By Peggy Gregory
PHILADELPHA — Ten veteran journalism teachers from five states kicked off JEA’s new mentoring program in a day-long training workshop at the JEA/NSPA fall 2007 convention.
The mentors, representing Colorado, Kansas, Ohio, Oregon and Wisconsin, were hand-picked for the initial mentor training. Following the day of training, they return to their states to identify new journalism teachers to begin mentoring.
The group was welcomed by Julie Dodd, Mentor Committee co-chair and professor in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, who said they were part of a “great idea.”
The Journalism Education Association Board in July established the Mentoring Committee and charged it with creating and implementing the training of veteran journalism teachers who could then provide an ongoing support system to improve the retention rate of new journalism teachers.
The day-long mentor training workshop was led by Nick Ferentinos, a trainer from the New Teacher Center (NTC) at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Steve O’Donoghue, director of the California Scholastic Journalism Initiative.
The training began by establishing the context for mentoring and a vision of a high quality journalism teacher.
“We have begun to create support structures and environments where these new members of our profession can thrive and not just survive,” Ferentinos said. “We are excited about joining forces in infusing our profession with new vigor in order to attract, support and retain high quality teachers and help them become the teacher leaders of tomorrow.”
Mentors were guided through a series of activities based on a model from the new teacher induction program at the New Teacher Center, a national leader in training classroom mentors.
The participants determined the qualities of a good journalism teacher and the roles the journalism mentor must assume to lead the novice teacher in the right direction.
A discussion of the Phases of First-Year Teaching, identified by the NTC, provided an overview to the school year and helped remind the mentors of the different needs of new teachers throughout the school year. For each phase the new teacher experiences – anticipation, survival, disillusionment, rejuvenation and reflection – the mentors brainstormed useful support strategies. During an activity related to those Phases, participants created the analogy related to each phase of swimming in a body of water. First, the neophyte jumps in, but before they know it, they find they need to hang on to a life preserver. Soon some feel they are drowning; however, they eventually they get their noses above water and are finally able to climb out, safe for another try.
“It’s not that we didn’t all kind of know (what to do), but this training and all the terms and forms we were introduced brought our job into a concrete form,” said Georgia Dunn, a newspaper and yearbook adviser for more than 20 years at New Richmond and Wilmington high schools in Ohio.
Through a case study, the mentors examined behaviors that build trust noting that three of the most important elements of trust are sincerity, competence and reliability.
“Each time you leave the beginning teacher, you want the new teacher to feel that you have helped them to be more effective, more successful, less stressed, less overwhelmed,” O’Donoghue told the group.
Because it is important for mentors to have a variety of tools or strategies available to them, the next phase of the training focused on support and assessment strategies. Mentors can take on several helping roles. They can be instructive, suggesting instructional or management strategies as well as providing samples of teaching and assessment materials and strategies. They can be a collaborator, helping the mentee to problem solve or co-develop a lesson or unit. They can be a facilitator by listening or posing questions as the new teacher analyzes his own teaching, student work or problem solving. During this portion of the training, mentors sifted through almost 60 cards to classify strategies that might prove useful and determine what role they might be playing: instructive, collaborative or facilitative.
A video of a conference between a mentor and a new teacher helped the group recognize the language and attitude of support they would work to adopt for effective communication. The trainees also observed the use of the Collaborative Assessment Log they will employ as they work with their new teachers.
Dianne Gum, a newspaper and video production adviser for 31 years at Littleton High School in Denver, found the intensive day of training exciting.
“For me it’s been like a revival. Let’s not let this die; let’s let this grow.”
The group had begun learning to observe, coach and give constructive feedback to peers. The used strategies for self-reflection – strategies that “works best if the mentor is a content specialist as well,” Ferentinos said.
Statistics from the New Teacher Center show that with mentoring, an 89 percent retention rate of new teachers over five years can be achieved compared with the national average of 50 percent retention. The New Teacher Center has an 80 percent retention rate for mentored teachers after 10 years.
The training in the afternoon included journalism-specific information and activities.
O’Donoghue and Peggy Gregory, a committee member and journalism teacher, mentor and newspaper adviser at Greenway High School in Phoenix, led a discussion of practical considerations such as how to select the mentees, how often to visit and how to get support at the local school. Although the group was urged to select new advisers from urban or rural schools, distance, practicality and judgment were left to their discretion.
Gregory distributed to the mentors “Resources for News Advisers,” a CD-ROM of teaching and advising materials she developed with assistance of Mentoring Committee members and other JEA members.
Linda Barrington, committee co-chair and JEA’s liaison with the National Council of Teachers of English, led the group through an exploration of the Journalism Teaching Standards.
Norma Kneese, chair of the JEA Multicultural Commission, talked about how mentors can help new advisers be more effective in representing diversity on their publication staffs and in their publications.
Candace Perkins Bowen, director of the Center for Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University, presented material vital for the new adviser to understand regarding student free speech rights.
Sandy Jacoby, yearbook adviser at Tremper High School in Wisconsin for 31 years, praised the training.
“I have moved to the hallelujah corner (from the amen corner),” she said. “We boomers were out there to save the world, and we still are. We want to reach out there to nurture young things. I think we are prepared to go out and get right to work.”
Carla Harris, who taught at both Oregon State University and Oregon high schools and was executive director of the Northwest Scholastic Press, concurred.
“(The training) exceeded expectations of what might be covered both in philosophy and technique.”