Supporting newly-qualified teachers’ professional development and perseverance in secondary education: On the role of informal learning

November, 2019

Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 43:2, 258-276

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

A mixed-method approach was applied, to test the hypothesis that it is not the formal support structure of newly qualified teachers in itself that makes the difference, but rather exchange of information that takes place and the help and feedback that is given, whether or not within a formalised support structure.
First, a quantitative study was conducted, and then a qualitative study.
A synergy was created through combining the strength of both approaches.
While the quantitative study looked for empirical evidence on the existing relations between the variables under study, the qualitative study aimed to better understand the relations found (Creswell and Plano Clark 2007).

More specifically, the quantitative study that was carried out first addressed the following two research questions:
(1) Which type of support is offered to newly qualified teachers?
(2) Is there a relationship between the type of support and the type of exchange provided and the young teachers’ feeling of competence and degree of perseverance?
This quantitative study was followed up with a qualitative study aimed at gaining an understanding of the above relationships by means of the following questions:
(1) How did newly qualified teachers experience formal and informal support and what were the conditions needed to make them effective?
(2) What, according to them, constitutes ideal support?

Study 1: quantitative study
Method and Participants
A questionnaire was distributed via email by programme coordinators of three teacher training programmes on both bachelor and master level.
Teachers were invited to participate voluntary and were informed that by participating they agreed that their answers would be processed anonymously for research purposes.
Two hundred and fourteen novice teachers working in secondary education in the Federation Wallonia Brussels, Belgium, with 5 years of teaching experience or less, filled in the online questionnaire.
The questionnaire comprised five sections with questions on the person, the types of support received, the types of knowledge exchanged and the teacher’s perceived competences and perseverance.

Study 2
Method and Participants
In order to provide an answer to the 2 qualitative research questions posed, the authors interviewed 12 novices working in the lower secondary education system: three men and nine women with between one and 5 years of service behind them and belonging to different Francophone Belgian establishments with heterogeneous socioeconomic indices.
The 12 participants were selected among the respondents of the quantitative study.
They were randomly selected, based on years of experience and type of support received.

Measures and coding
Each participant attended a semi-structured interview. Examples of questions were:
(1) When entering practice, were you accompanied? How did that go?
(2) Did the support offered help you?
(3) Did you have discussions with the principal and/or colleagues, and if so, when? Did these moments help you as a teacher?
(4) How do you feel in your job? What has changed since you started working? (5) Do you feel that the support offered had an impact on your attachment to the job?
(5) What would be the ideal type of support for you?

Findings and discussion
In this research, it was hypothesised that it is not the formal support structure put in place that determines whether starting teachers feel satisfied in their job and show perseverance but rather the amount of knowledge exchange that takes place.
The results of the quantitative study indicated that different types of informal support take place more often than formal support.
Furthermore, the regression analysis confirmed the authors’ hypothesis that it is not the type of support offered nor its frequency that relate positively to starting teachers’ competences and perseverance.
Rather, it is the exchange of feedback with colleagues and with the principal that determine a newly qualified teacher’s attrition, and there is a relationship between information exchange and how positively they perceive their competences.
The results from the qualitative study, that focused on differences between formal and informal support systems and the preconditions that need to be met, as perceived by newly qualified teachers, bring some nuance to the issue at hand.
It was found that having a principal as a mentor is often experienced as a mechanism of control or evaluation.
Starting teachers prefer to choose their mentor.
They prefer their mentor not to be a superior, but a close colleague whom they trust, and who is teaching the same course in the same year.
Thus, having confidence in the mentor is an important condition for learning.
Results indicated that the ideal type of support, according to the starting teachers themselves, generally takes place in the context of informal collaboration with close colleagues.
This would appear to have a positive influence on their integration and professional development.
These findings are in line with literature that highlights the strength of informal learning in the support of beginning teachers and their development (Berings, Poell, and Simons 2008; Billett 2002; Eraut 2007; Van der Heijden et al. 2009).
More precisely, Aspfors and Bondas (2013) emphasise the importance of social networking, i.e. the relationships built up between peers to support their integration when they first enter the profession.
New staff want to be well integrated and supported by their peers, and recognise that they develop many educational and teaching skills in the workplace through informal learning (Rouillard 2015).
Also, the findings are in line with previous research on the relation between support or collaboration and intentions to remain in the job (Hargreaves 2003).
For example, according to the results of a questionnaire study conducted among 243 first-year teachers in Israel, the support received from the mentor and colleagues is the strongest contributor to the successful assimilation of NQTs (Nasser-Abu Alhija and Fresko 2010).
The authors conclude that the results of this study are especially relevant given that teacher recruitment and retention are major challenges in many countries nowadays.
In that sense, understanding the reasons why teachers drop out is an important prerequisite to ensuring a healthy inflow of newly qualified teachers in the future and keeping the quality of education high.

Aspfors, J., and T. Bondas. 2013. “Caring about Caring: Newly Qualified Teachers’ Experiences of Their Relationships within the School Community.” Teachers and Teaching 19: 243–259.
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Billett, S. 2002. “Towards a Workplace Pedagogy: Guidance, Participation and Engagement.” Adult Education Quarterly 53: 27–43.
Creswell, J. W., and V. L. Plano Clark. 2007. Designing and Conducting Mixed Methods Research. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Eraut, M. 2007. “Learning from Other People in the Workplace.” Oxford Review of Education 33: 403–422.
Hargreaves, A. 2003. Teaching in the Knowledge Society. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Rouillard, R. 2015. “Professeurs de collèges publics et privés: apprentissage informel de logiques identitaires sectorielles. ».” In L’apprentissage du métier d’enseignant. Constructions implicites, espaces informels et interfaces de formation, edited by P. Buznic-Bourgeacq and L. Gérard, 61–78. Caen: Presses Universitaires de Caen.
Nasser-Abu Alhija, F., and B. Fresko. 2010. “Socialization of New Teachers: Does Induction Matter?” Teaching and Teacher Education 26: 1592–1597.
Van der Heijden, B. I. J. M., J. Boon, M. R. Van der Klink, and E. Meijs. 2009. “Employability Enhancement through Formal and Informal Learning: An Empirical Study among Dutch Non-academic University Staff Members.” International Journal of Training and Development 13: 19–37.2009.13.issue-1. 

Updated: Nov. 29, 2020