New teachers and their leaders: what they need to thrive

Australia faces teacher shortages with the government forming expert panels and creating action plans aimed at increasing the profession’s status, enhancing working conditions, and improving initial teacher education. 

The purpose of educational research is to develop new knowledge to address educational needs through practical applications and policies. My experience as a teacher, coach, and researcher ideally positions me within pracademia, or what Hollweck and colleagues recognise as translating “research into practice/policy and practice/policy into research”.

In my doctoral study, three NSW schools participated in interviews and provided coaching documents for their established school-embedded coaching programs. Although coaching was available to all teachers, my research focused on coaching Early Career Teachers (ECTs), with the term coaching representing mentoring and coaching. The demographics of the participant schools are illustrated in Figure 1. I analysed the data using thematic analysis to explore the factors contributing to a conducive environment for the implementation of a coaching program for the professional growth of ECTs. Professional growth included learning and wellbeing, given their interdependence and mutual influence.

My research study indicated that it was not coaching alone but contextual coaching and the learning environment that collectively supported ECTs’ wellbeing and influenced their motivation and learning. While contextual coaching addressed current school needs and shaped the school environment, it required strategic planning and resourcing. Based on my research findings and experience in coaching, teaching, and accreditation, I propose a distinctive induction program that requires a collaborative effort from all levels of the education system. This proposal is pertinent to four priority areas of the National Teacher Workforce Action Plan designed to improve teacher supply and retention in Australia through additional support and processes. These include-

#7 States and territories to investigate the potential to promote teaching, mentoring, and other opportunities to people who are registered but not currently working as teachers.

#14 Develop national guidelines to support early career teachers and new school leaders, including mentoring and induction.

#17 Streamline Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers (HALTs) processes, making it less burdensome for teachers.

#22 Identify and assess the effectiveness of initiatives to support teacher retention.

All coaching programs differed in my study, revealing one size does not fit all. But at the school level, contextual coaching was evident in all three cases. This finding suggests that ECTs across Australia need a coaching program that is consistent in approach yet accommodates and values contextual differences. While AITSL provides guidelines for induction and coaching resources, this does not guarantee consistent implementation or effectiveness. While the guidelines allow context variations, the loophole permits inequitable support for ECTs, with induction programs being inconsistent across Australia. Regardless of school location or financial status, all ECTs deserve support in their learning and wellbeing through a national induction program.

My study offers three crucial ideas for the design, implementation, and evaluation of an induction program to support, develop, and retain ECTs while at the same time yielding multiple benefits for other stakeholders.

1. Principals catalyse a positive learning environment that supports and sustains programs.

This study revealed the significant impact the three principals had on their learning environment and the success and sustainability of the coaching program. The positive learning environment conducive to coaching reflected a strong commitment to learning, staff, coaching, and research. Every principal in my study collaborated with a coach leader and coaching team, supporting the concept of distributed leadership. The proposed induction program requires distributed leadership, shifting the important yet arduous induction and accreditation processes from the school principal to school leaders with the support of universities, education authorities, and AITSL. Before commencing the program, the principal and relative staff could complete a survey based on the learning environment to determine suitability. Furthermore, questions generated from my research findings may provide provocations for the leadership team to discuss before implementing a coaching initiative and may assist in the selection of coaches and a coach leader.

2. Programs require clearly defined, well-comprehended, and evidence-informed concepts and practices.

Terms such as induction, coaching, and mentoring require unambiguous definitions and practices known Australia-wide. The “jingle-jangle fallacy” refers to using one phrase to express various concepts or when several terms represent the same concept. In my research, induction incorporated concepts such as coaching, mentoring, accreditation, and school orientation and, when used synonymously, created ambiguity. Terms that include multiple concepts hinder comprehension and practice. In an effort to reduce inequity and the variability of induction program experiences across contexts, a collaboratively designed induction program that spans Australia could clarify concepts and practices, thereby promoting consistency. Teachers unaware of what induction entails cannot reliably evaluate a program.

3. An induction program that supports ECTs’ professional growth requires suitable funding, and the findings suggest those supporting ECTs’ professional growth require knowledge of adult learning, contextual coaching, accreditation, wellbeing, and emotional intelligence.

Based on the findings, effective coaches integrate principles of adult learning and emotional intelligence with coaching elements that include knowledge, skills, and dispositions. All coaches received training, but similar to teacher quality, quantifying or developing coach dispositions is challenging. Training experienced teachers to coach ECTs as self-determined learners results in the development of collaborative and reflective skills, as well as reciprocal learning. A university graduate certificate based on a context-specific action research project could integrate coaching, accreditation, emotional intelligence, and wellbeing. All research participants agreed that coaching was beneficial for professional growth, despite time being a consistent barrier. Implementing and sustaining effective contextual coaching demands support and funds from sources beyond the school.

The proposed induction program requires shared responsibility, fostering collective accountability across systems, schools, authorities, organisations, and universities to design and assess impact. In Wales, the Government, seven universities, and essential stakeholders collaboratively designed a postgraduate program to ensure all participants receive the same high-quality program, improving consistency while enhancing teachers’ professional learning. My proposed initiative could support ECTs’ learning and wellbeing while offering numerous benefits to other stakeholders.

·   Experienced teachers could learn how to effectively support ECTs’ accreditation process.

·   University course participants could disseminate research-based information and create a positive learning environment.

·   Universities could access data from school leaders, coaches, and teachers and work collaboratively with other universities, education authorities, and school systems.

·   Participation rate of teachers participating in post-graduate studies or higher levels of accreditation may increase.

A considered induction program recognises the time and financial investment that a university teaching degree entails while ensuring the continuation of teacher learning and wellbeing support. Creating a postgraduate university course incorporating induction, coaching, accreditation, and wellbeing with an overarching inquiry project would provide program and practice consistency, additional school support, and shared professional accountability. This may reduce the inequity of professional support for ECTs while building the capacity of teachers and middle leaders. The initiative could contribute to various accreditation requirements and involve stakeholders such as universities, schools, education authorities, and AITSL to ensure program effectiveness and integrity while providing equitable access for ECTs’ professional growth.

The teacher shortage is at a “crisis” point, and long-term alternatives include the improvement of the profession’s status and working conditions. Focusing on strategies to attract teachers requires considerable investment in time, effort, and funding, whereas this suggested program takes a more pragmatic approach, prioritising and supporting current teachers’ professional growth. By providing strategic support for two years, the induction program creates a positive environment to retain effective teachers, nurture future leaders, and support early career teachers’ professional growth.

Andrea Stringer completed her doctorate at the University of New South Wales and is passionate about supporting early career teachers and creating environments to retain effective teachers. Accredited through the European Mentoring and Coaching Council, she coaches educators and leaders to develop professionally and increase wellbeing. Andrea connects research with practice, working collaboratively with school leaders and educators to build their capacity. Contact her andrea@contextualcoaching.com.au

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