Improved Mentorship for Greater Faculty Retention

Having high-quality and mission-appropriate teachers in every classroom is ultimately the most important factor in the success and sustainability of our school, Pressman Academy, a K-8 Conservative day school in Los Angeles. And as is likely the case for many of you reading this article, it is becoming harder for us to find those same high-quality teachers. While recruiting continues to be a challenge, retention is also challenging. Of the eight faculty members leaving our school this year, seven were hired in the last two years. Although each story is complex, we recognize that part of our pipeline solution is to focus our efforts on acclimating, investing in and retaining the teachers we find by improving our mentorship program.

In the past, new teachers to our school were assigned a veteran mentor. This person was intended to be their point person for questions; the mentors met regularly with the new teacher, observed them in the classroom, and gave feedback to the new teacher’s supervisor. However, there was little shape or direction given to those meetings, and there was no accountability or structure given for the observations or feedback. Many times, the mentoring program resulted in coffee together before school started and some conversations driven by the items on the top of their minds. Momentum often tapered off by November.

In order to strengthen the mentoring program and to incorporate our new teachers into our faculty culture in a lasting way, we have worked to build a system that teaches about our school in theory and in practice, while also providing the ongoing support that all first-year teachers need in a new school, regardless of prior experience.

The result is a new program, starting in the fall, that contains three components:

  • Mentor-mentee dedicated work
  • A mentor cohort
  • A mentee cohort


Mentee-Mentor Dedicated Work

Each week, the mentors and mentees will meet one-on-one, following a prescribed curriculum that intersperses observation and feedback cycles with professional reflection, regular engagement with the faculty handbook, previews of upcoming events particular to our school, and mini-PDs intended to be engaged with chevruta-style. The curriculum is divided into six units, inspired by our Portrait of Professional Excellence:

  1. Foundations (August)
  2. Communication (September–October)
  3. Professionalism (October–December)
  4. Teaching and Learning (December–February)
  5. Mission and Values (March)
  6. Siyyum (April–June)

The units are structured to match the school calendar in a way that we have seen new teachers need support. For example, although mission and values are most important to us, we realize that new teachers might need more grounding work first. Our hope is that this work will speak both directly and proactively to the new teachers’ needs.


Mentor Cohort

Choosing the right mentor is critical to the success of this program. Each identified mentor is a teacher who meets the expectations in our Portrait of Professional Excellence. Each potential mentor was approached through an individual conversation in which we established that they are ready to take on more responsibility and expand their skillset.

The mentors will form their own cohort. This group will meet after school once per month with the principals. During those meetings, we will preview the month’s curriculum. This will ensure that the mentors are prepared for their mentees and that there are consistent understandings of the work and the expectations.

There is a modest stipend for this work, but that’s not the draw for the mentors who have agreed to serve in this role. They are excited to learn with their peers and to talk with the group and principals about what they are seeing work at our school. More than anything, they are looking forward to being part of a leadership cohort that has responsibility for influencing our school’s staff and future.

This mentor cohort also provides the benefit of ensuring that the principals invest their time in the right places. (According to McLeod and Lotardo’s article “Noble Leadership,” supervisors should be spending their time with the people who can have the most impact on culture and performance. Impacting those people will impact the culture of your organization without burning out your leadership.) In our previous model, new teachers met with their supervisors regularly, less so with our more established teachers. Now our goal is to empower our top performers to take on this work, in a way that will increase our new hires’ performance and alignment with school culture.


Mentee Cohort

For the past three years, we established a new faculty cohort we call “Pressman 101.” This group meets about eight times a year and creates a cohort of new faculty members. Pressman 101 has endowed the new faculty with a sense of camaraderie while also giving them a preview of upcoming events. While these meeting have been important, we believe that they are too short and infrequent to have the desired impact.

In this new iteration, the Pressman 101 curriculum is more robust and integrated. It weaves together with the weekly content of the mentor-mentee meetings. We identified topics that should be addressed in individual settings, where we hope there can be a higher level of vulnerability, and evolved the mentee cohort for professional development topics. Many of these will involve guest speakers; for example, our director of wellness will teach a session on self-regulation, our Rav Beit Sefer will teach on Jewish practices and jargon, and our head of school will speak about mission and values.


The Details

We are excited to launch this program in September 2024. In order to ensure the expectations are clear, we drafted this Mentor Agreement to map out the framing, time commitment and compensation for mentors. Our Program Guide is the bread and butter of this program.

We are proud of what we have created, but now we need to implement it, see it in practice and measure its efficacy. We know that it will need tweaks and iterations, and we are already thinking about ways to differentiate the program, including teachers who may need more than one year of this in order to thrive. But for now, if we notice a stronger culture among our top performers, a higher retention rate among new hires, or ideally, both, we will consider this effort to be a success.

Return to the issue home page:
HaYidion Jewish Educator Pipeline cover image
Jewish Educator Pipeline
Spring 2024
ad banner