Professional development for new teachers: don’t burn out but shine!

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Are there many professions more vital to the future of society than teaching? And yet, new teachers are particularly vulnerable to early dropout because of issues like overwork and undisciplined students. Here are some methods by which new teachers can construct a support system, leverage their peers’ knowledge and understanding, and develop their own content, pedagogy and classroom practice.

Peer-group mentoring

Most educational professionals will be familiar with traditional mentoring, which is a relationship between a more experienced teacher and their less experienced colleague or trainee. But have you ever tried verme? That is the Finnish acronym for peer-group mentoring, a concept used in Finland to support teachers in their early career.

In this mentoring approach, teachers from different schools in an educational district meet up regularly, usually once a month. Each group comprises 5-10 members, both novices and experts, and is facilitated by a trained mentor (who is the only one required to participate every time, and who is paid). During these meetings, teachers get a chance to share their experiences and discuss day-to-day problems and challenges, in the spirit of narrative methodologies.

This model can claim to contribute to the success story of the Finnish education system. In an academic study of peer-group mentoring, the participating mentees almost unanimously agreed that the practice is important for educators – not just newly qualified but also experienced teachers.

It was piloted in 2008-2010 and has since been developed and disseminated by the state-funded Osaava Verme, the Finnish Network for Teacher Induction.

Resilience through self-reflection

When a teacher is able to maintain a positive outlook while dealing with the many challenges, pressures and demands of their everyday work, they may be called resilient. The project ENTREE (Enhancing Teacher Resilience in Europe) aims to develop this attribute in more teachers, in order to help them deal with the rapidly changing school environment.

To start out with, teachers can use the teacher resilience self-assessment tool to establish their personal learning pathway. The tool will then point them to the unit most relevant to them out of six online learning modules on resilience, building relationships, emotional well-being, coping with stress, effective teaching and classroom management.

Beginning teachers might also benefit from the manuals and materials of the project’s face-to-face seminars. The activities are all underpinned by a collaborative and reflective approach to foster the growth of teacher communities.

ENTREE was launched in 2014 with funding from the European Commission’s Lifelong Learning Programme and with the support of experts from five European countries: the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Malta and Portugal.

Systematic inquiry based on research

Starting from 2014, the Fern Federation in Wales has developed a celebrated strategic development plan with roots in inquiry-based professional learning.

The constituent schools introduced four new structures:

  1. shared leadership, with teachers taking on leadership roles, even early in their career;
  2. “teaching and learning” workshops every two weeks;
  3. co-coaching sessions, where practising and trainee coaches provide pedagogical support; and
  4. a mentoring programme.

Teachers identify areas of improvement in their pedagogy, such as assessment for learning or student engagement, and browse the relevant literature. They then share their theoretical findings during the workshops and collectively decide how to put them into practice. After they have had a chance to experiment, they consider the outcome in their co-coaching sessions. Parallel to that, the call for shared leadership allows them to take more initiative, for example by conducting their own research projects, while the mentoring programme ensures that their practices stay fresh.

The schools also invested in video cameras, a classroom with a one-way mirror, and other resources with which teachers could observe and reflect on their own (or others’) lessons.

The Fern Federation consists of two primary schools, Craig Yr Hesg and Cefn, with around 400 students in total.

To discover ongoing and past EU-funded projects in school education, please go to the Erasmus+ Project Results Platform.