01 SES 03 A, Professional Learning for Beginning Teachers
Entry and transition into the profession can be a daunting experience for beginning (or new, novice or neophyte) teachers (Bullough, Young, Hall, Draper & Smith, 2008; Grudnoff 2011), who are defined in this study as those teachers with less than five years of teaching experience. For the first time, they are taking full responsibility for their professional work. For the first time, also, they are facing all the challenges a teaching career presents. Often it can prove to be a period of survival and discovery (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005; Lee & Feng, 2007).
It is a generally accepted view that teachers should engage in career-long professional learning (Groundwater-Smith, Ewing & Le Cornu, 2015; Mourshed, Chijioke & Barber, 2010; Ng & Low, 2017). Therefore, what they need to develop their professional practice in their first few years of teaching is critically important to provide mechanism to support their career progression. However, as beginning teachers first enter the profession, encountering all the challenges that entails, it is reasonable to assume that their learning needs will be considerably different to that of their more experienced peers, and certainly, expert teachers (Berliner, 2004; Hargraves, 2000; Ward, Grudnoff, Brooker & Simpson, 2013). While the professional learning needs of teachers, as a general group, have been well explored, the specific learning needs of beginning teachers is not as well documented (Croswell and Beutel, 2013; Rowan & Townend, 2016). Research tends to be dated, limited in breadth, or lacks specificity.
It is important to listen to the voice of early career teachers to provide an “accurate picture” of their learning needs (Salazar Noguera & McCluskey, 2017, p.102) and it is essential that any professional learning is “targeted, focused or responsive to the specific challenges” these teachers encounter (Rowan & Townend, 2016, p.3). Yet, there remains a “dearth of research” in this area (Croswell and Beutel, 2013, p.144), teacher learning being a comparatively new ﬁeld of enquiry (Borko, Liston, & Whitcomb, 2007; Cameron, Mulholland & Branson, 2013). This paper helps to expand the current knowledge in this area by exploring in detail the professional learning needs of a group of 40 beginning teachers working across a range of different schools in New South Wales, Australia.
Self-regulated learning theory (SRL) was adopted for this study as a theoretical base and lens to explore the professional learning needs of beginning teachers. Self-regulated learning refers to the ability to understand and control one’s learning environment beyond formal education (Thomas, Bennett & Lockyer, 2016, p.931). This is achieved through setting goals, selecting and implementing strategies to achieve those goals, and monitoring progress towards those goals (Schunk, 1996). Self-regulated learners, thereby, “are aware of what they know, are strategic in their approach to learning, and [take responsibility for] their successes and failures in learning” (Peters-Burton & Botov, 2017, p.47). Beginning teachers, therefore, need to be able to “set learning goals for themselves”, identify “what knowledge and skills they already have”, and determine what “new knowledge and skills” they need to develop if they are to become self-regulated learners and effective teachers (Muijs et al, 2014, p.247). In the light of this theory, the study aims to address the following research questions
- What are the professional learning needs identified by beginning teachers?
- How do beginning teachers address these professional learning needs?
The project employed qualitative case study approach using self-regulated learning theory as a theoretical lens to examine the professional needs of a sample of beginning teachers in schools in New South Wales, Australia. Yin (2003) defined a case study as an investigation of a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life setting. Many researchers (Yin, 2003) acknowledge that a case study is appropriate when investigating what is happening within a social context. In this study, the researchers intend to make a thorough and intensive exploration of a contemporary issue (teachers’ perceptions towards their professional learning needs and practices), within a real-life setting (the contexts of beginning teachers’ practice in the context of Australia). Participants (N=40) for this study are beginning teachers (1-5 years of teaching experience) teaching in a number of contexts in New South Wales, Australia. Individual, in-depth, semi-structured interviews were used to explore the teachers’ early career experiences and investigate their professional learning needs and practices. The one-hour interviews were conducted face to face. They were audio recorded and later transcribed with pseudonyms allocated to all participants and their schools. The less-rigid format of semi-structured interviews using open-ended questions provided the opportunity to seek further clarification and expansion as well as the potential for unexpected insights to emerge.
The outcome of this study is to contribute to an increased understanding of the beginning teachers’ professional socialization processes in an Australia context by exploring their needs and professional learning strategies. This study is expected to map out the best way to support beginning teachers practice and facilitate their professional learning in schools. The goal will be to inform practice and policy in the support of beginning teacher to enhance the quality of teaching and support for the next generation of teachers in the profession in the context of Australia and beyond.
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