Sinking, swimming, box ticking? Schools and their professional responsibility for early career teachers

“What happens in induction is critical to shaping the quality of the teacher’s future performance. The induction period is a major test of the extent to which employers, school leaders and the profession are interested in and committed to the quality of teaching in schools.”[1]

Recently I had the opportunity to discuss with a group of 15 or so Victorian schools their approach to the employment and professional development of early career teachers. I found the discussions deeply dispiriting. Although compliant, overwhelmingly it sounded as if the Principals were cynically going through the motions and some said as much. In only a handful of these conversations did I sense the joy and generosity that comes with being engaged in the growth and development of colleagues.

I then came across the OECD’s 2012 report analysing the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) from 2008. The report sets out the findings of the survey in relation to the experience of new teachers across the OECD countries. In Australia a perturbing 57% of new teachers (TALIS average 40.1%) and 64% of experienced teachers (TALIS average 44.9%) think that the review of teachers’ work is largely done to facilitate administrative requirements. These two findings are significantly higher than other OECD countries[2]. Sinking, swimming and box ticking!

The recent Hay Group report on teacher induction commissioned by AITSL[3] focuses on “induction” and states that over 90% of new teachers take part in what is described as “this initiative”. However the report calls into question the execution of induction programs concluding that excellence in implementation requires strong leadership and a culture that embraces teaching as public practice not private practice. Rather than being an administrative tick box exercise, the school’s support for early career teachers is most successful when the approach is embedded across the schools with structured, systematic and strategic feedback focused on effective learning.

I believe that schools can and should raise their game. There is an important opportunity to create the best possible experience for our “new to the profession” teachers. Not only is the provision of an excellent experience for early career teachers a professional and moral responsibility for schools and educational leaders, the reputational benefit of being known as an outstanding employer is that the school will attract the very best potential candidates to join its staff.

So……..what does outstanding look like? The key is for early career teachers to receive systematic and structured formative feedback – lots and lots of it from as many different sources as possible. In relation to student learning John Hattie would advocate “dollops of feedback” and a constant attention to asking “how am I going?”. [4]  If great feedback is good for students why not also for beginner teachers? School leaders need to know how their early career teachers are travelling, how they are progressing toward those goals, and where they need to go next.

The OECD report suggests that nearly half of new teachers thought induction and mentoring programs did not facilitate regular feedback. So, the answer lies within the grasp of all schools. The induction and mentoring programs exist; we know that feedback matters; beginner teachers are hungry for both support and challenge – the missing piece of the jigsaw is the commitment of school leaders to the implementation of a structured and strategic culturally embedded fulfilment of this professional responsibility.

[1] Gregor Ramsey; Quality Matters: Revitalising teaching: Critical times, critical choices; NSW 2000 p64

[2] Jensen B et al; The Experience of New Teachers: results from TALIS 2008; OECD 2012 p.66

[3] Hay Group; Building the Right Foundation: improving teacher induction in Australian schools; January 2014

[4] Hattie, John; Influences on Student Learning; University of Auckland; 1999 p9