This week in thousands of schools up and down our land Newly Qualified Teachers are starting out in their first teaching job. Everything is new. They are often expected in a short space of time to have developed an effective working relationship with their class or classes, there are schemes of work and resources to master, an expectation to be collaborating with their colleagues in a timely and cooperative way, to have got to grips with the multitude of policies, practices and, yes, I have to say from experience, frequently bizarre aspects of the unique culture of the school (aka, “this is how we do it at St Swithins”!). Then there are the leaders of the school (and all of their particular foibles and “passions”, the good, bad and the ugly), as well as a bunch of people who appear in your classroom on particular days of the school year to “do some monitoring” and “learn about what is happening in the school” called governors. Then there are the parents of the children (a whole other story). In short, a whole panoply of relationships to manage which is further complicated by a layer of decision makers and politicians that live out in the wilds beyond the school but seem have a huge impact on what is taught, and how and when and how often children are assessed. Finally, there is the inspectorate, ever present it seems (even if only due in school at some more distant point) judging by the plethora of professional development courses prefaced by the words “meets the requirements of the latest OFSTED Framework”, and the frequent introduction to in – school training events by senior staff which begin with “and this is what OFSTED will want to see….”(and yes, I confess that I did the same on occasion).
Small wonder then that so many early career teachers find that the job becomes too much and they quit the profession in which they have given so much of themselves, supported by the time and resources of tutors at university schools of education, school mentors and professional tutors. The latest figures from the Department for Education in 2011 suggests that nationally only 62% of Newly Qualified Teachers remain in post a year after qualification. But you might say, my school is quite different and we do a good job with our bright new teachers. So what makes that difference?
Major research over the last 5 years in both the UK and especially Australia has begun to unpick the potential factors that will boost resilience and make it more possible for schools to retain early career teachers. In a powerful new book “Resilient Teachers, Resilient Schools”(Routledge) Professor Christopher Day and Associate Professor Qing Gu from the Centre for Research in Schools and Communities in the School of Education in Nottingham, use an extensive research base to show how schools and senior leaders can boost the “everyday resilience” that is required to succeed in teaching. Drawing a contrast with the traditional psychological approach to resilience which focuses largely on the skills and abilities of individuals to bounce back from adversity, Day and Gu look at how schools can help early career teachers to manage the complexity of the relationships they face, to build their own unique teacher identity, commitment and moral purpose to weather the storms they will face.
Down under Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of South Australia, Bruce Johnson and his colleagues created a model of early career teacher resilience against which schools can compare and analyse their own policies and practice. They draw on a wealth of individual stories of early career teachers and the staff who supported them which provide moving, illuminating and thought –provoking insights (“Early Career Teachers: Stories of Resilience”, Springer, 2015). In their second book “Promoting Early Career Teacher Resilience” (just published by Routledge), there is a strong thread of argument behind the notion that schools which are vibrant professional learning communities characterised by democratic, trusting and collaborative relationships are those which retain their new teachers. In particular, there is an explicit understanding that resilience is about recognising the highly complex, intense and unpredictable daily world of the teacher and that the school more than the individual holds the key to ability to success as a new teacher.
At Affirm, we are working to create our own programmes to boost resilience for not just early career teachers but also teachers at all stages of their career and to provide bespoke advice, training and support for senior leaders to lead with resilience. I welcome any communication from schools, leaders, or researchers as we all learn what can make that vital difference to our greatest human resource.