by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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The high attrition rate for beginning teachers in K-12 education is an area of concern for school districts across the nation. Teacher turnover in the beginning teacher population is creating trouble for a struggling system that is in need of experienced, quality teachers. There are a number of factors that influence beginning teachers to leave the field of teaching, but the constant that they share is the void they leave behind them. A new wave of teachers must fill this void, which lessens the experience and expertise available in the K-12 system. Furthermore there is a substantial cost of rehiring a new teacher into the vacated positions.
In discussing the attrition problem, Ingersoll and Smith (2003) use the metaphor of a bucket with numerous holes in it; the bucket continues to lose water poured into it and the more water poured in, the more that is lost. Pouring more teachers (the water) into the system (the bucket) will not solve the problem of attrition. Ingersoll and Smith suggest that the answer is not to pour more water in, but rather to fix the holes in the bucket so the water cannot drain out. There are plenty of teachers being trained and hired that are flooding into the school system, thus the problem is not about bringing in more teachers, but rather retaining the teachers that are already in the system. However, this is a difficult task. Before the process of fixing the holes can begin, it is essential to recognize and understand the many holes in the bucket.
The high attrition rate of beginning teachers, those with between one and five years of experience, is not a new problem, but has received increased attention in the last couple of decades. Numerous studies have been conducted on the problem of high attrition rates of beginning teachers in K-12 education. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (2005) reported attrition rates of nearly 50% for teachers in their first five years. While myriad reasons are provided by teachers for leaving the profession including low salaries and personal reasons (e.g. marriage, birth of a child, family issues, accidents, relocation), two particular areas are of the greatest concern for they directly relate to the role of the school and the district:
Support Systems: The most integral support systems for beginning teachers are mentoring programs, beginning teacher induction programs, professional development programs, support from colleagues, and support from administrators. Support systems such as mentoring and induction create positive relationships for teachers that mimic the teacher education programs from which they are coming. National studies have shown that programs that help orient the beginning teachers into the school can raise retention 25% - 50% higher than schools or districts that do not have these programs. Developing and implementing effective professional development, mentoring, and induction programs at the school or district level are a necessity to retain high-quality educators in their beginning years.
Working Conditions: The working conditions in schools, as those in any business, organization, or corporation affect the health, wellness, and happiness of employees. The working conditions of a school include the actual physical buildings and classrooms, the school climate, class sizes, teaching workloads, student discipline problems, and teacher autonomy. Many schools and districts are attempting to address work conditions by providing greater amounts of technology for teachers, but the most crucial factor in studies is the actual culture/climate of the school. School cultures are reliant on the effectiveness of school leadership to develop a welcoming and supportive culture. Health and happiness of new teachers is of the utmost importance, for happier teachers are more likely to be a positive influence on the teachers that they work with.
If we return to Ingersoll and Smith (2003)’s metaphor of the water bucket, there is an intense need in education to repair the holes in the bucket before we continue to dump more water into the bucket. If the major issues in working conditions and support systems are not addressed by school and district leadership, then teachers will continue to leave the organization. The turnover of the teacher workforce means that there is a continuance of new teachers with limited experience, which can limit their impact on student achievement and learning experiences. The biggest problem is that these new teachers bring with them new ideas and strategies from their teacher credential programs that can help experienced teachers redevelop their own strategies, but if teachers leave too soon then this added value is lost. Teachers must be able to stay long enough at the school to have an impact, and to grow and develop in a supportive culture into outstanding teachers. It is imperative that school leaders work to develop and implement support systems for beginning teachers and to build welcoming school cultures, thus enabling teachers to make a difference in kids’ lives.
Ingersoll, R., & Smith, T. (2003). The wrong solution to the teacher shortage. Educational Leadership, 60(8), 30-33.
National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (2003). No dream denied: A pledge to America’s children. Washington, DC: Author.
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.
by, Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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Reform movements are not a new phenomenon in the realm of education, as they have been in existence since the earliest forms of formalized education. Almost every regular aspect of a modern school and the education system was at one point an educational reform. Reforms are implemented to address the diverse needs of various stakeholders in the education system, as well as to simplify and streamline aspects of the education system. While some reforms have been successful at reshaping education, others have met failure and have been replaced by new reforms, or have been repackaged, renamed, and later returned to schools as ‘new’ reforms.
One of the biggest reasons why reform movements fail is that when a reform works in one school, other schools begin copying the exact reform in their own schools. This cookie-cutter approach to reform fails to take into account the local context of the school’s individuality. Schools are not carbon copies of each other, as they have different student populations with different needs, different resources, different facilities, etc. Thus the cookie-cutter approach to reform cannot be successful in the long run because what works in one school and one student population will not necessarily work in every school and with every student population. So what can be done to ensure that good educational reform movements have the opportunity to succeed and transform teachers’ instructional practices and student learning environments?
Simply put, the paradigm of educational reform must be shifted to address the individualized needs of each school and student population. According to leading educational experts Datnow and Park (2009), the paradigm of educational reform must shift to a focus on co-construction of the reform. Co-construction of reform means “that [educators] at all levels contribute to the policy-making process and that that process is characterized by continuous interactions among [educators] within and between levels of the system” (p. 351). From this perspective, reform is not done to the schools by a higher authority, but rather the reform is done in the schools. Smylie and Denny (1990) would agree with this co-construction reform perspective as they state: “change must be grounded in local discretion and in decision making that involves teachers as participants rather than as targets of the process” (p. 236). Thus the co-construction perspective can take into account all of the educational stakeholders and allow for attention to be paid to contextual situations that are related to the individual school or community.
Thus it is time to throw out the cookie cutters and start understanding that every school and student population is unique. It is impossible to take what works at one school and think it will work equally as well in every other school. The structure of the reform can be kept intact, but it must be flexible enough to change for each school’s individualized needs. The endless cycle of issues and reforms can leave a person dizzy, but with each reform, whether it was a success or a failure, the education system must learn from it. There is a not a single reform in existence that can change education over night, but the accumulation of countless small reforms at the local level can make an impact. So join other successful schools and school leaders in throwing out the cookie-cutters and start implementing unique reforms that can make a difference for stakeholders throughout the education system.
Datnow, A. & Park, V. (2009). Conceptualizing policy implementation: Large-scale reform in an era of complexity. AERA Handbook on Education Policy Research, p. 348 – 361.
Smylie, M.A. & Denny, J.W. (1990). Teacher leadership: Tensions and ambiguities in organizational perspective. Educational Administration Quarterly, 26(3), p. 235-258
As individuals that care about our organizations and making a positive impact in our community, we constantly try to improve our work. We are always attempting to make changes to our organizations that will keep us up-to-date with current research and best practices. Having this constant desire to improve prevents us from becoming stagnated and falling behind, and it allows our organizations to be positive contributing members of our communities. The warning we must heed in this constant state of improvement is how fast we ask for change.
As the school leader, I ask for changes to happen at my school. I want our school to be one of the best in the county, and there are always places for school improvement. I have worked with the faculty to change a number of expectations from unit maps to evaluations and professional development to help support the growth of the school. As we have made these changes, I have had to keep in mind the rate at which we implement each change.
I believe it is important to have a plan or long-term goal before implementing any change. We need to know the end result before we can take the first step. We consider the options and figure out what we want our end result to look like. Then we begin implementing the changes necessary to get to that end result. Recently, our school began implementing more mobile technology into the classrooms. We purchased Chromebooks and began transitioning to Google Apps for Education. Operating within Google Apps for Education, we have access to calendars, shared cloud folders, class websites, and a multitude of other wonderful apps that can enhance and streamline our instruction. The difficulty is that I can see where we could be with the new technology and want to jump ahead ten steps and see it fully implemented. I have to remember that we need to go one step at a time. I need to make sure the teachers are comfortable with the new Chromebooks and Google operating system before I can ask for the next step.
Noted leadership experts Heifetz and Linsky1 discuss the importance of controlling the rate of change. When we are asking for change, we see an increase in anxiety. We become comfortable with the way things are done, and the change causes us to become uncomfortable. We get anxious about how to do it the new way. As the leader asking for the change, we need to be mindful and present to the signs of this anxiety. If we continue to push changes when the anxiety level is too high, we will inevitably fail. We have to control the rate of change to make sure the organization can handle the anxiety.
Our school recently started using new standardized testing software. The benefits of the software significantly outweigh our old testing program, but the new system is overwhelming. Initially, I attempted to implement the entire program at once. As I implemented the program, I began to see the signs of increased stress and anxiety. I decided to cut back on our implementation goal for the school year and only ask for a small portion of the program that was similar to our old testing program to be used. This allowed the faculty to begin to get comfortable with the change before asking for the next step. Although I want to be at the finish line already and can see the benefits of being there, taking one step at a time is allowing the school to engage in the process to a deeper and richer level. When we reach the finish line after a few more steps, we will have a greater comfort with the new testing software and a greater ownership by all stakeholders of the benefits that it can provide.
It is not easy to slow down change, but if we want that change to last, it is imperative. We need to allow those in our organizations to grow with the changes that we expect. When we are able to keep the change at a pace that individuals can swallow, we will see the greatest sustained growth. If we ask for too much, we will lose the change to the old way of doing things.
1 Heifetz, R. A. & Linsky, M. (2002). Leadership on the line: Staying alive through the dangers of leading. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.