Mentor Teachers Provide Inspiration and Support for New Teachers

Kalmiopsis Elementary School in Brookings, Oregon, is in the third year of its journey to whole-school transformation in partnership with BELONG Partners. Roxana Amaral, BELONG Partners Director of Strategic Partnerships, describes Kalmiopsis as “an innovative school community who cares deeply about fostering the agency and voice of young people. Educators at Kalmiopsis are driven by their compass to nurture and grow young people into thriving adults in society.”

New Teachers Face Challenges 

The school community was excited to welcome new teachers for the 2023-24 school year. They also understood that being a new teacher is extremely challenging.

In a 2022 poll by the National Education Association, 55% of teachers responded that they plan to quit their current education roles earlier than they originally intended. One year earlier in August 2021, 37% of teachers reported this same feeling. 

The data shows we are losing educators at an all-time high in our country. “The work BELONG Partners is doing alongside schools is the antidote to this problem,” says Roxana.

Left to right – Roxana Amaral, Nikki Darger, Sarah Sackett, Kelly Margolis, Lindsey Stout

Experienced Mentors Support New Teachers at Kalmiopsis

Identifying ways to cultivate learning and connection among staff is a powerful way to retain educators. To support their new teachers, Kalmiopsis and the Brookings-Harbor School District have been intentional about the cross-collaboration of new and seasoned teachers. 

First-year teachers Lindsey Stout, Breanna Sparkman, and Crystal Snow have all been paired with mentor teachers who have supported and collaborated with them throughout their first year of teaching. 

To foster relationship development and collaboration, BELONG Partners and the district offer two days of professional development to all new district staff and their mentors at the start of the school year. Lindsey, Crystal, and Breanna all report that getting to know their mentor teachers at the beginning of the year and setting up routines for collaboration has been incredibly helpful in feeling successful for their first year at Kalmiopsis.  

Lindsey Stout is teaching 2nd grade for the first time this year. She had relevant previous volunteer experience and was a classified staff member at the school for 11 years, which helped her feel prepared when she started in the fall of 2023. However, even her previous experience did not buffer her against the challenges experienced by many first-year teachers. Her students experienced big emotions and behavior challenges, which sometimes left her feeling overwhelmed.

Lindsey says that her mentor, Kelly Margolis, helped her tremendously. She said, “She and I discuss brain science and trauma-informed tools to help my second graders work through their problems. Regular class meetings are especially important because the kids get a chance to feel heard and they get input from their friends and classmates to problem-solve together.” 

Breanna Sparkman and Crystal Snow

For her part, Kelly reports that even as a teacher with many years of experience she has found that learning the brain science of self and co-regulation through working with BELONG Partners has changed her teaching. She says, “The kids are so skilled now at regulating their emotions. One student told me that she told her sister and her grandma to take a big belly breath when they were having an argument! I see 5-year-olds helping their friends with their big feelings. They settle problems on their own. It is so exciting at this time of the year to see the fruits of our labor – all the skills the kids have gained and the sense of community we have built together.”

Another first-year teacher at Kalmiopsis is Breanna Sparkman, who teaches 3rd grade. Her colleague Crystal Snow is also new to Kalmiopsis as a first-year 5th-grade teacher. Breanna and Crystal both expressed that managing classroom behaviors while trying to model emotional regulation skills has been something they have both needed support with. Crystal says, “You want to be modeling the appropriate response, even when things aren’t going the way you want them to in class. Because the students are watching you all the time. You’re just on, all the time, just like parenting, but even more so!”

Crystal’s mentor is Nikki Darger, a 5th-grade teacher with 29 years of teaching experience. According to Crystal, “She’s a great person to bounce things off of. She reflects back to me all of the tools that we have learned with BELONG Partners. I could not have gotten through the year without her. She’s my rock, for sure.”

Breanna says of her mentor, Joanie Ryan, “We are able to compare our teaching styles, and she gives me the grace to talk through the tools and find what works for me as a teacher.”

One way the teachers work together is through reflective peer observations. These observations are a non-judgmental and collaborative approach, benefiting the mentor, mentee, and students. The educator being observed gains insights from reflective practice. The observer reflects on the session and its relation to their own practice; and the students benefit from the continuous improvement of teaching and learning. The mentee controls which aspects of their teaching they seek feedback on and takes notes and learning points based on the feedback their mentor gathered during the observation. This holistic approach fosters a powerful experience, culminating in educators appreciating the process and strengthening the sense of community among one another.

BELONG Partners Works with the District to Build Systems Level Supports

At the Brookings-Harbor School District Level, BELONG Partners has worked with the staff and administration for the past four years. Roxana and facilitators Kayla Blau and Kelsey Peronto have made many trips from Seattle to Brookings to bring professional development, coaching, and support to the educators there. The goal of the BELONG Partners District Model is to provide a strong foundation at the district level which will be carried forward by district staff. 

Sarah Sackett is the district-level Brookings-Harbor Implementation Coach. She supports and guides educators in the district in implementing the BELONG Partners whole-school model approach. Her role includes working alongside our facilitators to provide professional development, coaching, and big-picture alignment within the district. Working together, Sarah and BELONG Partners staff systematically integrate trauma and brain science-informed, culturally relevant, and data-driven practices at the school and district levels. With two levels of support at both the school building and district level, Brookings-Harbor School District is setting their teachers up for success and longevity in the classroom.

All the participating teachers agreed that they wanted to continue supporting each other and had scheduled time to observe each other’s classes and share ideas. It is a two-way street with the mentor teachers offering tools and strategies, and also learning creative ideas from the newer teachers.

All the educators we interviewed for this article had inspiring stories from their schools and classrooms. They are excited to deepen their understanding and practices and advance the BELONG Partners approach for the benefit of themselves and their students. 

When asked about her hopes for her school community, Breanna states, “My priority is being a place that people want to come to, whether that’s the school, the classroom, or me as a teacher. Building a space that feels safe and comfortable is my priority.”

A few of the top tools & strategies shared by the Kalmiopsis new and experienced teachers – 

  • Put in the work at the beginning of the school year to teach Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) skills and strategies. The investment will build a strong foundation of community and collaboration for the entire year.
  • Teach Brain in the Palm of the Hand. Students can easily understand this model of how their brain works, which helps with communication and regulation.
  • Practice breathing exercises and other emotional regulation activities frequently, so that the skills are there for yourself and your students when needed.
  • Take two minutes every day when students return from recess to do some regulation exercises.
  • Have the kids choose their own calming exercises. The teacher can copy a student’s and model it for the whole class.
  • Teach and use bugs and wishes.
  • Start teaching class meeting skills and tools in Kindergarten, and by 4th and 5th grade, the kids can run their own class meetings. Then, they will take the skills to middle and high school!
  • Ask school leadership to make time for colleagues to share ideas and observe each other’s classes.

We hope you are as inspired by Kalmiopsis and the Brookings School District as we are!

More information about our District Model and other services is available here. If you have any questions, reach out to us at