01 SES 03 A, Professional Learning for Beginning Teachers
A teacher’s early career is not only characterized by learning how to teach, but also how to become a school team member. Yet, teacher induction research hardly focuses on this organizational embeddedness. Although teacher induction is a well-researched area, traditionally emphasis is placed on micro-level issues, related to beginning teachers’ content knowledge or pedagogical skills. Or, more specifically, the focus is on the individual teacher within his/her classroom and with his/her problems, needs and (lack of) expertise. The last couple of years, however, increasing attention has been paid to the fact that teacher induction is not only a matter of pedagogical issues at the classroom level (micro), but also of becoming a member of the school as an organization (Correa et al., 2015; Ulvik & Langorgen, 2012). This process of socialization implies that beginning teachers have to manoeuvre within the social, cultural and political landscape of the school (meso) and the broader organizational field (macro). Additionally, a growing body of literature emphasizes how the school’s social infrastructure may offer opportunities for beginning teachers’ development by approaching newcomers as resources in the workplace or by actively using beginning teachers’ expertise for school development (Fleming, 2014). In line with these recent studies, our starting premise is that beginning teachers not only make sense of the context (learning the rules and how to fit in) but at the same time become an actor in the school organization themselves, and therefore should be approached as co-constructors of the socio-cultural reality of the school.
In order to build a comprehensive conceptualization of beginning teachers’ organizational role and socialization, we draw on concepts from three complementary disciplinary traditions.
- Personal interpretative framework: Conceptualizing beginning teachers’ sense-making, we draw upon the notion of personal interpretative framework (Kelchtermans, 2009). Kelchtermans argues that, based on their experiences in the profession, teachers, principals, and other school actors develop a personal system of knowledge and beliefs that acts as a cognitive and affective lens through which school actors look at their job, give meaning to it, and act in it. This concept takes into account actors’ feelings, motivation, and perceptions of their work, as well as the general educational perspectives related to teaching and learning.
- Neo-institutional theory: Whereas sense-making theory privileges the role of social actors and their individual sense-making, neo-institutional theory emphasizes the role of more formal structural aspects and institutional rules in understanding individual and organizational behavior (Scott, 2008; Weber & Glynn, 2006). The merit of neo-institutional theory is that attention can be broadened from specific school actors to the whole realm of relevant actors. The neo-institutional perspective allows to understand beginning teachers’ socialization processes within the relationship between school organizations and the broader institutional environment in which schools are embedded
- Social network theory: Educational researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers are increasingly acknowledging the potential of teacher networks to foster teacher learning and school improvement (Baker-Doyle, 2011; Frank et al., 2004). In order to explore how beginning teachers become embedded in their school over time, we focus on their network formation using social network theory. Social network theory offers a relevant framework, because it presupposes that individuals’ attitudes and behavior are affected by their position in, and structure of the network in which they find themselves (Fox & Wilson, 2015).
This paper aims to gain insight in the processes through which beginning teachers become familiar with the knowledge and skills related to their organizational role. The research questions can be formulates as follows:
1. How does the beginning teachers’ social network evolve during the first year?
2. How do beginning teachers fulfill their organizational role?
Since we wanted to obtain in-depth descriptions of beginning teachers’ network formation during their first year, as well as take into account both beginning teachers’ sense-making as well as the social structure in which beginning teachers work, we used a qualitative-interpretative methodology (Bryman, 2008). Particularly, a case study design (Yin, 1994) was conducted in one secondary school in Flanders (Belgium) during the school year 2013-2014. We focused on a single case, allowing for the depth of observation and analysis necessary to capture the subtle process of beginning teachers’ socialization. Data collection occurred during one school year in order to “map” beginning teachers’ socialization process, their interactions and organizational position within their school. Data were collected with the use of social network diaries (egocentric network approach; beginning teachers) and semi-structured interviews (approximately 1.5h; beginning teachers, school principal and mentor). In order to understand the school’s mentoring policy and the kind of induction program and support offered to their beginning teachers, the mentor and the school principal were interviewed. Furthermore, six beginning teachers were followed during one school year and asked to keep a continuous record of the people with whom they interacted (during one week/four times over a period of one school year). Social network data were used to gain an in-depth understanding of teachers’ network formation, organizational role and socialization process. Furthermore, after the completion of the network diaries, in-depth semi-structured interviews were held with the focal teachers (i.e. beginning teachers) in order to understand whom the teachers talked with, the frequency and content of their interactions, as well as why they talked with some people and not others. We took an egocentric approach to social network analysis, taking discrete individual actors and their contacts as its starting point. All interviews were audio-taped, transcribed verbatim, and interpretatively coded through strategies of open and axial coding (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). After coding the data, we performed a vertical analysis for each individual respondent, followed by a horizontal analysis (within case analysis), comparing the findings for all respondents within the school for systematic similarities and differences (Miles & Huberman, 1994). In the cyclical process of reading, interpreting and checking, we focused on interpreting and understanding patterns and mechanisms of beginning teachers’ socialization process, their position in the school network and their organizational role, in order to refine or verify preliminary conclusions.
1) Structure of the network Our analysis also shows how “physical closeness” and “identification with others/social closeness” seem to be important factors in building relationships and social networks. In other words, the organizational structure (e.g., configuration of roles and subunits) shapes beginning teachers’ patterns of interaction, which fosters development of some relationships and discourages others. To ensure that teachers have access to information and to build relationships with other colleagues within the school, it is essential that they are been exposed to others and thus can interact. 2) Relevance of school-external networks Beginning teachers not only draw on support available in their schools, but develop much wider networks. These networks provide support, both for their professional duties (technical/pedagogical/curricular) and their sense of identity and self-esteem. In order to find their place within the school organization, the mentor was not the only and most important person for the beginning teachers. More specifically, they referred to the mentor when having issues with regard to class management, collaboration with parents, pedagogy. When having issues or questions regarding the school culture, the norms, values and rules in the school, they contacted their school-external network. 3) Demand & supply driven versus knowledge exchange Beginning teachers’ social networks can be typified as demand-driven. The beginning teachers mention little initiatives at the school level in which they can exchange their expertise and knowledge with more experienced colleagues. Mentoring practices and induction programs are often framed as long-term relationships between an experienced expert and newcomer, primarily designed to facilitate their induction into the culture of teaching. Though well intended, the focus on the individual teacher runs the risk of ending up in a reductionist approach and a deficit perspective which positions beginning teachers as problematic, incomplete and eventually not fully competent members of the school.
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