Lessons from Beginning Teachers: Challenges for School Leaders, NZ Council for Educational Research
Induction session 1
Marie Cameron – New Zealand Council for Educational Research
This presentation focuses on some work, the Teachers of Promise study in New Zealand which started in about 2005 and is a longitudinal study of 57 primary and secondary school teachers and they weren’t just any teachers, they were teachers that had been deliberately selected because they were deemed to have potential to make a significant contribution to the profession. So we really wanted to know what do schools do to actually support these teachers. Are they pleased to get them? What happens when they get to school?
New Zealand has had a really good reputation over the years for induction of beginning teachers but actually—because, the main reason being generous funding: 0.2 for every beginning teacher in their first year; and 0.1 in their second year. So there is time to provide really good support. And what we found in the study was that the targeted funding alone did not guarantee that all teachers would receive the best introduction to teaching that one would hope. It pointed to the need for more support from, external support so that schools could actually build their capacity to use that time productively to foster the development and learning of the new teachers. And I have to say that since that time, this research and a lot of other research by New Zealand researchers has supported the work of the Teachers Council and the Ministry of Education to develop initiatives to strengthen capacity within schools to do this.
Perhaps unsurprisingly what happened to beginning teachers reflected what schools thought their job was in terms of supporting new teachers. Some schools still expected their beginning teachers to arrive fully formed, perfect, ready to go, and if they weren’t then the fault was the initial teacher educators. So any shortcomings were nothing to do with them. Workplace organisation was critical: well organised schools that actually had an initial orientation for beginning teachers, that told them who the important people were, that showed them where their classroom was, where the keys were and where the resources were, total basic things like that. It didn’t even happen for some teachers although most schools did a reasonably good job of initial orientation.
Workplace culture, as you all know, is critical. So schools that had a collective response to induction brought their newcomers into a team that looked after them and supported them. Those who worked individually behind closed doors denied their beginning teachers the opportunity to benefit from the collective expertise that they actually had. One beginning teacher said she was in a PE, secondary PE department and she said, You know, there’s apparently someone in our team who’s a really good PE teacher but I’ve never seen her teach. And what a waste.
And the final component was did the school see itself as a learning organisation? Did they have a collective, what you call here a performance and development culture or was everybody just doing their own thing? At schools that had that more of a collective culture and prioritised teacher learning just engulfed their beginning teacher into that. Those who didn’t left them to sink or swim, the common term.
So clearly—our focus is on the school itself but clearly there needed to be policies and frameworks to assist schools with their work and one of the problems at the time was there were three sets of different standards that schools were using to accredit, to actually say that their teachers were eligible to move from provisional registration to full registration. So working with three sets of standards is not helpful. Also some teachers were signed off and they had no idea what sets of standards had been used to sign them off; they just knew that they became fully registered.
The commitment of the school clearly, putting the sort of structures, policies, etcetera, in place that made it possible for the induction program to actually work. Things like timetabling were critically important because quite often the person who does the timetabling particularly in a secondary school is someone who’s really good at maths and so they’re very good at sitting little pieces together but they don’t necessarily put the timetable in so the people who need to work together can actually work together. And things like is the beginning teacher, is their classroom near the colleagues they work with or is it over a field and at the back of the school which did happen in one or two cases.
They needed mentors. In New Zealand, there is an expectation that every beginning teacher will have a mentor and I know that that’s not the only model and it needn’t be the only model because while they do appreciate one-on-one mentoring, they also highly value the mentoring and the guidance they get from other people in their team or in their department or if they’re lucky, people from other schools. A lot of them, just their friends that work in other schools were also unofficial mentors for their early development. So it was the pedagogical support about how you teach but really important was the emotional support and a number of teachers didn’t get that, and the personal support.
Opportunities to observe mentors and other colleagues teaching. 50% of the teachers in this study had not seen their mentor teach. So they had been observed but their mentor hadn’t taught with them, team taught, or invited them into their classroom. So they were telling them what to do but they weren’t showing them what to do.
The necessity for focus conversations about teaching and learning, the opportunity to say, This is my problem, this is what I know about it, how can you support me, etcetera. They were really desperate for that kind of support.
The majority of teachers were observed and they want to be observed. They’re used to being observed in their initial teacher education program so they expect that when they go into a school, this is what’s going to happen. Well it didn’t always happen and so they were left to guess whether they were doing a good job and in some cases, you know, if their class was quiet and there was no trouble then they were fine, but if—in one case, all his classes were low stream classes and he was one who his classroom was a trek across the field away from everyone else. No one saw him teach, he saw no one teach, and it wasn’t until there was a parental complaint about some aspect of school policy that he wasn’t following that he felt all of a sudden, you know, he was in trouble and that could have been avoided with some better logistical support within his team and within his school.
So clearly goal setting. That didn’t really help very often because how do you set a goal if you don’t know what the goal posts are? So they often were quite idiosyncratic goals if there were any at all.
Documentation of PRT learning. PRTs were meant to keep a folder of their progress towards registration but in most cases the ones we saw tended to be collections of stuff and there was very little—there may have been an artefact but there wasn’t a rationale for why this artefact was chosen and what it told them and what it was illustrating.
And worryingly, there’s very little assurance that the provisionally registered teacher standards were actually met in all cases.
Unsurprisingly it was the school leaders that were the catalysts for good induction and also for like how they felt about their job, like were the conditions satisfying? They entered teaching because they wanted to make a difference to kids’ learning and if they were able to feel that they were making a difference to kids’ learning then they were really happy in their work. And they also wanted to keep on learning and that was an opportunity that wasn’t afforded to everybody.
Induction was often limited to the department or where they happened to find themselves and also within the school. So that really limits a new teacher’s learning to the quality of the team that’s around him or her. So people who were placed in less effective schools had less effective induction and less solid introduction to becoming a teacher.
And clearly the ability to keep on learning, lots of learning opportunities was a major satisfier. And those teachers who were encouraged to get out, to join the unions, to join subject associations, to attend beginning teacher meetings, those teachers felt like their school cared enough for them to expand their opportunities rather than keep them tight.
There’s just a few comments there about the factors that sustain their job satisfaction. By their ninth year of teaching, 70% of the teachers were still teaching which is very high. But when we—after three years of teaching, one third had already left but a lot of those teachers came back because—I don’t know whether Australian teachers do this but New Zealand teachers tend to get their full registration and then take off overseas for a few years, usually teaching, and then the experiences that they gained internationally for some of them really, really helped the New Zealand system when they got back. Sometimes they were just very grateful they were back. And we found that teachers walked from schools that lacked the critical workplace conditions to support them. So they just, they left and comparatively speaking, a small percentage of teachers left at that early period but this group was so committed to finding a workplace where they could be successful that they just didn’t hang about.
Donald, the teacher who has the quote there, he was an amazing, successful young male who was very, very sporty and he went into a school in quite a conservative community and he was hired partly because the school had a lot of older women who weren’t too keen on taking sport. And so he was so gung ho, he would be out in all his breaks, at lunchtime, after school, weekends taking sport which he was really happy to do but he didn’t feel they cut him any slack in other areas. So documentation was not a forte for him and the school was very keen that all the i's were dotted and all the t’s were crossed and he was late handing in that kind of work. So he just decided, Well I can’t do everything. I can’t do all this extra stuff and have perfect documentation. So as you see, he left. He’s very happy. He now runs a private coaching company and he contracts back to schools and he just does sport.
Another point about the teacher retention. They’ve stayed but think how much better teachers they would be if they had had opportunities to continue to develop because after five years they were telling us that they felt that they’d plateaued. And they were moving sideways into leadership kind of positions but they didn’t feel that they were getting any better as classroom teachers. More worryingly, they stayed in the schools because they had—this is who they were, they were teachers, but some of them were reducing their commitment. So they were not putting their hands up for leadership positions like HODs because they saw that there wasn’t enough time for them to do that work properly. So the one hour a week that was allocated to them didn’t enable them to feel effective—and remember the reason they wanted to become teachers was they wanted to be effective.
Ajay, his principal said at the beginning of the study that he was an amazing teacher; by 2011 this is what he told me. And so he’s still—so retention, as you know, isn’t everything. We want people to be retained but to still retain their passion and commitment for teaching.
Those people who had strong connections between their initial teacher education still in their early careers were those who were, that was one source of professional learning for them which benefited themselves and for their schools. Induction and mentoring often sat outside what was happening within the school but if a school had a really good development framework for all teachers then induction is just part of it, it’s not an added extra.
Throughout the study we have constantly been told that principals need some career development, some principals, in how to build relationships with colleagues so that they feel cared for, they feel that their opinions count, that their work is acknowledged. Too many teachers in 2011, almost all the secondary school teachers told us they didn’t feel, they weren’t involved in decisions that affected them and that they didn’t feel that the work they did was acknowledged. It was expected but not really celebrated.
And the final point is that induction is part of a whole package for improving the working conditions for all teachers thereby improving the learning conditions for all students.
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