UW’s Teacher-Mentor Corps Cohort to Improve Teacher Support, Retention

12 Jul 2022

The University of Wyoming has welcomed the inaugural cohort of the Wyoming TeacherMentor Corps (WTMC), an initiative led by the UW College of Education. Two educators from Weston County selected from a strong pool of nominees to participate in the inaugural cohort of the WTMC were Kasi White from Upton who teaches first grade at Upton Elementary School in Weston County School District 7, and Kathleen Engle, who is an induction and mentor specialist in Weston County School District 1 in Newcastle.

The WTMC is designed to foster teacher excellence by creating a network of Wyoming educators who can provide expert support for emerging teachers. The 21 cohort members represent 16 of the state’s 48 school districts -- creating a web of expert teacher mentors that spans Wyoming.

According to a UW survey led by Mark Perkins, an assistant professor of educational research, 65 percent of teachers in Wyoming would leave their jobs if they could. With teacher attrition rates in Wyoming around 11 percent each year, the survey highlighted mental health, lack of teacher support and assessments as major reasons for leaving the field. The WTMC will work to tackle each of those issues as new teachers complete their field experiences and enter the first and most challenging phase of their careers.

“Teaching is a hard job, and that difficulty is compounded in the first one to five years as new teachers master the skills of instruction, assessment and classroom management all while navigating a new culture at the school and in the community,” says Colby Gull, managing director of the UW Trustees Education Initiative (TEI), who leads the program.

“The Wyoming TeacherMentor Corps focuses on two critical periods in the arc of a teacher’s career. Our students’ pre-service, practica and classroom teaching experiences will benefit directly from the support of a network of wellprepared and supported mentors. The benefits of the WTMC Kasi White Kathleen Engle extend to the in-service phase of our graduates’ first two years in the classroom, better ensuring support that encourages their success and commitment to the profession,” says Scott Thomas, the John P. “Jack” Ellbogen Dean of the College of Education and executive director of TEI. “There are few areas promising a similar return on investment that can almost immediately improve our support for teachers in Wyoming.”

The cohort of teacher mentors is starting the 18-monthlong program on the UW campus in Laramie with a three-day Summer Mentor Institute. At UW, the teacher mentors will receive introductory training in the core competencies they will master in the WTMC. By the end of the institute, the teacher mentors will develop plans for mentoring early-career educators in their districts throughout the 2022-23 school year.

The core competencies that participants in the WTMC are expected to master include assessment, communication, feedback and work-life balance. These have been chosen as a direct response to the reasons teachers leave the field highlighted in Perkins’ research -- and to have the greatest impact on teacher satisfaction, quality and retention in Wyoming.

The assessment competency, led by UW’s Ellbogen Center for Teacher and Learning, will help teacher mentors see formative assessments as a benefit instead of a burden. They will understand how to use assessments to regularly reflect and improve on their teaching practice and encourage their mentees to do the same. Mentors will improve their effective communication skills by learning how to listen attentively and speak assertively with their mentees. Additionally, they will work with Leadership Wyoming to learn how to give meaningful, high-quality feedback to their mentees. The mentors also will learn the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance to avoid burnout and preserve their wellness.

There is more to mentoring than showing a new colleague where the office supplies are,” Gull says. “The teacher mentors already contain invaluable wisdom and, after mastering the competencies of the Wyoming Teacher-Mentor Corps, they will be able to share that knowledge to support pre-service and earlycareer teachers.”

In addition to the Summer Mentor Institute this year, teacher mentors will participate in another institute in 2023. They also will participate in two fall retreats and one retreat in the spring. Quarterly, virtual community-of-practice gatherings will be held. For their work, teacher mentors will receive a stipend for attending both summer institutes and completing all program requirements. Additionally, the UW College of Education will cover all substitute teacher and travel costs for teacher mentors to reduce the barriers for participation in the program.