For small districts, a regional network holds the key to new teacher support

By Sarah Hylton and Amy Colley
August 2022
Many school districts struggle to retain early career teachers, but the challenge is particularly pronounced in small and rural districts (Frahm & Cianca, 2021). The School-University Resource Network, a university center at William & Mary School of Education in Virginia, discovered this firsthand through a community of practice we facilitate with assistant superintendents who work in districts with 10,000 or fewer students. During regular meetings to share best practices, leverage support and resources, and wrestle with the perplexing problems of education in context, teacher retention quickly rose to the surface as a significant challenge in the participants’ districts. Assistant superintendents reported that larger, more resourced districts often wooed away early career teachers with incentives such as signing bonuses, higher salaries, and the promise of more

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What keeps a novice teacher up at night?

Each year, we ask novice teachers at the academy: What is keeping you up at night? Here are some of their responses:

  • I worry about my students’ lives after they leave school.
  • I would like to occasionally leave my work at school.
  • Am I doing the right thing?
  • What if I’m not good enough?
  • What if I make a mistake?
  • Am I reaching every student?
  • How long will my grandma and grandpa let me live here?
  • I worry about everything I have yet to do that I know should already have been done.
  • I want to be a good mentor for my students and worry about saying the right things to help.
  • There just aren’t enough hours in the day.
  • I worry about sounding like I don’t know what I’m talking about.
  • I feel unprepared and am scared to leave school feeling that way.
  • When do I plan ahead?
  • Kids talking. All. The. Time.
  • Knowing what to say when I have to call a parent.
  • I think I’m hitting a wall.
  • Are they learning?
  • I’m doing things not 100% in order to complete 100%.
  • I worry I’m not doing enough for my students.
  • I worry about letting a kid go under the radar.


Cooperrider, D.L., Whitney, D., & Stavros, J.M. (2008). Appreciative inquiry handbook for leaders of change (2nd ed.). Berrett-Koehler.

Frahm, M. & Cianca, M. (2021). Will they stay or will they go? Leadership behaviors that increase teacher retention in rural schools. The Rural Educator, 42(3), 1-13.

Grossman, P. & Loeb, S. (2010). Learning from alternate routes. Education Leadership. 67(8), 22-27.

Knowles, M.S. (1984). Andragogy in action. Jossey-Bass.

Pitton, D.E. (2006). Mentoring novice teachers: Fostering a dialogue process. Corwin.

Portner, H. (2003). Mentoring new teachers. Corwin.

Radford, C.P. (2017). The first years matter: Becoming an effective teacher. Corwin.

Rodgers, L.A. (2022). Team reflections activity: Highs, lows & lessons learned in the workforce. Better Teams.

Woods, J.R. (2016). Mitigating teacher shortages: Alternative teacher certification.

Amy C. Colley ( is executive director at School-University Resource Network at William & Mary School of Education in Williamsburg, Virginia.

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