Using Improvement Science to Better Support Beginning Teachers: The Case of the Building a Teaching Effectiveness Network

Nov. 01, 2015

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 66(5), 2015, p. 494-508.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper analyzes how Effectiveness Network (BTEN) schools supported new teacher development using a standard feedback process and improvement science methods.

The authors use a qualitative case study approach.To understand the experiences and perspectives of the school teams engaged in the project, they collected a range of data for in-depth study of the 10 focal schools. This included interviewing the school principal and school improvement facilitators, employing a semi-structured protocol that asked team members to describe their experience with the feedback process, improvement science methods, and novice teacher support in great detail.Teams also used an online feedback process tracking system, in which they logged the frequency of feedback cycles with beginning teachers.


The findings reveal that BTEN participants almost universally reported the use of the feedback process as strengthening relationships between administrators and teachers by opening up communication and making new teachers more visible and vocal in the schools.
Many participants described new teachers becoming more comfortable talking with administrators and asking for help, and this allowed administrators to learn about new teachers’ needs and experiences.
Nearly all schools reported teachers initiating feedback conversations and becoming more open to feedback to some degree, often naming the increased frequency of contact with new teachers as their theory for what caused this shift.
The authors argue that this research shows that trust and strong relationships enhance the effectiveness of professional interactions in schools, such as feedback conversations.

In addition, administrators also described the consistency and inclusiveness of BTEN as important to improving relationships and developing teachers’ expertise.
Many principals talked about how BTEN changed their perception of new teachers’ experiences, and helped them to better understand what those teachers are grappling with. Several principals also noted that the relationship-building inherent to the BTEN feedback process ameliorated the “fear” and “mystique” that new teachers can often associate with their principal.
Regular and targeted feedback conversations appeared to support the development of these more positive relationships, and the changes in new teachers’ participation in the school environment allowed school leaders to better understand and relate to new teachers.
The majority of schools reported the value of providing specific feedback to beginning teachers, and through improvement science, they were learning how to best operationalize this knowledge in their work.

Furthermore, some participants identified that providing specific feedback with consistency was modeling good leadership and instructional practice for teachers; in the words of one facilitator.
In this sense, using the BTEN feedback process and improvement science methods supported administrator’s learning about how to be effective mentors and orchestrate effective teacher support.

Finally, BTEN illustrated the challenge of doing counter-normative work in schools in a variety of ways, most significantly in asking educators to publically test their practice and critically engage with data, evidence, and documentation.
Schools that showed a willingness to embrace the use of data and evidence to drive and test changes in their practice were more successful in adaptively integrating the feedback processes into their routines.
In schools where enactment of improvement science methods was less complete, participants showed limited engagement with data and evidence, did not take ownership of the data, or considered the use of data and evidence to be distinct from their work as educators.
Learning about using data for improvement is also important to providing quality feedback, because effective feedback should be rooted in evidence.
This development in BTEN is promising in terms of developing mindsets aligned with improving feedback systems as well as understanding improvement methods.

Updated: Jan. 10, 2016