by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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Like all humans, teachers develop throughout their careers as they grow from new teacher to experienced teacher. The teacher that they are in their early years is rarely the exact same type of teacher they are in their later years. This is due to the fact that teachers experience an incredible amount of growth and development throughout their careers due to their experiences in the classroom, their professional learning opportunities, and other occurrences in their personal lives. As with child development theories that educators are very familiar with, developmental theorists have developed a unique set of teacher development theories to explain these growth patterns.
Why are these theories important to know? Just as educators cater the way they teach to fit the developmental stages of their students, understanding where teachers are at in their career will help school leaders provide differentiated professional development based on teachers’ developmental levels. For teachers, if they know where they are at in their careers according to developmental theories, they will be able to understand why they are facing certain issues and how to make changes to develop further. Understanding developmental theories can enable all educators to more effectively make a difference in their professions. So let’s briefly examine the general concepts of teacher developmental theories.
The literature on teacher-specific theories of development centers on the early work of Frances Fuller (1969). Fuller developed a theory based on the stages of concern in a teacher’s career, which has served as a foundation for the researchers who have followed her in this field. In Fuller’s theory, teachers move through three stages of concerns: self (e.g., survival, self-adequacy, and acceptance), task (e.g., student performance and teacher duties), and impact (e.g., social and educational impact on the system). Fuller theorized that a teacher could not move to the next stage of concern without first solving the concern of the previous stage. There are a number of other teacher development theories including Burden (1982), Burke et al. (1984), Dubble (1998), Katz (1972), Watts (1980), each of which is an offshoot of the original work in this field by Fuller.
All of these theories start with a beginning survival stage where the teacher is working on classroom management, instruction, content knowledge, and impressing their supervisors. Dubble refers to this stage of development as the “neonate” stage where the teacher is like a newborn that is thrust into a new environment that lacks the comfort, safety, and familiarity of the womb (which is the teacher preparation program at the university level). Once teachers figure out that they can in fact survive in the classroom, they begin to move out of the self-centered survival stage and into more concern about their students. Both Katz and Dubble refer to this stage as consolidation for it involves the integration of various skills and knowledge into a consistent whole to be used in the classroom. It is in this stage that teachers are open to trying new methods and strategies as they no longer harbor the concern of survival. It is an incredible opportunity to provide a lot of new professional development to expand teachers’ understanding.
It is in the third stage of development that some of the teacher-specific developmental theories begin to split from each other. In the individual theories of Burden (1982) and Watts (1980), this stage for teachers is a period of comfort in their role, confidence in their abilities, and command of their classroom environment. Whereas the theories of Burden, Fuller, and Watts see this stage as ending stage of mastery, the individual theories of Dubble, Katz, and Burke et al. do not end their theories in the third stage. Both Dubble and Katz call this the renewal stage while Burke et al. refers to it as the ‘career frustration’ stage which is a crucial point along the developmental process. All three theories posit that this is where many teachers become tired, bored, and burned out. It is at this point in a teacher’s career where they burnout due in large part to their disillusionment with the system, and either leave teaching altogether or remain in it, but lose their interest in innovation and change. To move past this stage in their development without burning out, a renewal process must be undertaken where new challenges and fresh perspectives are provided to the teacher. For Dubble and Katz, if they can renew their careers, then they will be able to reach the levels of mastery and maturation.
The mechanisms for development are very similar in all of these theories as they all revolve around the solving of crises and fears. Solving these crises occurs through changes in a teacher’s job skills, knowledge, behaviors, attitudes, outlooks, and job events. Each new stage is built off of the experiences and the quality of those experiences in the earlier developmental stages. One of the most impactful methods for helping teachers to continue to develop along their career path is to provide differentiated professional development. Instead of providing the exact same workshop to all teachers, regardless of their experience level or developmental stage, school leaders should look to implement forms of professional development that offer different learning experiences for different teachers. Not every teacher is the made the same, nor do they have the same needs, and thus by understanding where they are along the developmental spectrum, school leaders can make a massive difference in their ability to grow as educators.
Burden, P.R. (1982). Implications of teacher career development: New roles for teachers, administrators and professors. Paper presented at the National Summer Workshop of the Association of Teacher Educators, Slippery Rock, PA.
Burke, P.J. (1985). Teacher’s career stages and patterns of attitudes toward teaching behaviors. Education, 105(3), 240-248.
Christensen J., Burke, P., Fessler, R., & Hagstrom, D. (1983). Stages of teachers’ careers: Implications for professional development. ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education. Washington, DC.
Dubble, S.L. (1998). Evolving people/evolving schools. Paper presented at the North American Montessori Teachers’ Association Conference, Phoenix, AZ.
Fuller, F.F. (1969). Concerns of teachers: A developmental study of teacher concerns across time. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Boston, MA.
Katz, L.G. (1972). Developmental stages of preschool teachers. ERIC Clearinghouse on Early Childhood Education, Champaign, IL.
Watts, H. (1980). Starting out, moving on, running ahead or how the teachers’ center can attend to stages in teachers’ development. National Institute of Education, Washington, D.C.