Becoming a Teacher: An Overview of Recent Research and Best Practice on Teacher Induction, Professional Learning, and Coaching

Becoming a Teacher: An Overview of Recent Research and Best Practice on Teacher Induction, Professional Learning, and Coaching

By Timothy Dohrer

Teacher Induction
Hiring and keeping great teachers is one of the most important investments a school can make for its students (Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2005). Yet we also know that between 20% and 40% of teachers may leave teaching in their first 5 years (Darling-Hammond & Sykes, 2003). It is imperative that school districts create conditions that provide new teachers with the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in the classroom and the profession. New teacher induction has become more popular across the United States and is proving to be effective in reducing teacher turnover (Ronfeldt & McQueen, 2017). While there are many ways of supporting new teachers, including reduced teaching loads and common planning time, one of the most popular is for new teachers to receive mentoring from a trained veteran teacher.

Traditionally, teachers are trained to be successful teachers of young people and not to be mentors to other teachers. While teacher preparation programs certainly promote collegiality and the concept of collaborating with other teachers, very little time is spent on developing a teacher’s skill as a mentor or coach. Therefore, schools need to invest time into the development of teachers as instructional coaches/mentors. The benefits of doing so continue to mount. Multiple studies have shown that schools with an established, high-quality instructional coaching program see improvements in student learning, teacher expertise, and teacher satisfaction (Gibbons & Cobb, 2017).

Professional Learning
When working with experienced teachers, we must ensure that their learning is supported by the highest quality activities and experiences. Organizations like Learning Forward have established clear standards for professional learning that have achieved wide support by administrators and professional developers. These include:

  • Developing learning communities of educators
  • Providing and coordinating resources
  • Integrate research about learning and development
  • Align outcomes for teacher development with student development
  • Skillful leadership of schools and professional learning
  • Utilize a variety of data to inform practice
  • Implement professional learning for long term change

A meta-analysis of teacher education literature (Gibbons and Cobb, 2017) found five characteristics of high-quality professional learning that include:

  • Intensive and ongoing development
  • Activities focus on the daily problems teachers encounter
  • Emphasis on student thinking
  • Development of teacher communities
  • Investigate and enact pedagogical routines and practices (“active learning”)

The School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University is committed to providing teachers the highest quality professional learning possible in our courses and professional learning workshops.

Recent research by Linsey Gibbons at Boston University and Paul Cobb at Vanderbilt University has indicated that there are particular coaching activities that are most effective in meeting the characteristics of high-quality professional learning. These activities coincide with research at Northwestern University (Sherin & van Es, 2009), as well as several popular instructional coaching models put forth by individuals such as Jim Knight, Elaine Aguilar, and Megan Tschannen-Moran. Some of the most effective professional learning activities include:

  • Engaging and deepening of disciplinary knowledge
  • Examination of student work
  • Analyzing classroom video
  • Engaging in lesson study
  • Co-teaching a lesson
  • Modeling instruction

As such, these are the best kinds of activities coaches/mentors should engage in with colleagues to develop them further as teachers. But these activities must also be accomplished according to the characteristics of high-quality professional learning discussed earlier. When they are, the result should be high satisfaction for veteran mentor teachers and novice teachers alike and a positive impact on student learning.

By Tim Dohrer
December 4, 2017


Darling-Hammond L., Sykes G. (2003). Wanted: A national teacher supply policy for education: The right way to meet the “highly qualified teacher” challenge. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 11(33), 1-55.

 Gibbons, Lynsey & Cobb, Paul. (2017). Focusing on Teacher Learning Opportunities to Identify Potentially Productive Coaching Activities. Journal of Teacher Education, 68.

 Rivkin S. G., Hanushek E. A., Kain J. F. (2005). Teachers, schools, and academic achievement. Econometrica, 73(2), 417-458.

 Ronfeldt, Matthew & McQueen, Kiel. (2017). Does New Teacher Induction Really Improve Retention? Journal of Teacher Education, 68.

 Sherin, M. G., & van Es., E. A. (2009). Effects of video club participation on teachers’ professional vision. Journal of Teacher Education, 60(1), 20-37. 

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