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

The University of Wyoming has welcomed the inaugural cohort of the Wyoming Teacher-Mentor Corps (WTMC), an initiative led by the UW College of Education.

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 Teacher-Mentor 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 well-prepared and supported mentors. The benefits of the WTMC 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-month-long 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 early-career 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.

Here are the educators selected from a strong pool of nominees to participate in the inaugural cohort of the WTMC, listed by hometown:

Big Piney — McKenzie Sullivan, who teaches science at Big Piney High School in Sublette County School District 9.

“I’m excited to meet and work with other teachers around the state. I think it’s a great professional development opportunity that can help me become a better leader in my school and for my teaching peers,” she says. “I hope to learn ways to help and support new teachers. We need to be able to educate and retain quality and dedicated staff. It’s honestly a tough time to be in education, and I hope we learn some anti-burnout strategies for all levels.”

Casper — Miriah Eisenman, who teaches fine and performing arts at Journey Elementary School in Natrona County School District 1.

“My hope is to learn how to be a benefit to new teachers without adding more to their full schedules,” she says. “I want to learn the newest research about mentoring and apply it to aspects throughout education and my personal life. I hope to have a positive impact on new teachers in my school district. This may include mentoring as a more full-time occupation.”

Cheyenne — Donita Correra, who teaches fourth grade at Buffalo Ridge Elementary School in Laramie County School District 1.

“I love teaching and become more enthusiastic when given the opportunity to share strategies. Collaborating with educators is a passion I have had my entire teaching career, and I want to encourage this excitement in others,” she says. “I hope that being part of the WTMC will teach me how to be a more effective mentor by teaching methods that make educational discussions more thought-provoking and student growth-focused.”

Cheyenne — Jon VanOverbeke, who teaches fourth grade at Henderson Elementary School in Laramie County School District 1.

“I am excited to become a teacher mentor because I have had the privilege of working with some amazing educators who taught me a lot. This is my way of paying forward what I learned from them as well as through experience I have,” he says. “I hope to bring the material back to the district so we can strengthen our own mentor program. We have focused on evaluations with the program, and there is so much more that a new teacher needs to be successful in the classroom and the building.”

Dayton — Shae Lynch, who teaches fourth grade at Tongue River Elementary School in Sheridan County School District 1.

“I am so excited to become a UW teacher mentor and receive training and support to help other educators at all stages of their careers,” she says. “My hope is that I can take my new training and apply it to all relationships and teams in my building. As a building, we all have the same goals, and all teachers need mentorship of some sort.”

Glenrock — Jennifer Albrandt, who teaches second grade at Grant Elementary School in Converse County School District 2.

“I am looking forward to learning effective strategies to best support teachers as they begin their careers. I also look forward to opportunities to work with fellow educators from across the state,” she says. “As I look forward to next school year, I will be working with several teachers who are beginning their teaching careers. I hope that my participation in this program will allow me to have a positive impact on those educators and in my school district.”

Greybull — Jenna Schultz, who teaches agriculture education at Greybull High School in Big Horn County School District 3.

“I am excited to become a UW teacher mentor so that I can meet other amazing educators around the state,” she says. “I also look forward to learning and growing as an educator myself through this program. As a teacher mentor, I hope to learn new teaching techniques as well as how to better network with other Wyoming teachers. I also am excited to learn more about effective communication and work-life balance.”

Guernsey — Troy Reichert, who teaches career and technical education, and industrial technology at Guernsey-Sunrise High School in Platte County School District 2.

“I hope my participation in the program makes it easier to draw future teachers to our small school district and helps me build relationships with community members and leaders to help keep families from leaving our district for other schools,” he says.

Jackson — Meredith Huggins, who teaches kindergarten at Colter Elementary School in Teton County School District 1.

“I am hoping to improve my communication and listening skills, which are major parts of being a mentor, and look forward to establishing relationships with other mentors across the state,” she says. “By completing the WTMC, I will bring back skills that can be paid forward to other teachers in my district.”

Jackson — Suzanne Smith, who teaches math at Jackson Hole Middle School in Teton County School District 1.

“I would like to share some of the things I have learned over the years with new teachers. Teaching is a practice that includes a lot of trial and error, collaboration and reflection,” she says. “I hope to help new teachers communicate effectively with students, staff and parents; reflect on their practice in the most positive ways; and find ways to care for themselves personally and professionally.”

Laramie — Abby Markley, who is an instructional facilitator at Laramie High School in Albany County School District 1.

“I have been fortunate to have great mentors help me throughout my teaching career, so I look forward to paying it forward to other early-career teachers,” she says. “Most importantly, though, the more we grow as teachers in Wyoming, the more we will be able to help all of our students. In supporting teachers, we support our students, which is why we are all here. I am excited to learn from my colleagues from across the state — to share ideas and collaborate. It will be a great opportunity to grow in my own professional practices.”

Laramie — Patty Smith, who teaches language arts at Laramie High School in Albany County School District 1.

“I really enjoy working with student teachers as well as first-year teachers. I have found it to be a reflective practice and a way for me to give back to my profession,” she says. “It will be awesome to meet and work with other mentors around the state. Also, I hope to learn how other teachers work with new or pre-service teachers.”

Newcastle — Kathleen Engle, who is an induction and mentor specialist in Weston County School District 1.

“I am looking forward to sharing my knowledge, skills and competencies gained over the last 41 years on effective mentoring strategies,” she says. “Quality mentor support and guidance are critical if we are to sustain the next generation of educators. I am excited to network with mentors and mentees across Wyoming to impact student learning and teacher growth and success through current educational research and effective instructional strategies.”

Pinedale — Lindsay Adam, who teaches K-12 English as a second language (ESL) at Pinedale Elementary, Middle and High schools in Sublette County School District 1.

“I am excited to share all that I have learned working specifically with immigrants and their families in Wyoming over the last 12 years and hope that it inspires some teachers to dig deeper in their education and seek out opportunities to learn more about English learners or perhaps add on an ESL endorsement,” she says. “I also hope that the retreats provide me skills to connect with other teachers from other content areas.”

Pinedale — Jennifer Wilson, who is a special education inclusion support specialist at Summit Innovations School in Teton County School District 1.

“I am excited to support educators so they choose to stay in the field of education. The past few years have been exceptionally difficult, and teachers are leaving the profession nationally at an alarming rate,” she says. “I hope to have a clear understanding of how best to support teachers so we can continue this process. The goal is to retain highly qualified teachers at the school and district level.”

Rock Springs — Deb Jensen, who teaches science at Rock Springs High School in Sweetwater County School District 1.

“As a teacher, I also am always learning. I hope to improve my craft as a teacher through helping others evaluate what they are doing in the classroom,” she says. “I hope to bring what I learn back and help implement the things that will help Sweetwater County School District 1 improve how we help students prepare for their future.”

Rock Springs — Cynthia Porter, an assistant principal at Rock Springs High School in Sweetwater County School District 1.

“Our high school needs to develop an in-house mentoring and coaching framework, as we will have nearly 20 percent new or moved staff next school year,” she says. “Partnering with UW is exactly what we need to capitalize on resources. The teacher mentor process will give us the tools to build a robust, comprehensive mentoring and coaching framework for our school that will facilitate the needed culture shift from teacher-centered to student-centered.”

Ten Sleep — Kodi Schwarz, who teaches kindergarten at Ten Sleep School in Washakie County School District 2.

“I hope to gain leadership experience and skills through this program that I can take back to my own school,” she says. “I am hopeful to have a positive impact on my own school by the leadership experience that I will gain through the program. I will be excited to take what I have learned back to my co-workers and students who already inspire me to be better each day.”

Torrington — Abby Bruch, who teaches K-2 special education at Lincoln Elementary School in Goshen County School District 1.

“We will have 11 educators new to our school next year, along with a new principal. I am hoping this cohort can help me support all of these people,” she says. “Through the WTMC, I want to gain more knowledge on positive leadership within my building and learn the best ways to support teachers new to the profession.”

Upton — Kasi White, who teaches first grade at Upton Elementary School in Weston County School District 7.

“I am excited because we have a lot of new changes coming up in our building next year, and I want to be able to guide the new teachers with confidence and understanding of where they are coming from,” she says. “I hope that people can feel like they can come ask me for direction if they do not understand what they need to do or how they need to do it.”

Worland — Jennifer Horath, who teaches third grade at South Side Elementary School in Washakie County School District 1.

“Having the opportunity to work with pre-service teachers from the foundation up is a unique and exciting opportunity. I am honored to become a UW teacher mentor,” she says. “I would like to take the WTMC opportunity to help my district build a strong mentorship program, supporting new teachers as they come into our education community.”

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