New, inexperienced teachers benefit greatly from systematic supervision. Furthermore, we should be giving novice teachers intensive support during their learning process in order to compensate for the loss of experience in the classroom when a large group of highly experienced teachers retire. These are the findings of research carried out by the University of Groningen, led by Michelle Helms-Lorenz and Wim van de Grift.
Ageing among teachers is prompting a unique problem in the Dutch education system: how can novice teachers compensate for an imminent exodus of experience? On average, teachers only reach the top of their teaching potential after fifteen to twenty years in the classroom. Long-term studies in primary schools show that teachers develop their teaching skills more swiftly if they receive expert coaching. The results of the University of Groningen research form the basis of national policy announced in the Lerarenagenda (Teaching Agenda) on 4 October. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science wants all future novice teachers to undergo an intensive supervision period.
A pilot supervision period for novice teachers was monitored for three years in more than sixty schools. In half of the schools, novice teachers received a new form of supervision given by school trainers and specialist coaches. The effect of the supervision on the pupils was measured using questionnaires. The experiment showed that more intensive supervision was beneficial on two counts. First, better supervision led to more involved pupils. The pupils understood what they were supposed to be doing, found the explanations clearer, were encouraged to think for themselves and received more help or assistance when they found something difficult or failed to understand. Furthermore, the novice teachers felt competent in the classroom sooner.
The research also showed that opinions given by the pupils are a good indication of the success or failure of the teacher’s strategy or teaching style. If pupils claim that a teacher is unable to control the class or give clear instructions, there is a good chance that the teacher concerned will leave the profession. But beginners who have mastered these basic skills often still struggle to learn more complex skills, such as responding adequately to conflicts between pupils.
‘It is important to stress that this has nothing to do with a lack of motivation or effort’, says Helms-Lorenz. ‘Most novice teachers are enthusiastic and keen to learn, but simply haven’t developed an understanding of the more complex aspects of teaching, aspects that come automatically to their more experienced colleagues. For instance, during an ordinary lesson, are you able to explain an alternative learning strategy to one pupil with particular learning difficulties that may actually work? Situations like this arise every single day and are far from easy to resolve.’
The method of supervision, which will also be tested in secondary schools as part of continuing research, involves experts monitoring novice teachers. The experts assess their work in the classroom on the basis of a list of important criteria, including their ability to give clear instructions and ensure that pupils treat each other with respect. In essence, the method instils new teachers with a sense of self-awareness, so that they can ascertain their own level of performance.
Helms-Lorenz: ‘Thanks to this supervision method, novices can be helped up the experience ladder one step at a time. Attention can be focused on a small selection of skills, without causing the novice teacher unnecessary stress.’
Michelle Helms-Lorenz is attached to the Teacher Training Department of the University of Groningen as a psychologist and educationalist. She headed the three-year experiment to test the effects of the supervision period. The research team, headed by Helms-Lorenz and Wim van de Grift, will now test a more refined supervision period in schools in the north of the Netherlands from the current academic year until 2019. They will also evaluate the effectiveness of the national supervision periods announced in the Lerarenagenda 2013-2020 by officials from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.
Contact: Michelle Helms-Lorenz
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