Director of Research & Content Development
(This post is part of a series of articles, blog posts, and short briefs EXPLO Elevate is doing, focused on supporting schools’ virtual learning during COVID-19)
If you entered the teaching profession recently, you may have seen this graph:
Developed by Ellen Moir, Founder and CEO of The New Teacher Center, it succinctly describes what many novice teachers go through during the course of their first year in the classroom.
I have been thinking a lot about this graph in today’s context, given how teachers have had to quickly move to a completely new form of teaching and learning in the virtual world. There are some clear parallels to a novice teacher’s first year on the job and the situation many teachers now find themselves in:
- Quite a few experienced teachers are novices right now if they have limited or no experience in virtual teaching and learning.
- Similar to novice teachers’ excitement and worry around their first few days in their classroom (i.e. the anticipation phase), we have already seen similar emotions play out for teachers in the past few weeks.
- Many teachers are poised to move into a survival phase, particularly as more and more schools articulate that the previously thought two- or three-week stints in virtual learning are extended at least a month or two, if not for the remainder of the school year.
The only catch is that teachers are likely going through these phases in a matter of a few short weeks, whereas novice teachers go through them over a course of a year. Below is a graph that takes the chart above and crams it into a three month period instead.
Looking at this graph, you may already be realizing that because many schools are now in week one or two of virtual learning (some even in week three), it very much means we are nearing the point where survival starts to dip downward to the “trough of disillusionment”.
There is still time, though, to create a more stable and positive experience for teachers, without such a drastic dip. The graph below shows a different future, with the blue line indicating that while there is still a downward trend at the start of remote learning, it stabilizes and starts moving upward far before teachers can reach disillusionment.
How can teachers’ experiences in individual schools be shifted up from the black line to the blue? One immediate place for answers might be to consider the ways in which many schools already mitigate the effects of the downward trajectory for novice teachers in their first year. Some strategies that have been shown to help new teachers enormously include:
- Pairing them up with a more experienced mentor teacher (1)
- Making sure they feel included in the larger school community (2)
- Providing individualized support and feedback from administrators (3)
Schools can absolutely replicate these three approaches in a virtual setting.
- On Mentors: Many schools have a cohort of tech-savvy staff who are professionals at using edu-technology. A school who has a handle on the skill set of their faculty community can pair up staff who are struggling with a mentor who has skills in this space and can provide immediate and ongoing assistance.
- On The Community: One way that many teachers bond is through impromptu happy hours when one teacher pops his head in the other’s door on a Friday evening and suggests drinks or coffee. Is there an opportunity for schools or departments to organize virtual happy hours every Friday at 5pm? Can the P.E. teacher run a Zumba class at 10am on a Friday for interested faculty?
- On Individualized Support and Feedback: It is important for administrators to reach out to staff to understand how they are doing and to provide individualized aid as needed. In the absence of being able to see a teacher who looks overwhelmed in the hallways, administrators may need to send out quick feedback surveys to get a pulse on what is happening across the staff, not just the most vocal ones. This will also require developing creative solutions for individual teachers who may have a variety of needs tugging at them, including child-care, financial issues, or other concerns not on the minds of administrators.
Novice teachers, once they start to feel more comfortable in their craft, begin to move from disillusionment to a place of rejuvenation and reflection. Hopefully, with a focus on some deliberate supports for teachers during this time, schools will help teachers in forgoing the disillusionment phase altogether.
(1) Randi Nevins Stanulis, Catherine A. Fallona & Carol A. Pearson (2002) ‘Am I Doing What I am Supposed to be Doing?’: Mentoring novice teachers through the uncertainties and challenges of their first year of teaching, Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 10:1, 71-81, DOI: 10.1080/13611260220133162
(2) Jacqueline Schlichte, Nina Yssel & John Merbler (2005) Pathways to Burnout: Case Studies in Teacher Isolation and Alienation, Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 50:1, 35-40, DOI: 10.3200/PSFL.50.1.35-40
(3) Wood, A. (2005). The Importance of Principals: Site Administrators’ Roles in Novice Teacher Induction. American Secondary Education,33(2), 39-62. Retrieved March 27, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41064612