Research Articles and Papers from ASSC
"Architect and Steward: Shaping a Vision of Learning" Examining the Role of the Principal in the Immersion of New Teachers into Existing Urban School Climates
One of the problems that continue to confound principals and other school leaders is why so few beginners remain in teaching. The problem is most acute among the urban teacher population. In Los Angeles, more than fifty percent of first-year non-credentialed teachers leave the Los Angeles Unified School District after their first year. More troubling is that those who leave, in many cases, are those judged to have the greatest potential to be excellent teachers. As a result, Los Angeles and other urban areas face deficits of both quantity and quality in their teacher forces.
While teacher education programs have responded to the high demand for teachers by increasing the number of graduates, the problem at the root of high attrition rates has not been well addressed (Bondy, 2002; Fox & Singletary, 1986). Improving the quality of teacher preparation has been a step in the right direction (Zeichener & Gore, 1990), yet what happens when these new teachers enter the field appears more influential in the shaping of their practice than their formal preparation (Cuddapah, 2002; Jordell, 1987; Zeichener & Gore, 1990).
However, too often the pedagogical paradigm the new candidate takes away from the university conflicts with the paradigms of the schools they enter (Angelle 2002). This disjuncture can create stress and cognitive dissonance in new teachers and lead to their disillusionment (Bondy, 2002). This study examines the role the principal plays in shaping the experiences, perceptions and adjustment of novice teachers as they are faced with beginning their career in schools with established climates. The principals' role is also examined in relation to the existing forces in the school, the university training received by these new teachers, and their incoming values and expectations concerning children and schooling.
An emergent qualitative design was used to examine the experience of new teacher immersion from both the perspective of novice teachers and principals. The principal participants were chosen from four urban and three suburban schools within the California State University, Los Angeles service area, all of which enrolled a majority of English language learners. The principals ranged in experience from two to twenty-seven years. The principal participants represented diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The principal participants showed a real willingness to discuss their ideas and beliefs about novice teachers, and their strategies for supporting the needs of their new hires. Each of the principal participants was interviewed separately using a structured interview protocol.
The seven teacher participants all received their training from California State University, Los Angeles. Each of the participants was trained in pedagogical methods including progressive classroom management strategies. Each of the teacher participants had taken a position in a local urban school. These participants were purposefully selected to reflect a range of ideologies and backgrounds. Four taught elementary school, two taught high school and one taught at a middle school. The participants reflected a range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds; three were male and four female. The teacher participants took part in four focus group interview sessions of two hours each.
Data from each set of interviews were transcribed and analyzed after each session. Emergent themes were developed using a grounded theory approach for data analysis. Analytic themes were triangulated by verification within the research team, previous research and ultimately the participants themselves. The result of the analysis produced a three-factor research framework used for interpreting and displaying data.
An organizing theme for the study arose from the implications of a statement repeatedly expressed by many of the participants, "That won't work in my school." This belief provided a multi-layered context for a holistic data analysis. In essence, the statement implied that what was taught at the university was neither effective nor acceptable in the schools where the beginning teachers worked.
Figure 1: Four-quadrant matrix of teaching style orientation and practice:
When the beginning teacher participants in the study suggested that "That Won't Work in My School," this raises the question; what does that mean? What practices constitute what were perceived as the strategies and approaches that would not work in these schools?
In the area of classroom management, a common classifying system known as the Teacher Behavior Continuum is employed to categorize classroom management models from those most teacher-centered to those most student-centered (Edwards, 2000) The investigators, applying the rationale for this continuum and extending upon the work of Coloroso (1994) and Canter (1976), devised a four-cell matrix of teaching practice classification by inserting a y-axis across the continuum that ranges from productive and highly functional to dysfunctional and unproductive (see Figure 1). These quadrants can be assigned numbers from one to four and provide four distinct quadrants for classifying teacher behavior. According to this model, One schools are characterized by student-centered communities that feature self-directed learning and cast the teacher as a facilitator. Their climate could be inferred to be highly productive and functional. Two schools would also be classified as highly productive and functional climates, but these schools are teacher-centered places where teaching is well orchestrated and the teacher is conductor. Three and Four schools exhibit dysfunctional and unproductive climates in as much as they do not promote student motivation and/or emotional health. Three schools may be student-centered, but passive leadership and instruction prevail while students' efforts are self-centered. Four schools are teacher-centered where leadership aims to forge conformity by repression, which often gives rise to rebellion among the students.
New teacher participants had previously developed a classroom management plan as part of their credential program. In many cases, these management plans described the practices of a One School teacher. Yet, when asked how they would classify the management style/culture in the schools they had entered, the participants suggested that their schools could be most accurately classified as at best, Two Schools, at worst, Four Schools. They said they did not see One or Three Schools in common use. They added:
Our schools are very strict, very Canter-centered (2 orientation). Everything is very external, very extrinsic.
Our school follows 'deanism' - kids that act out are sent to the dean.
Also, participants suggested that the discipline climate of the schools was driven primarily by the beliefs of the veteran teachers.
The younger teachers are more Two and the experienced teachers more Four. There is kind of a split between the new thinking and the old school thinking.
Some experienced teachers just don't care. Kids are going to write standards even if they go to training and learn that is a bad idea. (Writing standards is a common method of punishment in which the students write many times the rule that has been violated - well-known as "write-offs.")
When I ask my colleagues for advice, what I get are (Four school) suggestions like "just write names on the board and have them write standards."
In addition, participants reported the belief that the One school approaches would require their students to make a significant adjustment inasmuch as it would be so unfamiliar.
If the students came to a One classroom, they would not know what to do after 4 years of Four teaching.
The Principals' Perception:
I try to be more student-centered and the students get really uncomfortable. They look at me and say basically "just tell us what to do."
I want to see someone teach with a One style in an inner-city school and be successful.
When the principals were asked how many of their new teachers possess classroom management plans that reflect a philosophy of learning, all seven reported that few if any of their new teachers presented such plans. Furthermore, the principals observed that the teachers saw no connection between managing a classroom and promoting higher achievement among their students. One remarked, "My new teachers have tunnel vision about their work. They are hung up on trying the latest idea promoted in the teachers' lounge." When asked why they believed this occurred, two of the principals reported that beginners are capricious and have not thought about how they view children and how their views influence their day-to-day work with students.
When asked what assistance they give their new teachers, most principals suggested offering help in the form of sending them to workshops such as the popular "assertive discipline" series. However, the principals believe most training to be ineffectual because it did not lead their new teachers to the development of a philosophical rationale for their actions. One principal quipped, "New teachers don't know why they do what they do."
To support this contention, it appeared from the data that participants that lacked philosophical anchors more readily default to the school's existing climate or the culture as expressed by the veteran teachers. In this urban district these existing climates seem to be heavily influenced by the approaches of Canter's Assertive Discipline Program (Canter, 1986). The Canter program could be said to produce what might be classified as Two-style practices. This was especially prevalent with elementary level participants.
The principal participants expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of the novice teachers due to the principals' perceptions that novice teachers lack an understanding of the mission and vision of the schools and the districts they enter. Moreover, the principals stated that the novice teachers lack the skills to create classrooms that are consistent with that mission and vision. However, the principals themselves had difficulty in articulating the mission and vision of the school beyond the state and national directives of improving student achievement; i.e. test scores through standards-based instruction. Though the principals accepted this directive is beneficial to the academic development of children, they showed an inability to articulate their philosophical beliefs to create school climates that achieve. The principal participants also expressed a lack of control in the development of distinct school climates that promote learning. First, they stated that external forces in the form of district and state mandates defined the existing school mission and vision and in turn the learning climate of the school. In addition, the principals related the significance of veteran teachers in determining the school climate. The principals related an acceptance of the power of veteran teachers at school climate construction. They reported that veteran teachers had developed their own distinct vision of a school climate that promotes achievement based on their experiences and acculturation into the school. Principals said that they found difficulty in transformation of school climate due to the teachers' prior acculturation to the school environment and faculty. As a result, the values and beliefs expressed by veteran teachers became the accepted manner of dealing with students and in turn the accepted school climate.
The Misperception of a Logical/Linear Path to New Teacher Induction
It might be inferred from the logic applied in teacher training that there is a linear relationship among the incoming values of the teacher, the university and the schools where they work. This logic implies that all learning leads in a developmental progression toward improved practice. However, the data in this study suggested that the values that drive new teachers and the values of the schools they enter are often at odds. Furthermore, the values of the school are at odds with those of the university where the teacher was trained. These conflicts became evident when the new teacher participants reported that very often they jettisoned their management plans when they attempted to achieve a functional set of strategies with their students.
Figure 2: New Teacher Interaction with Existing School Climate:
- Possible clash of expectations/values
- Uncertainty likely related to who to listen to
- Having a previously constructed plan/vision mitigates the effects of acculturation
- Possible marginalization if values of the NT values remain in conflict with existing culture
- Possible burnout related to isolation and hopelessness
The data suggest that it is common for new teachers to enter a school with certain values and beliefs but during their first year of teaching they are faced with the challenge of negotiating and reevaluating these values and beliefs to be consistent with the existing culture of the school (see Figure 2). While the new teachers' values may vary due to many factors including their university training, the participants in this study reported a willingness to adopt One School approaches and strategies. Yet because these new teachers have not seen One Schools in operation, their ability to replicate One School environments is not well-grounded.
The new teacher participants entered schools that exhibited a wide range and combination of practices, from One to Four, but most were Two and/or Four. For many of the beginners, this created a problem. Their values clashed with those of their school. This conflict took the form of cognitive dissonance, job uncertainty, and disagreements with their mentors, administrators, or other veteran teachers. The conflicts with their principals became the most unsettling. The teacher participants reported that this conflict forced them to ask themselves whether they were willing to pay the price of disapproval to retain their emerging beliefs that they felt were best for their students.
Many of the teacher participants reported that they faced the choice of fitting in or being marginalized; to do what they thought made sense or to do what worked in their school; to ultimately align themselves with the culture of the university or the culture of the school in which they found themselves. These participants explained that the expectations that they had entering the school were not reinforced by the actions of the administration or the veteran teachers. First, these new teachers found behaviors among the veterans that placed their needs above the needs of the students.
The advice I got from many teachers is "don't smile 'til Christmas."
They asked the teachers to be there early and someone said, "that is not in our contract."
Secondly, these participants noticed an unwillingness of the veterans to create an environment in which all the stakeholders were respected.
Unless the students are empowered, I don't think it will work and I don't know how the culture will change.
There are not only physical practical barriers; there are emotional barriers that create separations in the school.
Thirdly, the new teacher participants found the administration ineffectual in changing the culture of the school defined heavily by the actions of the veteran teachers and the expectations of external forces.
I think everyone has to buy in. I noticed that the administration has an expectation but everybody has to buy in.
How Principals' View of the Needs of Their New Teachers
I don't blame the administration (for not doing enough to change the situation). They have other things to worry about - all these standards and tests and ...standards to meet. All those assessments. They are not in a position to support us being (One School teachers).
When asked to cite key reasons for beginning teachers' failure to demonstrate a coherent and effective approach to their classroom management, the principal participants suggested that it was a result of poor lesson planning, a lack of instructional savvy, and a lack of time to properly prepare plans, with most identifying the absence of a personal philosophy about the best way to promote learning as the most notable cause of drift and disillusionment. The principals also stated that few if any beginners ask the principal for help. In fact, many observed a conspicuous avoidance of the principal during the first years of a teacher's work. They suggested that beginners often want to know about routine procedures, how to obtain supplies, how to deal with serious examples of misconduct and other "survival issues" as one principal characterized them. Another principal felt that his beginning teachers didn't know what to ask, which compounds their isolation from him.
Overall, the principal participants suggested that few, if any, of the beginning teachers actively sought help from them. However, three of the seven principals responded to this tendency by requiring new teachers to meet with them. They reported holding regular (at least monthly) meetings with their new teachers to discuss their problems and concerns. These principals embrace the opportunity to shape the views of their beginners, thereby building a common culture for productive learning. Cultivating this shared vision seemed to help promote a more intentional climate in the schools where it was practiced.
Figure 3: Comparison of Intentional and Accidental School Climates:
While the principal participants typically viewed the climate at their schools as well-defined and conducive to professional growth, the experience of the teacher participants was not often consistent with this characterization. New teacher participants suggested that in most cases the climates in which they found themselves were more accidental than intentional (see Figure 3). Moreover, the degree of intentionality seemed to contribute to the teacher participants' confidence in their ability to navigate successfully the demands and challenges of a new position in a new career. Teacher participants recognized that in the absence of what would be considered an intentional climate, the resulting disintegration led to more apathetic and uncritical practice school-wide. These participants expressed a deep awareness of the effects of climate of their schools.
There is no collective/intentional culture or set of expectation. We do not create the culture, it just happens, and when we just let it happen then (the culture) is just this accident. What is produced is something that we are not very proud of... I think that mission statements and vision statement are great, but without the school having a collective sense of what they are about... The staff needs to have buy in.
At my school (right now) there is virtually no time to work with anyone else. The meetings are always business-oriented. There is not really any governance for the teachers right now. We are working on a way for teachers to have input. I just think it would be so much more powerful if I/we could work collaboratively during the day.
The development of an intentional school climate was shown to be essential in the success of these novice teachers, supporting earlier research (Bondy, 2002: Clement, 1998; Hope, 1999). Shown in both the principal participant interviews and the focus group findings, the creation of an intentional climate had a significant impact on the development and retention of beginning teachers. One new teacher participant put it this way:
So new teachers who see things getting better will stay in a school as they see progress and the bad teachers will leave as they see their style becoming inconsistent with the emerging culture. Likewise, the new teacher will get burned out because they see that nothing is changing and they feel like the culture is unfriendly to their values, and so they quit.
Yet, the principals, unlike the teachers, did not express a lack of intentionality in the operation of their schools. They explained that the improvement of student achievement is a well-accepted goal among the faculty and that a great deal of professional development reinforces their schools dedication to this goal. Nevertheless, the principals did express that veteran teachers played a great role in the creation of school climate. To counter this phenomenon, the principals related the need to take an active role in the acculturation of beginning teachers. From the data, the need for a deliberate effort by principals in the acculturation of new teachers appeared critical in promoting both a positive experience for the teachers and simultaneously an intentional school climate.
It appears from the data that school climate may be a significant variable in the new teachers' thoughts and feelings related to their first year. While training and support were useful, a school with a sense of purpose that was defined by a critical reflection of practice was more welcoming to the new teacher than a school with no such sense of purpose. As the new teacher participants suggested when there was no sense of purpose, they experienced a climate defined by accidental and haphazard practices. These practices were often the result of less critical reflection and a less student-centered mindset. Principal participants who promoted a more intentional climate seemed to reap a more thoughtful brand of practice, practices that were more consistent with what is considered "best practice" at most universities. It appeared that the ability and effort of the principal to create and promote an intentional climate was essential in encouraging and supporting superior quality teaching from these novices. It could be inferred from these data that these efforts may in turn lead to an increased willingness on the part of these beginning teachers to remain in the profession. Moreover, the process of acculturation and inner conflict resolution nurtured between the beginning teacher and the administrator may produce greater linear relationship between university teacher education training and induction to the teaching profession.
Implications for Principals
Implications for Teacher Preparation/Induction
- The principal appears to be the stakeholder who is in the best position to create the intentional climate that will promote a sound and coherent induction climate. In the absence of administrative leadership the most powerful teacher constituency will dictate the climate.
- Principals should assert their role as the chief determiner of the school's climate and culture.
- Principals should reflect on their relations with veteran teachers and challenge their "folk wisdom" which may inhibit new teachers as they attempt to apply what they have learned during their University preparation programs.
- With regard to the immersion of new teachers, the principal's most important roles are architect of the school's shared vision of learning and steward of this vision with new teachers and veterans alike.
- New teacher acculturation does not appear to be within the exclusive control of any single stakeholder within the chain of the teacher preparation/induction system. Thus issues affecting retention can be positively or negatively affected by any link in the chain, and coordination among members appears necessary for successful teacher preparation/induction.
- School Climate cannot be viewed as homogenous. Nor can teacher immersion be viewed as a common experience. The interaction of the teacher's beliefs and training with those of the school climate that they enter can produce multiple results.
- Institutions of higher education might consider preparing their candidates with skills for cultural immersion as well as for best practice.
- K-12 schools that make an effort toward cultivating an intentional school climate will likely be better equipped to help new teachers face the substantial demands related to the social, psychological, and pedagogical transitions into teaching.
It is often the case that new teacher candidates graduate from institutions of higher education with idealistic views related to classroom management and the job of teaching. Constructivist and progressive, learner-centered approaches are frequently advocated by university faculty. While this trend is encouraging in many respects, it often puts the new teacher in a difficult position when they find that those same values are not shared by those in their school. New teachers are often torn between conforming to existing environments and doing what they see as most noble; survival versus long-term gains; doing what seems to work versus what they feel makes the most sense. Principals are often unaware that this conflict is taking place. Moreover those administrators that are unable to take an intentional approach to constructing a school climate/culture may find that new teacher acculturation is more accidental and therefore more uncertain. While this research sheds new light on the dynamics between Institutions of Higher Education and K-12, it is clear from the alarming rate of teacher dropout in our urban schools that more emphasis must be placed on effective teacher induction and the crucial role of the principal in supporting the induction and acculturation of new teachers into intentional school climates. In our view, the principal could stem this unfortunate acculturation by taking charge of new teachers; supporting their attempts to practice what they learn at the university and by challenging the status quo environments promoted by entrenched teachers.
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