The development of (beginning) teachers
How can teachers best learn from each other and develop? Jacobiene Meirink is conducting research on professional development for teachers in secondary education. She is particularly interested in how teachers collaborate on and learn from the development of teaching programmes. More insight into effective forms of collaboration can contribute to stimulating a professional teaching culture in schools.
We are in danger of facing a shortage of young, academically trained teachers in secondary education, while it is precisely these teachers who could help students acquire skills in scientific thinking and who could improve the quality of education. But the world of business and science threatens to lure them into other directions. Few graduates consider taking a job in education.
To entice new graduates to choose a career in the last years of HAVO/VWO secondary school, the government created the ‘Eerst de Klas’ (a pun meaning ‘First the Class’ or, with a different spelling, ‘First Class’) track (in 2009) and the ‘Onderwijstraineeship’ (Teaching Traineeship) track (in 2013). These two tracks have since been revamped, and a new track called ‘Trainers in Onderwijs’ (Trainers in Education) will start in the spring of 2018. This new track is partially based on research conducted by Jacobiene Meirink together with Anna van der Want on the ‘professional space’ concept within the two predecessor tracks.
In the two older tracks, graduates could immediately start teaching for pay (three days a week), while they were also enrolled in the teachers’ degree programme (one day a week) and additionally got time to develop other aspects (one day a week). For example, participants in the ‘Eerst-de Klas’ could enrol in a programme on developing leadership qualities at large organisations like Shell. Participants in the Teaching Traineeship are given the option to take additional courses to develop their expertise in a particular educational topic. In this way, these tracks offer prospects for a role in management or as a teacher with a pioneer role.
Understanding of professional space unclear
The degree to which trainees are able to use their own ideas in developing teaching programmes is sometimes termed ‘professional space’. ‘However,’ says Jacobiene Meirink, ‘it was unclear exactly how that professional space could be utilised and what the various parties—trainees, colleagues, and school management—understood it to include. After all, the trainees are beginning teachers. You need time to carve out a place for yourself at a school, to develop your lessons, to get to know your colleagues, and to build up support if you have innovative ideas for how things should be taught at that school. How can trainees combine all these things in practice?’
Meirink initiated a study on the interpretation of professional space, as part of a larger study being conducted by the universities in Utrecht, Nijmegen, and Leiden. The results of a study like this could make the utilisation of professional space more effective and improve support for the development of beginning teachers.
Meirink startte, als onderdeel van een groter onderzoek van de universiteiten Utrecht, Nijmegen en Leiden een onderzoek naar de invulling van professionele ruimte. De uitkomsten van zo’n onderzoek zouden de invulling van professionele ruimte effectiever kunnen maken, en de ontwikkeling van beginnende docenten beter kunnen ondersteunen.
The picture that emerges from this study has two parts. ‘Trainees were given a lot of opportunities to develop their own teaching. But making a contribution to teaching improvements at a school was difficult. Their status as beginners gave them difficulties, or, in their enthusiasm for innovation, they failed to take existing traditions at a school into account. After the second year, creating space for developing teaching programmes at a school had greater success in many cases. One reason for that is that trainees devoted more time to building support among colleagues. But sometimes in the second year there was again less space for a trainee to develop his own teaching.’
When ICLON was asked to provide recommendations in the context of redeveloping the tracks, Meirink was able to use the research results to make some.
Meirink mentions a few of them: ‘Recommendations included: Devote more attention within the traineeship for learning how to build support among colleagues. For example, practise this through role-play or with a targeted assignment—talk with more experienced colleagues about how they approach this sort of issue. Secondly, expectations about the traineeship at a school are not always clear, as was shown by interviews with school management and with the trainees themselves. There are a limited number of schools participating in the revamped track, schools that know exactly what the trainees do and do not know—an indirect consequence of our study.’
Besides being a researcher, Meirink is also a teacher trainer at ICLON, where a number of participants from the new track will be enrolled in the teacher training programme.