Julie Wilson wants to make a difference in the lives of teachers and the students they serve. As the Kansas statewide recruitment and retention coordinator, she knows the work of Kansas’ special education teachers is both highly rewarding and challenging. Yet, she has seen firsthand that these teachers often feel isolated and unsupported, leading many to leave the profession early in their careers.
When Julie recognized this churn was intimately linked to teacher effectiveness and student achievement, she set a goal to help Kansas schools retain more highly effective special educators.
With that goal in mind, she and her colleagues at Southeast Kansas Education Service Center-Greenbush (SEKESC) – a not-for-profit educational agency that seeks to ensure equal educational opportunities for all students – applied for and received a federal State Personnel Development Grant (SPDG). SPDG grants help states improve results for children with disabilities by improving how their state’s educators are prepared and developed.
They identified mentoring as one of the best ways to leverage these federal dollars. They wanted to provide new special education teachers the support they need to make a difference for students, and to remain committed to teaching. Yet, they knew it would be challenging – at best – to pair every new special education teacher with a mentor from the same district who works with similar student populations.
They needed to find a program where new teachers could be matched with expert special education teachers – regardless of geography.
After a rigorous evaluation process, SEKESC selected New Teacher Center’s e-Mentoring for Student Success (eMSS) program – not only because it is proven by an array of research to be effective, but also for its mix of personalized support, content-specific professional development and facilitated online community.
“eMSS gives us the ability to match new special education teachers with experienced same exceptionality mentors. Our least experienced teachers now have access to our best teachers,” Julie said.
NTC and SEKESC launched the ready-to-use program across Kansas in January 2012, giving every new special education teachers immediate access to a deep network of support.
- Mentoring support of a specially trained, accomplished teacher.
Each new special education teacher who enrolls works with a carefully-selected and trained mentor teacher from the same exceptionality and grade level. The online format makes this type of pairing possible, and also allows mentors and beginning teachers to interact when it is most convenient for their schedules – a flexibility they appreciate.
A video observation tool gives mentors a peek inside their new teachers’ classrooms which, because of distance, would otherwise not be possible. New teachers capture and share videos of their lessons with their mentors on a secure video platform, and mentors view and provide feedback aimed at helping the new teacher improve.
- Professional learning to address biggest challenges.
The areas Kansas’ new special education teachers struggle with most – including how to make accommodations and modifications, co-teaching in the inclusive classroom, and assistive/adaptive technology for students – are the focus of eMSS’ highly-relevant and actionable 8-week professional learning opportunities called Explorations.
- Access to an online, always ready community of experts
New teachers also tap into the expertise of experienced special education teachers and university professors from across the country, and can find carefully-selected supporting resources, in the eMSS 24/7 facilitated online community.
The Results: Improved Teaching and Teacher Retention
The project – which has expanded substantially across Kansas in the past two years reaching special educators in 61 districts – is showing positive impacts on the retention of special educators in Kansas schools.
It’s clear these educators feel supported in their roles and are becoming proficient in establishing a classroom environment that is conducive to learning and effectively meeting the needs of their students.
eMSS participants are surveyed at the beginning and end of each year to determine growth in core teaching capabilities, characteristics that advance student learning and competence in teaching special education. Every year this program has been in place in Kansas, participants showed gains in all categories. The biggest benefit has been retention. Directors throughout the state claim they’re keeping teachers who would have left otherwise. Indeed, an evaluation of Kansas’ SPDG grant shows over 86 percent of teachers who participated in eMSS between 2011 and 2014 remained teaching the following year, and these results are expected to continue.
The eMSS program has proven to be a high quality, cost-effective solution to developing and retaining talented teachers in rural communities.