01 SES 02 A, Implicit and Collaborative Professional Learning
Written within the frame of the European research project ‘Outstanding New Teachers Programme’ (ONTP), the paper aims to perceive the needs of school leaders to support beginning teachers. Despite there is wide recognition of the relevance of induction programs, only half of the EU countries offer comprehensive, system-wide induction support to teachers after entering the profession (EC, 2012, p.11). The concept of induction is used here as a process of socialization (Angelle, 2002), through which beginning teachers have to simultaneously teach and learn to teach (Jensen, Sandoval-Hernandéz & González, 2012), practicing and developing teaching skills under the umbrella of experienced teachers and principals (Cherian & Daniel, 2008).
The European Commission (EC) agrees that “Efforts should be made to ensure that all newly qualified teachers receive sufficient and effective support and guidance during the first few years of their careers.” (EC, 2010, p. 5). Similarly, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warns that “The stages of initial teacher education, induction and professional development need to be interconnected to create a lifelong learning framework for teachers.” (Schleicher, 2012, p.70). Overall, the need to provide teachers with supportive systems seems to be consensual. Moreover, induction appears to be relevant to prevent new teachers from leaving the profession, due to stress, burnout, depression and other psychological symptoms, as it has been highlighted by studies carried out in the UK (Smithers & Robinson, 2003), Australia (Stoel & Thant, 2002), the USA (Ingersoll & Smith, 2003), and in other countries (OECD, 2005) (see Avalos, 2016; Kutsyuruba et al., 2016). Research reveals the importance of support from the management and colleagues for a positive job satisfaction by teachers (Avalos, 2016; Day, Sammons, Stobart, Kington & Gu, 2007; Kessels, 2010).
The principals’ role is crucial, regarding newly qualified teachers (henceforth, NQTs’) commitment and motivation, work conditions, and distribution of power (Leithwood, Day, Sammons, Harris & Hopkins, 2006), or in the way schools organizational culture is shaped (Wahlstrom & Seashore-Louis, 2008). There’s evidence that school leaders can favour educational changes binding together teachers’ professional development, curriculum management, school culture and organization (Fullan, 2008). NQTs are a key issue of principals’ work (OECD, 2005). Principals’ action concerning NQTs is highly demanding, since they can favour or inhibit teachers’ professional trajectory, and opportunities must be created so they can work with peers in learning communities, rather than in isolation (Cochran-Smith, 2004). By offering support and career induction systems, principals not only enhance speed of personal and professional development of NQTs, but also the sort of teacher they will become. And this is nuclear in the directive work because teachers are considered the most powerful predictor of student success (Barber & Mourshed, 2007).
Despite the importance of principals in NQT’s induction and in their professional development, studies focusing on this subject are still scarce in Europe. The literature review carried out by Kutsyuruba et al. (2016) on induction of NQT’s states that the highest scientific production of articles was produced in the USA (64 of 113 papers). This mapping of empirical research makes evident a gap between the number of articles written in North America with the number of articles produced in the UK (15) and Europe (8).
Therefore, the paper aims at contributing to the knowledge development about this topic in the European context. The following research question was put forward: What factors do school leaders elect as important to respond to beginning teachers’ induction programs in Belgium (Flanders), Finland and Portugal?
It builds on a questionnaire carried out in electronic format and applied to 1654 schools from all over Belgium (Flanders), Finland and Portugal. The final sample consisted in 261 respondents, of which 47.9% are Portuguese, 40% are from Finland and 11.5% are from Belgium. The questionnaire is structured in three interrelated dimensions which are interconnected and interfering with each other in a multidirectional way: pedagogical leadership (14 items related to the ability to coordinate the educational work and to promote the adoption / deepening of certain practices among NQTs); professional and organizational development (19 items related to the principal's ability to promote practices favourable to professional development according to NQTs development needs); and work organization (9 items aiming to detect needs felt by principals, especially regarding the decisions/actions to be taken to integrate NQTs). These three dimensions are inherent to the activity of principals in the relationship they establish with NQTs and are related to school administration and management, i.e., the coordination of the teaching work and the professional integration of NQTs. Based on the axes described above, three interrelated dimensions structure the questionnaire: pedagogical leadership, professional and organizational development, and work organization. The instrument was an opinion questionnaire, based on a similar instrument already validated in a previous study (Harju & Niemi, 2016). Peer discussion was used for validation of the instrument’s content and suitability to the contexts. It also included a set of open-ended questions that are not analysed here. Data was analysed with Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS, version 22). The analyses were performed to respond to the research questions. On the one hand, descriptive statistics were computed to explore the factors that principals consider more relevant to respond to NQTs’ induction programs. On the other hand, to understand context differences, a statistical test to analyse mean differences between the countries, regarding the dimensions assessed by the instrument, was computed. The distribution of subjects by each group is very unequal (Portugal n=125, Belgium n=30, Finland n=106), and the assumptions to compute parametric tests were not met. Therefore, we proceeded to the analysis of the differences between the groups through a nonparametric test for mean ranks. The significant value was set at p<.05.
The findings show the existence of a consensus, which is mainly oriented towards valuing teachers’ professional and organizational development. School leaders have a common concern with pedagogical leadership, with regard to the dimension of instructional leadership and to the personal and social dimension. They share a common view on NQTs professional development: it should occur within the school, through reflection on practices, and supported by senior teachers and principals, and comprising supervisory processes. Another finding is that principals seem to be concerned with pedagogical leadership, as they see teachers’ guidance and the classroom steering as their responsibility, and that they should have a role in giving feedback to teachers, and support them and their pedagogical practices. Highly valued is the need to encourage the analyses and improvement of students’ learning environments, and the reflection and understanding of what happens inside the classroom. Respondents from the three countries evidenced their concern about fostering moments for critical reflection, and promoting collaborative practices, in/out of the classroom, or broadened to different strands of the teacher work. Regarding national contexts, it is worth noting the greater valorisation of all dimensions by Belgian leaders, followed by Portugal and Finland, respectively. As hypothesis, we can relate those differences to teachers’ professional career status, and the NQTs induction programs, in each country. In Portugal, schools don’t welcome many inexperienced teachers per year. However, each schoolyear, they welcome many hired teachers who must be integrated into the school. This is a big challenge for principals. In Finland, results are not as significant in all dimensions, as they have very consolidated (compulsory) support systems. In Belgium (Flanders), principals’ high levels of concern can be explained by the fact that the NQTs induction is not compulsory and they’re worried about teachers’ high dropout rates.
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