Teacher induction is perhaps one of the most significant school functions we perform, done at arguably one of the busiest times in the annual life cycle of a school. Whether it is a first-year teacher or a veteran teacher who is beginning work at your school, a solid, systematic induction process is important. We know that effective induction programs not only support teachers who are new to our program, but also assist them with adjusting to the field of education (Fry 2010). The more successful a beginning teacher and the quicker that success is experienced, then the greater the likelihood the teacher will remain in the teaching profession (Edmunds and Smith 2001).
Induction programs are influenced by both “grey” and “green” issues. We have a known “greying” phenomenon in education among both teachers and administration. Vast numbers of both have been in the field of education for some time, and will be cycling out soon. This then leads to an influx of new, “green” teachers and administrators—which then leads to the obvious issue of properly inducting them. Clearly, if this is not done correctly, our individual schools will be less than they should; and that effect, compounded over time, will ultimately hurt the private school movement.
Limitations of Current Approaches
Ultimately, teacher success can be measured by the experiences they provide for their students (Edmunds and Smith 2001). Poor educational experiences for students are fundamentally rooted in a lack of organization by the teacher. This is generally the result of poor lesson planning or inadequate instructional strategies. These issues can cause our newest teachers to be unsuccessful or slow in adapting to their new educational environment. Instructing new teachers in basic practical skills is an ongoing and vital need. Further, private Christian schools have the additional layer of inculcating a Christian worldview. This alone takes a coordinated, purposeful, intentional, and campus-wide effort to execute. Creating systems, like a teacher induction process, helps to bring these laudable ideals to reality.
However, much of the research shows little (or no) correlation with teacher effectiveness and student performance from our current versions of induction programming. Other studies show only minimal positive effects on teacher retention. There is even a national trend of new teachers who are not only lacking adequate skills, but also lack confidence (Garvis 2009). Are we missing something critical when planning the focus of teacher induction?
Looking in a Different Place
There are many possible changes we could make to teacher induction, but I want to address the fact that lots of programs seem to bypass the “soft skills” of being a professional educator. This includes teachers’ induction into the more “qualitative” side of school life, culture, and overall organizational success. I encourage us to look at the psychosocial interactions within our schools: specifically, how staff behave individually—as well as how they engage with one another, with parents, and with students. Any administrator with five minutes of experience will tell you that it is often these issues that cause organizations the most reflux. This includes (but is not limited to) things like:
- Turf wars between departments or school divisions
- The age-old battle between academics, fine arts, and athletics
- A staff member reading way too much into an email sent from a parent or colleague
- A teacher or administrator who mishandles a student disciplinary meeting (or the parent meeting that is sure to follow)
- Negative attitudes displayed in teachers’ lounges, division meetings, or ad hoc PLCs
- Conflicts between individual staff members
This list could go on and on. All of these issues, taken together, are the real forces that erode and undermine schools. They lead to potentially huge PR issues, vast quantities of wasted instructional time, and massive amounts of organizational inefficiency—just for starters.
I believe it is time for induction programs to target the real roots of sustained, prolonged success. This is the “soft underbelly” of education that few discuss. Schools are not organizations, but organisms. We are missing the real target of our induction programs by failing to first address the deeper, internal psychosocial-emotional-spiritual needs of our staff. In Ephesians 4:12-13, Paul wrote: “Prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Good teacher induction is the antidote to the annual, organizational malpractice of sending unprepared educators into our classrooms. Good, sustained induction programs build (and keep building) our staff in order to truly prepare them for the most amazing works of service imaginable.
Developing a Framework
Schools should start with a theoretical framework for teacher induction, that focuses on teachers’ social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs and development within the context of teaching. The school’s theoretical framework should be explicitly shared with teachers, with an opportunity for discussion and exploration. The goal is to help teachers apply this framework to understanding the work of teaching, and to the role of a teacher.
Certainly, there are many theories that can be used to undergird new teacher induction at your school. At Cornerstone Christian Schools (CCS), we use a philosophical and theoretical framework to teacher induction that is rooted in the following three perspectives:
1. First, CCS take a root cause analysis (RCA) approach to teacher training and teacher success. In short, RCA looks at what elements make a thing successful. In this case, the thing is the teacher. Root cause analysis asks, “What caused the teacher to be successful?” Then it asks, “What caused those phenomena to occur?” Then, “What caused the causes to occur?”, and so on. The goal is, if possible, to get to THE root cause that catalyzed a cascade of events to occur—ultimately leading the object of study (i.e. teacher) to be successful. The obvious game, as in any quasi-research endeavor, is to find what variables, by themselves or in combination, caused success, so that the success can be replicated. This causes us to take a deep-dive into teacher performance, in a “know thyself before thy student” approach.
2. Next, we incorporate Bandura’s social cognitive theory—as well as Deci and Ryan’s social determination theory—in order to better understand how teachers view themselves and their world. We help our teachers understand their own self-efficacy and agency. Efficacious beliefs influence human thought and actions. Self-efficacy differs from other opinions of one’s self, in that self-efficacy focuses on the ability to perform a specific task. That task is the act of teaching. Knowing oneself first enables the teacher to then clearly pull from all the requisite skills they have mastered to bear on the academic situation in front of them.
3. Finally, we use research on recognition-primed decision-making (RPD), developed by Gary Klein in the 1980s. RPD helps understand how—and why—people make decisions in rapid-paced environments, like classrooms. We also rely on a subsequent theory developed in 1993, called naturalistic decision-making (NDM). This theory helps people identify (and thus navigate) a swirling array of eight factors in fast-moving situations, where there is no time to sit down and weigh out the pros and cons of every decision. Both RPD and NDM fundamentally help teachers become more self-aware, by being able to spot the cues and clues in the teaching environment. Once the cues and clues are identified, teachers are more apt to correctly execute a response.
Putting the Framework into Action
In addition to explicit training and discussion around the elements of your school’s teacher induction framework, the induction process should involve activities that naturally flow from that framework. In the case of CCS, we operationalize our framework in our teacher induction in the following ways:
Know Oneself—All staff complete the Myers-Briggs and four temperaments analyses, which help them to know themselves first. We actually publish all staff members’ Myers-Briggs results and temperaments alongside their extensions in our phone directory, so they know exactly who they’re calling.
Emotional Intelligence—Staff receive training on Goleman’s emotional intelligence and its implications, which helps them to focus on creating positive interpersonal relationships and communication with others in the school community (whether colleagues, parents, or students).
Mentoring—Each new staff member is assigned a mentor to be with them for the first year at a minimum. Certainly this is common in schools, but what is important in our setting is that the mentor-mentee relationship is built around our framework and all of the elements described above.
Decision-Making—We also train our staff on a home-grown, five-step, decision-making matrix we call the “Nehemiah Principles,” taken straight from the book of Nehemiah. We recognize that not everyone makes decisions the same way, so we created a simple process and lexicon that enables all staff to collaborate in making decisions. Here are the steps in order:
- Purpose: We must begin any new endeavor or initiative by making sure it is mission-aligned. It sounds simple at first, but this step alone has opened up tremendous dialogue with our team.
- Problem: The fundamental rule of research is that if you don’t define the problem, you are guaranteed to get the wrong answers. We use root cause analysis here to get as close as we can to problem causation.
- People: Who are the people necessary to meet this challenge? Is it engaging existing staff in new ways? Perhaps it involves sending them to training, or combining them in unique ways? Maybe we pair staff across divisions or content areas? Or we may need to obtain an outside consultant or team?
- Process: This is the biggest problem schools have. We do a poor job at prolonged, sustained executions of initiatives. They start off with bombast and bluster, then quickly fizzle out. We need to ask, what will be the first thing you do to launch the project? The second thing? The third thing? What about contingencies? Do you have the money to sustain a multi-year execution? Is this initiative someone’s “baby” that will die if they leave?
- Product: Does the final product look like what you envisioned, or did it wobble off course somewhere? The real question is, “Does it still fulfill our mission?”
In addition to these activities, we also review our discipleship plan and our portrait of a graduate. However, instead of just learning the details of our rules for discipleship or listing out the specific outcomes we want for students, we focus strongly on the interpersonal dynamics between teacher and student. After all, these dynamics help enable successful discipleship and developing students into the graduates we seek.
Human “Beings”—Not Human “Doings”
In conclusion, we must remember we are human “beings,” not human “doings.” We need to think about “being” before we think about “doing.” For teacher induction, that means that we need to take a moment and realize that we fundamentally build people before we get into state standards, learning scores, standard deviations, cell phone policies, lesson plan deadlines, and rainy-day dismissals. And by people, we don’t just mean the little people (students) but the big people (staff) too.
They may look good in the classroom and have amazing vitae, but inside our staff are a mix of psychosocial issues, competing goals, self-esteem struggles, strengths, weaknesses, courage, fear, doubt, and determination—just like all of us. We need to design our induction programs to acknowledge the realities of human “being.” In the Christian school setting, we have the best foundation for getting induction right—because we can look at these realities as pointing to our absolute need for a Savior and His daily outpouring of grace. And upon that foundation, we can build programs that equip our staff to fulfill their callings and be a blessing to our schools.
Edmunds, N. A., and Smith, C. L. 2001. Learning to Teach: A Quick-Start Guide for Career & Technical Education teachers. Alexandria, VA: ACTE.
Fry, S. W. 2010. The Analysis of an Unsuccessful Novice Teacher’s Induction Experiences: A Case Study Presented Through Layered Account. Qualitative Report 15 (5): 1164-1190.
Garvis, S. 2009. Establishing the Theoretical Construct of Pre-Service Teacher Self-Efficacy for Arts Education. Australian Journal of Music Education 1: 29-37.
About the Author
Dr. Jerry Eshleman came to Cornerstone Christian Schools from Oral Roberts University, where he was a professor in the College of Education, and coordinator of the Cooperative Learning Center. Dr. Eshleman has served in education in positions ranging from teaching to administration, and at levels from elementary through university. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian School Administration and Teaching from Central Bible College, and a Master of Arts degree in Education Administration from Oral Roberts University. Jerry completed his doctorate and earned a PhD in Educational Psychology from Oklahoma State University. He can be reached via e-mail at Jerry.Eshleman@sa-ccs.org.