and staffing challenges. And Susan, I’m going to let you take it away. 

SUSAN: Thank you, Ryan. Hello, Lynette. As I’m talking with other districts across the United States, I’m really noticing a teacher shortage and it’s becoming more prevalent across all of our school districts. What challenges are you facing in filling your vacancies? 

LYNNETTE: I have to say I am proud to report that this year we have less  vacancies than we’ve had in the last four years going into the ‘24-25 school year. We’ve actually never had it below a hundred teachers in the last five years, and this year we are going in with less. We’re still facing the same challenges that many other districts across the state of Florida, across the United States, are facing. And not just particularly with classroom positions, but the other area where we really struggle is vacancies in our support staff. For example, things like bus drivers. And this really creates a problem as far as burnout for the current employees that we have because what ends up happening at the school sites as well as our support sites, the people who are left behind that are doing the work are doing double the work. And because of that, you have high burnout with the people that are left. And even though we’re providing incentives and trying to be very creative and out of the box with what we’re doing to retain our employees and to motivate people, it’s still a struggle. 

SUSAN: I can completely understand that. And also, we know you’re having problems with your staffing of your classified staff. For your certified staff, are you seeing a trend of more alternative certification that is happening with teachers who are coming in in different ways or trying to accomplish their certification while they’re actually teaching? Are you seeing a trend of that and what are you doing to help support them as they’re coming into their new position and also trying to learn or get certified? 

LYNNETTE: Absolutely, a hundred percent. There is no doubt that in the last five to six years the amount of Alt Cert teachers we have in our district has increased, I would say close to tenfold. There was a time when I first came into my position in the 2017-18 school year, I was actually supporting Alt Cert teachers directly and we had about 130 teachers in the program. We have now over 750 Alt Cert teachers in our district. Along with that comes an increased need to provide a lot of support for these teachers. We also have, in the state of Florida, developed a lot of different pathways. Our Alt Cert teachers are coming in with bachelor’s degrees, but we actually have teachers now that can come in and start the preparation for teaching with only an associate’s. And more and more we’re having to widen the band of services that we’re providing for our teachers because they have less and less of the pedagogy and understanding of education when they’re coming into the field. We use a scaffolded approach in Brevard because, of course, it would be impossible for teachers to learn everything they need to know before they actually step foot into the classroom on day one. 

So our scaffolded approach starts with something we call SOS. Depending on their hire date, when they start with us, we have something called Survival Orientation for Success that we actually do at every school site, and it’s supported by our local union. We have one person at the site that directs the SOS and it’s strictly putting just a focus on the school operations side of things. So bringing that employee in, getting them acclimated to the environment, making sure that they know who to ask for what help they need. We give them things like their keys and their codes for their computers and their login credentials and all of the things that they’re going to need for basic success. Even things like, where do you park? What restroom do you use? What is the actual schedule for our school? Because these are all things that we take for granted, coming in every year, but it’s a huge transition for someone who may be coming from private industry and coming from the world of work. We start with that SOS at the school. It’s a one-day event, and we make it fun. We do a scavenger hunt. We do all kinds of different things to bring them in, make them comfortable. And so that’s their first introduction is at the school that they’re actually going to work. 

Then we move them into what we call New Teacher Academy. That’s the end of July. At that time, most of our new teachers are onboarded. But I will say we onboard people all year from August pretty much until March or April. We have multiple New Teacher Academies that we run throughout the year, but we will start in July with a two-day event. It really is just the fundamentals of classroom management. We do briefly get into behavior management, but once again, we can’t overwhelm them. So we just have to keep a very laser focus on what are the things that they’re going to need to be the most successful within that first couple of weeks of school, get a good foundation with their students and for them to convey to those students, “Hey, I know what I’m doing. I’ve got full control of this class. We’re going to have a great year”? So we do this two-day event where we basically go over everything that they need to know about classroom management. On day two, we actually set up mock classrooms and we have master teachers from our schools that come in and work specifically on different skills. So we may have, for example, a session they attend on managing paperwork. They may attend a session on schedules and routines. They may attend one on a curriculum overview. So just some basic things that they’re going to need to know to get a really good start for the beginning of the school year and to also set them up for what needs to be part of their syllabus or their class plan for those that are at the elementary level, just to give them a good start. 

Then at that point, this is where we sort of transition from some of the district support. We continue to offer district support through professional learning opportunities and other things, but we really transition the support to the school-based model because the bottom line is if there’s no connection there at the school and they’re not getting the regular support from the folks that are on the ground in the buildings, it’s not going to be successful. At our schools, every new teacher is assigned a mentor. The type of mentor they’re assigned depends on whether they’re actually a brand new teacher who has never been in education, never taught, versus those that are veteran teachers that are coming in from other states. They may just need a little more of the logistical side of things, but they’ve got the other stuff. We assign them to their mentors. At the school-based level, they have monthly support meetings where they cover different topics that sort of pertain to what’s going on at that time. For example, in September the focus was on parent engagement, open house, things like that. In October, we may transition into something a little more curriculum-based, so the topics vary and adjust over the months. They also have regular meetings with their mentor. If they are a brand new teacher on a temp cert, they have to meet weekly. We don’t necessarily put time requirements on it, but just from the information that we’ve been getting back from our mentors at the school, it’s about two hours a week that they’re mentoring over that span of time. 

In addition to that, we are transitioning into an add-on to our program this year called LEAP, where we’re going to be providing three full days of release time for all of our mentors and mentees. They’re going to be going into the classrooms of highly effective teachers. They’re going to be watching them teach. They’re going to be looking at their different skill sets, and then the mentor and the mentee are going to spend the remainder of the day basically working together, planning together, talking about those skills that they observed, and really being able to provide those models because that’s really what these new teachers need the most. They need to see it in action. So we realized this is a piece we used to have and we moved away from it and we needed to bring it back because they’ve got to have that kind of support and they have to have that kind of time because mentoring is a very personal thing. It requires a lot of time. If we really care about retention of teachers, we have to put basically our money where our mouth is. That was what the decision was: we’re going to put our resources into something that is truly meaningful for teachers so that they have the time and the ability to sit down and work together. They work like that throughout the whole entire remainder of the year. Then at the end of the year, we have a celebration for them. We bring them to the district, we bring them back to celebrate the mentors, to celebrate the mentees, and let them know how much we care not only about how much they’ve grown as teachers, but care to really have them be part of the BPS family. We want to see them come back and work for us for many years to come. 

SUSAN: Thank you, Lynette. That was a great overview of the foundational support that you provide and the individual support that you provide both on the school-based side. One of the things that you said spoke to me about retention, and your program is set up so that you can retain those teachers that are coming into your district. One of the things that I’ve also found with retention is providing opportunities for those teachers that are already part of your school district, like your mentors. Mentoring is super powerful because it has the support and training that is needed and provides for them the ability to share their skills. But mentoring is very difficult, and not everybody is a natural mentor or doesn’t have the skills to be able to share what they’ve learned. What do you do to help those mentors to be prepared and feel confident and successful in their roles? 

LYNNETTE: First of all, it really starts with the principal of the school because in our district, our initial training for our mentors is what we call Clinical Education Training. It’s a training that’s supported through the state of Florida. They develop the original content, and over the years, districts have added to that content. So each one of the districts in Florida does their CET training slightly different, but it starts with clinical ed. But in our district, we don’t just allow anybody who wants to to sign up for Clinical Ed Training. They have to be recommended by their principal. In addition to that recommendation, they also have to provide us with a narrative of why they want to take the Clinical Ed Training. What that does is it lets us know this is someone with a heart for mentoring because, like you said, that relationship is paramount to the success of that new teacher. We don’t want people that are just running past people in the hallway saying, “Oh, I hope everything’s going great,” because that certainly is not what true mentoring and coaching conversations are all about. So that’s where it begins, with that process of the principal having that conversation with that teacher, saying to that teacher, “I’ve noticed how extraordinary you’ve been. I really want to bring you on board as a mentor at my school because I want other teachers to be able to experience your enthusiasm and your skillset and to be able to learn from you.” 

We start with that and then we offer a lot of training to our mentors. We also offer a monthly training to our mentors. They’re very targeted. They’re 30-minute sessions that we provide on targeted skills for our mentors, and we provide them with information that maybe, for some reason, they haven’t been trained on or they don’t know about. We do a lot of tech to try to make sure that all of our mentors are up on anything that they would need to be able to help a new teacher to be more successful. So it starts with the Clinical Ed Training and then moves into the monthly trainings that we provide for our mentors.  

There are times when the relationships are not working. Sometimes there are personality conflicts. Our assistant principals at the schools work along with our lead mentors at the school because every single one of our schools has a lead mentor that runs the program in conjunction with the assistant principal. When things have to be changed or moved to accommodate personalities or schedules, or sometimes we onboard a mentor and then they may have some kind of a personal crisis in their life or something going on where they’re not able to provide the level of service that we want them or need them to. That person at the school site is the one who makes those adjustments. 

SUSAN: One of the things that I’ve noticed, Lynette, is your program is very comprehensive and I know that is something that you and your team have been working on for several years to develop the right strategies, the right offerings for both your new teachers and your mentors. One of the things that I admire about you and your team is that you have a mindset of always striving to improve. I know that you ask for feedback from the teachers, the administrators, the mentors. Can you describe a little bit about your thought process and what you do to solicit that feedback, and then how do you use that feedback to make those changes? 

LYNNETTE: That’s a great question. So back in 2017-18, we started to do a survey and we started with a very simple Google survey. We had it divided between what your role was, so if you were a mentee, a mentor, or you were the administrator leading the program because that was before we had lead mentors, etc. We started with some very simple questions about things like, “How do you feel about the support you received? Do you feel like you received adequate support from your school? Do you feel like you received adequate support from the district?” We asked them about things that they would want to learn. We said, “Where do you feel your skills are the strongest? Where do you feel you need the most support moving forward?” We basically based that on what we call the FEAPS, the Florida Educator Accomplished Practices. We took those sections of the FEAPS and asked them, “Do you need more support in this area or in this area?” So we would ask a variety of questions. Over the years, we have continued to survey them, but it has morphed based on the comments section that we receive. In addition to the survey questions that we asked, we also had an open-ended, “Is there anything we need to know? Anything that you would like to share that you feel could have made your experience better or made this school year better for you?” And boy, that’s where you really see everything that they would really love to know, and not necessarily in a bad way. I would say the amount of teachers that said, “Hey, I really struggled and I didn’t get support,” was so minimal. I was really shocked, considering the size of our district. We have over 5,000 teachers, over 72,000 students. So we are a large school district, but the teachers themselves, especially the mentees, were the ones who really gave us some of the best ideas that we came up with based on their comments. 

Starting this year, last year we did two surveys. We did a mid-year and then a final. The first year we just did a final and we realized we really need the information mid-year at the least because for us to continue to make changes or address problems, we need to get the information sooner. So now starting next year, we’re going to be doing it four times. So every end of nine weeks, that’s when the mentees themselves are going to get the survey. Our mentors and our administrators, we’re going to do it twice. We’re going to do it mid-year and end of year for them because with our mentors and our admin, they know how to contact us. They have relationships with us. We’ve been working with these people for a long time. But a mentee, a brand new teacher who’s only been working with the district for a few months, they have no idea how to reach out to if they have a problem, especially at the district level, so providing that more frequent feedback is helpful. 

Another thing we did switch to also was moving it from anonymous data to specific, and we let them know ahead of time that this would not be anonymous. We would know who the data’s coming from and what the responses are because we needed truthful feedback. We needed to know in our schools that are struggling, that are having trouble with the mentoring program, that aren’t getting the mentors to do what they need them to do, we need to know so we can provide the support. It’s not a gotcha, it’s not so we can come back and put anybody on blast. It’s to truly say, “We see that there’s a struggle here. How can we help you? Can we send more of our peer mentor teachers to assist? Can we sit down and meet with you? Maybe you’re just struggling to keep your program going. Maybe one of us needs to come out and help you run a few of your meetings.” So just things like that, and that has been really helpful. We had some appreciative mentees this year that we reached out to directly. My counterparts, Bridget Reed and Lisa Stanley, they are just absolutely amazing. They reached out to those teachers and actually went to the schools and had conversations with them, and that really went a long way with those teachers. 

SUSAN: I’m sure it established trust and respect and they knew how seriously you took that mentoring program and their feedback. I’m sure it helped them to feel supported and engaged, and that’s one of the key pieces to retention. There are many people who may be listening who are just starting a coaching or a mentoring program. What advice would you give to them? Now that you’ve been through it for a little while, you’ve had an opportunity to reflect. What would you tell them? 

LYNNETTE: I would say one of the first things is it’s really important to educate yourself on different models and to really understand the coaching cycle and how that sort of peer coaching works. We went to a lot of training, read a lot of literature. The New Teacher Center provides a lot of great resources and support and we utilized a lot of that as well as Jim Knight and some others that are leaders in coaching. So educating ourselves and making sure that we understood deeply what it means to actually coach teachers versus just, like I said, having those conversations in the hallway, waving and moving on, so that we were educated. The second thing I think really that’s important is bringing the right people to the table and having the right people having the conversation about what do our teachers really need? When we were first starting our mentoring program, we brought so many teachers up to our district, had focus groups and all kinds of things that we did to really figure out what is it that our teachers truly need. What type of training do they truly need? What type of support do they really need at the school level? With all of those things combined, it really helped us to develop what we are still developing today. Because like you said earlier, it’s always a work in progress because every time you receive that feedback, that cycle starts all over again of collecting data, processing through that data, figuring out what you need to do to make improvement, then moving from, “What do we need to do to improve?” to actually making it happen, implementing it with teachers, and then getting that feedback again. It’s never ending, but I think educating yourself on what true mentoring and coaching is really all about and then bringing the right people to the table to actually plan out what you want to do as a district is probably the most important thing. 

SUSAN: Plan, do, study, act, Lynette. And that’s what you were doing, making strategic decisions based on data. That’s one of the things that most successful school district mentoring programs, etc., they use their data in order to drive the reflections in that decision-making process. I greatly appreciate you sharing your time with us today and with our audience. It is refreshing and wonderful to hear about all the success that you’re having at Brevard and on how your teachers and your mentors and your staff and you are coming together to support our educators for further student success. 

LYNNETTE: Thank you. 

Field Trip is a podcast from Frontline Education, the leading provider of school administrative software. That includes Frontline Professional Growth, with tools to offer personalized professional learning for all employees. To learn more, visit For Frontline Education, I’m Ryan Estes. Thanks for listening, and have a great day.