The learning and development of new teachers in their first year of teaching: evidence from the TLRP Early Professional Learning Project

McNally, Jim and Boreham, Nick and Corbin, Brian and Stronach, Ian (2008) The learning and development of new teachers in their first year of teaching: evidence from the TLRP Early Professional Learning Project. In: British Educational Research Association (BERA) Annual Conference, 2008-09-03 - 2008-09-06. (Unpublished)

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The 'Early Professional Learning Project' (ESRC Reference No. RES-139-25-0122; see website identified a number of dimensions in the learning and development of new teachers in their first year of teaching. The multi-dimensional nature of their experience was based on over 150 in-depth interviews with the new teachers themselves. Analysis indicated that the emotional-relational was much more dominant than learning that could be construed as more cognitive in nature particularly in the first few months. There was also evidence of the material/physical, the structural/systemic, the ethical and the temporal. Although these dimensions were present to different degrees across the interview data, there was a fairly consistent narrative theme of identity formation, of individuals finding (discovering or inventing) their teaching selves (Giddens 1991). Part of the rationale for the study was the need to address the increasing polarisation of policy and research on early teacher development, the widening gap between what the professional standard appeared to presume and dictate, through competences and benchmarks (GTCS 2001) and what the lived experience appeared to be. Previous research, for example, had identified the importance of a more informal kind of professional learning (McNally 2006), while acknowledging a definitional vagueness and empirical weakness (e.g. Eraut 2004). Aim and Methodology. A major aim, therefore, was to explore the extent to which it would be possible to draw on well grounded empirical evidence to inform and enhance the professional standard. Bound up in this was the perception that much of the research on teacher development was founded on what the policy community seemed to regard as soft story-based data - and so a quantitative element was incorporated in the research design. This consisted of five indicators for qualitatively important areas of new teacher development and performance (interactions, children's view, pupil development, job satisfaction and expert judgement), developed as part of the project and statistically analysed. All of this, however, was set within a naturalistic paradigm, grounded in practice (Glaser 1978; Lincoln & Guba 1985). One feature of the research design was the use of six practising teachers as researchers. They played a full part in the collection of data and development of the indicators and became increasingly central to the research. In particular, they conducted all the interviews, beginning as 'insiders' with the new teachers in their own schools before moving on to other schools (a total of 132 teachers across 34 primary and secondary schools in Scotland), and also administered the indicators as instruments in the sampled institutions. Following a brief overview of the project, covering the aspects above, a more detailed account of one of the dimensions (relationality) and its associated indicators will be given. The main statistical findings will be presented and discussed in relation to relevant narrative extracts. Implications for policy and practice. There are some pieces of practical advice suggested by our findings, mainly within the material dimension (e.g. on accommodation and resources), but also on mentoring, that could be relayed to schools and supporting teachers; there are also some systemic issues (e.g. placement, post-induction employment) that the policy community need to address; and there is a case for offering beginning teachers (and their supporters) some meta-cognition of the process they are living through, probably with some actual narrative illustration. However, examples of the emotional and relational in existential issues of identity formation, despite wider corroboration of their fundamental importance in the literature (e.g. Bosma & Kunnen 2001) are unlikely to be perceived as useful in practice. The deeper implications of our evidence for policy and practice are not straightforward. We need to begin an exploratory dialogue with the policy-making community that is not a meeting of polar opposites but which recognises the relative absence of reference to the professional standard (the SFR in Scotland) in interviews; that acknowledges the emotional-relational in identity formation (Hargreaves 1998; Bosma & Kunnen 2001) as well as the cognitive, the ontological and ethical (Giddens 1991; Hinchcliffe 2004) as well as the epistemological; and asks to what extent formal standards and support systems can be expected to capture the complex, personal nature of the beginner's experience. We have little empirical or theoretical sense of how specific competence statements are or could be meaningfully used by practitioners but it may be possible to discover whether some competences are more important or more stage-critical than others. There are interesting comparative developments: parallel research in England (Day et al. 2005; Corbin 2006); the 'experiment' in the Netherlands where a new standard has been devised by practising teachers (Storey 2006); the contradiction in Sweden between formal knowledge and the tacit knowledge used by teachers (Carlgren 1996); the conceptual gap between occupational (professional) standards and workplace (school-based) learning in general.