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Supporting Teacher Quality and Retention by Training Cooperating Teachers

By Rebecca Merrill | July 29, 2021

Rebecca Merrill
Rebecca Merrill is a researcher at Education Northwest and former middle school teacher. She provides evaluation, training, and coaching on the teacher labor market, from recruitment and hiring to professional development and retention. Her second focus area is early learning policy, funding, and practice.

Early in my middle school English teaching career, I taught alongside a 13-year veteran educator. The format of collaborative teaching, or co-teaching, gave me the opportunity to build my skills and receive feedback while observing how an experienced colleague approached difficult concepts.

One day, my co-teacher delivered a lesson on “theme.” I was floored by the skillful way she guided our students to build their understanding of theme and how to identify one in a text. Observing her teaching—and debriefing it with her later—provided me with a model that forever changed how I taught that abstract concept.

Like many new teachers, I was heavily influenced by my early classroom experiences and mentors. In fact, research has shown that positive student teaching experiences can improve early career effectiveness and retention.1,2,3 For states and districts looking to address teacher shortages and high rates of turnover, improving student teaching experiences could be a long-term investment in a stronger teacher workforce.

One way to enhance the student teaching experience is to improve the quality of mentorship provided by cooperating teachers, the educators who host pre-service teachers in their classrooms. To support this effort, REL Northwest recently partnered with Boise State University to create a set of training materials to help build cooperating teachers' mentoring skills.

To develop the training content, we followed the research to identify the strategies and approaches that had the strongest supporting evidence base. This led us to focus on three topics: building positive and productive mentor-mentee relationships; coaching pre-service teachers in the art and science of teaching; and fostering pre-service teachers' resilience, social awareness, and appetite for professional growth. For each topic, we created a training module that includes a PowerPoint presentation, facilitator guide, handouts, and relevant resources.

After piloting the trainings with a cohort of teachers in Idaho, we captured the most resonant strategies in a short, animated video. Among those strategies was co-teaching—the same practice that was so influential in my own teaching career. Our video explains the variety of forms that co-teaching can take, as well as other evidence-based practices that cooperating teachers can use to build relationships and foster trust with their pre-service teachers.

These materials can be accessed freely by any school, district, or organization looking to enhance the student teaching experience. They serve as a great starting point to support cooperating teachers, who at present rarely receive intentional training on effective mentoring.4,5 By building a network of support that nurtures the skills of both cooperating and pre-service teachers, we can lay the foundation for a healthy, vibrant teacher workforce of tomorrow.

Learn more about REL Northwest's work to support Idaho's educator workforce.

1 Gareis, C. R., & Grant, L. W. (2014). The efficacy of training cooperating teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 39, 77–88.
2 He, Y. (2009). Strength‐based mentoring in pre‐service teacher education: A literature review. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 17(3), 263–275.
3 Ronfeldt, M., Brockman, S. L., & Campbell, S. L. (2018). Does cooperating teachers' instructional effectiveness improve pre-service teachers' future performance? Educational Researcher, 47(7), 405–418.
4 Hoffman, J. V., Wetzel, M. M., Maloch, B., Greeter, E., Taylor, L., DeJulio, S., & Vlach, S. K. (2015). What can we learn from studying the coaching interactions between cooperating teachers and pre-service teachers?: A literature review. Teaching and Teacher Education, 52, 99–112.
5 Valencia, S. W., Martin, S. D., Place, N. A., & Grossman, P. (2009). Complex interactions in student teaching: Lost opportunities for learning. Journal of Teacher Education, 60(3), 304–322.