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Linn-Benton-Lincoln ESD program seeks to expand support to region's teacher mentoring

Updated: Feb 14

New Teacher Mentor Academy Project Team: Cindy Drouhard (LBL ESD); Tami DuFault-Toomb (LBL ESD); Ben Ewing (Lincoln County SD); Erica Hendricks (Lebanon SD); Michelle LeFeber (Scio SD); Katie Mason (Lincoln County SD); Stephanie Waters (Lebanon SD)

Note: This article originally appeared in the Bright Spots March 2023 quarterly newsletter.


Last August, dozens of teacher mentors from across the Linn-Benton-Lincoln (LBL) region convened for the first session of the New Teacher Mentor Academy (NTMA), a teacher retention initiative based out of LBL Education Service District (ESD) and supported by the Western Regional Educator Network (WREN). The “August kickoff” was the culmination of nearly a year of preparation and planning by Cindy Drouhard and Tami DuFault-Toomb, LBL ESD instructional coaches entrusted with developing a teacher mentoring program for the region, as there were (and continue to be) concerns about teacher attrition.


As part of their preparation, the pair met with stakeholders from all 12 school districts to understand what mentoring looked like in the region. What they discovered was a lack of uniform access to mentor training and resources, a “haves and have nots” situation. When they ultimately connected with WREN Coordinator Tracy Rear, she asked if they’d take on creating a resource districts had been requesting – a monthly mentoring guide. While they agreed to the request, in hindsight they “jumped into the deep end of the pool when it came to improvement science and just trusted the process.”


To learn more about that experience and how it influenced the creation and direction of the NTMA, I caught up with the team over Zoom. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.


Tell me more about your early experiences with developing the project.


DuFault-Toomb: [Kate Klein, WREN Continuous Improvement Coach] was new that year. We held hands and we said this has to be human centered. This isn't us making assumptions about what mentors need or what new teachers need. Because as someone who has been in education for 39 years, I can't say I know what it's like to be a new teacher. I don't know what it's like to start post-COVID, do my student teaching online but now have a classroom of kids [in-person]. I don't have that experience and I didn't want to make assumptions.


With Kate’s help, we developed our first WREN design team. Because we understood mentoring looked different in all the districts, we tried to get a representative group for the team – a full release mentor from a bigger district, someone from a small district with teacher-next-door mentoring, and new teacher voices. The design team then did empathy interviews with teachers of color in their mentoring base, because Kate advised we needed to hear from the most marginalized voices. That process of hearing those voices and understanding the challenges and the problems our new teachers face was such a gift and probably one of the most powerful experiences I've had as an educator. With this knowledge, we were able to create the monthly mentoring guide, but more importantly, it guided every decision we made for the NTMA.


For each of the design team members, what motivated you to join it?


Katie Mason: I’m part of the Lincoln County School District and started as a full release mentor this year. Ben is my counterpart, and he just raved about the WREN and how I should be a part of this team. So when the invitation went out, he said I should apply. So I did and here I am!


Ben Ewing: With Katie starting as a mentor, we were bringing in somebody new that hadn't been trained specifically as a mentor. She has lots of great experience working in TOSA roles across the district, but not as a mentor. I know how I was trained as a mentor, but that doesn't happen anymore in Oregon. And so we were looking for other opportunities for mentor training, and I went back to Tami and Cindy because we had talked the year before in the empathy interviews, and that's how we got connected to this project.


Design Team members Michelle Lefeber and Ben Ewing at October's Network Improvement Learning Session.

Michelle Lefeber: I teach in Scio. My building administrator, who had been involved with some other things through the WREN, invited me to attend the August kickoff because I'm the most senior teacher in our building and have done alot of mentoring. Little did I know I would end up on this team, as well as facilitating our district mentorship program. I'm not an administrator, I'm a second grade teacher, but I'm now working alongside my building principal and we are kind of recreating Scio's mentorship program. We meet monthly with mentors and mentees, and I'm using what I learn here and in the NTMA to guide what we're doing.


Stephanie Waters: I’m from the Lebanon School District. We got an email from our HR director telling us about the August kickoff and I was like, “Well, I definitely want to do that.” because I’m a lifelong learner and I always want to be knowledgeable for people I'm supporting. And then I saw there was an opportunity for people to go to the next level. I had not heard anything about the WREN until I got involved. They have a lot of resources I didn't know about.


Erica Hendricks: I'm also from Lebanon. My desire to join was personal growth, to be a leader within our district, and overall. But my biggest desire was to bring in a special education aspect, not only within our building and supporting new teachers, but also within this design team. Especially coming back to teaching in-person, teachers are struggling with how to implement differentiation and other aspects of an IEP.


So what has the team been working on?


Waters: Right now we're working on a survey to send to our mentees that asks, “How are things going? What do you know in your district about getting additional support? After your first year of teaching, how wet are your feet? Are we being helpful? If we're not, what do we need to do?” From that we'll see if we change something or if what we're doing is working.


Lefeber: This team also comes together after the main NTMA gatherings and debriefs how those went. Since we're also participants there, we can give Cindy and Tami feedback from that perspective. We also use that to guide the next meeting and how to move forward. We also look at the feedback from other participants and make changes or suggestions based on it.


So feedback, and responding to it, has been a pivotal part of guiding things.


Lefeber: It's also been pivotal in keeping participants returning and staying engaged, because they can see their feedback is being heard and accounted for.


How is that different from your experiences with other initiatives?


Ewing: The difference for me is having Tami and Cindy [as team leads] do something with the feedback. When the team comes back together, we look at what Cindy and Tami have done with the information and figure out what’s next. Without them, it would be very similar to other experiences where we do the thing, the feedback form happens, nobody looks at it. We come back together and say, “Oh yeah, we did a feedback form. We should look at that!” So having Cindy and Tami speeds up the process.


Drouhard: While the feedback form is super helpful, having the eyes and the ears [of this team] to engage with participants is even more so because the form isn't capturing everything.


DuFault-Toomb: Each time we hear from the design team, Cindy and I feel a greater sense of confidence going into the next meeting. They give us solutions or ideas to try and that has been incredibly powerful.


The original problem was varying access to mentoring resources and training. Have you seen any change to that?


Lefeber: I don't know if we've made changes at a district level, but we definitely have with individual mentors and their mentees. Some districts only have some of their mentors in the NTMA, so we're affecting those that volunteer, but not all in a district. I don't want to speak for the team, but my hope is we'll be able to train every mentor in a school district.


Hendricks: In Lebanon we had the WREN visit with our superintendent and HR, so I'm interested to see how that's going to change our mentoring program next year. Our superintendent seemed interested in the process, which was encouraging.


Using the PDSA cycle, the Design Team will continue to test ways to improve the academy until the final session in May.


For the 2023-24 school year, Drouhard and DuFault-Toomb are considering a number of enhancements, including differentiation of support based on teacher mentoring experience, as well as finding ways to provide training to new teachers whose district may not be participating in the program. They are also looking at ways to bring together district level mentoring teams to collaborate, support, and learn from each other, and other strategies to increase mentoring opportunities across the region.


To learn more, visit LBL ESD’s New Teacher Mentoring Program, which includes links to their "Monthly Mentoring Guide" and additional teacher mentoring resources and opportunities.

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