Leadership - Keep up your support for new teachers

After the first year is over, they do not suddenly stop needing encouragement and advice

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Gaining a qualification in teaching is a structured process, comprising an element of carrot but also a lot of stick. Prospective teachers are driven towards targets and pushed, helped and cajoled into performing during training and in their first year.

In the second year of teaching, when all the qualifications have been achieved, there is an incremental step up in pressure, responsibility and workload. The extra planning and preparation time of the first year disappears, colleagues' expectations are higher and the safety net of regular meetings with a mentor and other trainees or newly qualified teachers is generally gone. An important task for teachers in a leadership role, then, is to find time both personally and professionally to provide support for teachers who are in their second year of teaching.

Good practice at a basic level is to maintain regular contact - in the staffroom and in the teacher's classroom. Dropping by for a chat at the end of a busy day or after a class that is known to be difficult can reveal feelings that would otherwise be hidden or could develop overnight into a bigger problem. Just listening to these issues is not enough; you should also give advice. We have all had hard days but new teachers can take these experiences as a reflection on their abilities. They often require reassurance and tips on how to move forwards.

`Learning walks'

Monitoring the teacher to ensure that they are progressing is also important. There is nothing better for this than "learning walks" - informal class observations. These have a questionable reputation, but when used positively they can provide an otherwise isolated new teacher with regular praise and development.

Obviously, a senior teacher entering will always change the balance of a room but a quick look at an exercise book or the board is a good indication of the success of the lesson. Equally, listening to the interactions and, in particular, the progression of questioning styles being used is a useful indication of the continuing development of the teacher. The variety of approaches they employ to manage behaviour is also important.

The key to learning walks is knowing how to give feedback. It should start with a polite "thank you" as you leave. Feedback should also be fast: a same-day conversation focusing on a good balance of what went well and what could have been improved is essential. I would suggest focusing on just one area to be improved at a time.

Full lesson observations are also important but these should not be seen as final judgements on a career. Instead, they should be viewed merely as formal markers of progress to date; as such, they need to look forward, not recriminate. Both learning walks and observations should support incremental development towards best practice.

A new teacher's department is also key. Ensuring that time is set aside for department meetings is integral to maintaining the teacher's enthusiasm for developing new ideas. Department meetings should always include an element of lesson development: one teacher brings a new lesson idea and the group works together to differentiate it for use in a variety of contexts. All teachers then leave with a new lesson and fresh ideas. This not only helps the new teacher with lessons and idea development but also enables them to contribute their own plans and support more experienced teachers, which is a real boost for confidence.

Key to all these strategies is a culture of openness and supportive behaviour. A teacher's second year in the job can be a time when some sit back and others flounder without support. But in a structured and positive environment, these teachers can realise the value of their knowledge, feel supported and continue to develop their ability to enable young people to learn.

Steve Pomery is head of seniors at Vinehall School, East Sussex, England

In short

  • The fall in the level of support and target-setting in a teacher's second year can lead to them coasting or beginning to fall behind.
  • The job of the senior teacher is to support those new teachers and ensure they thrive.
  • Regular contact - particularly after difficult lessons - is crucial to maintaining morale and dealing with issues.
  • Both formal and informal observations ensure the teacher is on track - but they should be used as opportunities for positive support and target- setting.
  • Departmental support is also key - new teachers should be encouraged to share and develop ideas.
    • What else?

      You can download a template for "learning walks", or informal class observations, from TESConnect: bit.lyWalkTemplate.

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