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Nurturing new teachers focus of two-day conference April 10-11

Craig Chamberlain, Education Editor
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Finding the best ways to nurture new teachers early in their careers -- giving them confidence and expertise, getting them certified, and keeping them in the profession -- will be the topic of a two-day conference in Champaign next week.

About 200 educators from around the state are expected at the Radisson Conference Center, 101 Trade Centre Drive, Monday and Tuesday (April 10-11) for "Successful Transitions: Helping Illinois Teachers Move From Novice to Expert."

The keynote speakers will be Hazel Loucks, Illinois deputy governor for education and workforce development, and Charlotte Danielson, lead developer at Educational Testing Service. Loucks will speak shortly after 10 a.m. Monday on mentoring; Danielson will speak at 10 a.m. Tuesday on designing a successful program for novice teachers, citing efforts from around the nation.

The conference, likely the first of its kind in Illinois, is geared toward "all of the stake-holders who would be involved in supporting novice teachers," says Renee Clift, the director of the Council on Teacher Education at the University of Illinois.

That includes universities, school administrators, regional offices of education, teacher unions, and experienced and novice teachers, she said.

The university is part of the Partnership for Professional Development, which is co-sponsoring the conference along with the Illinois State Board of Education. The partnership also includes three of the state's regional offices of education, covering Champaign, Ford, Macon, Piatt and Vermilion counties; the Illinois Education Association; the Illinois Federation of Teachers; and numerous school districts within the five-county area.

Funding for the conference was provided in an ISBE grant this year to fund the partnership's Novice Teacher Support Project (NTSP), now in its third year.

One primary aim of the conference is to look at what's happening throughout the state in programs to support new teachers, said Jane Quinlan, an organizer of the conference and director of ROE SchoolWorks, the professional development office for the Champaign-Ford and Vermilion regional offices of education.

"We want to look at the challenges that are faced by new teachers in suburban districts, urban districts, and small school districts," Quinlan said. "We're hoping to get some idea about what's common and what's unique and what's the best way to plan and implement programs in the various settings."

The conference also will allow educators to network on the best ways to guide new teachers through the new certification required by the state, Quinlan said.

The legislation requires that all college graduates earning their degrees and initial teaching certificates after mid-February of this year must earn a standard certificate after their first four years as teachers. One factor bringing attention to support for new teachers is evidence that it makes a difference, Clift said.

"There's some indication [from research] that if teachers have gone through a supportive program in their early years, they're more likely to remain in the profession." That's especially important because of developing teacher shortages, she said.

Among the developments in the Novice Teacher Support Project, Clift noted that it was now working with about 90 first- and second-year teachers from its five-county area, through programs such as Saturday workshops and summer institutes. Originally started with funds from the UI's Partnership Illinois initiative, from which it still receives part of its support, NTSP will be involved in the future in facilitating similar joint projects between universities and schools in other parts of the state, Clift said.

The Partnership for Professional Development also has started a design team that will be looking for the best way to set up mentoring programs for new teachers, particularly in central Illinois, she said. The partnership and NTSP also are developing a Web site through which they hope to refine the concept of online mentoring in the next several years.