Date of Award

2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

First Advisor

Shirley Freed

Second Advisor

Dan Applegate

Third Advisor

Duane Covrig

Abstract

Problem

Schools, like other organizations, provide capital resources and experiences that promote the professional development of their employees. Professional learning and skill development are essential for educators as they work to improve student achievement. However, conventional professional development often fails to provide a collaborative social construction of knowledge that supports educators in transforming their schools into a strong culture of shared learning. This is especially evident when induction programs do not provide collaborative environments for new teachers to work with each other and other experienced teachers. This study explored the induction of newly hired personnel within a district located in the southwest corner of Michigan. The purpose was to describe the existing school culture that newly hired teachers experienced and to understand the processes, structures and strategies used through the induction experience to create and nurture a collaboratively engaged learning community.

Conceptual Frame

Concepts from scholarship on social interdependence, cooperative learning, and collaborative professional development guide this study. Kurt Koffka argued in his theory of social interdependence that a dynamic quality in groups was the development of an interdependence that influenced roles, learning and action and created positive interaction, individual accountability, appropriate use of social skills, and group processing for learning. Practice and research on cooperative learning grew out of this work. Cooperative learning occurs when individuals work collectively to achieve group goals. While formal cooperative learning requires an instructor to make pre-instructional decisions, explain tasks and cooperative structure, monitor learning, and intervene to provide assistance, informal processes can also involve these characteristics of learning in a group. Critical Friend Groups (CFGs) were developed as a professional learning modality that builds on cooperative learning literature. These groups are developed around norms, routines, and shared vision with a foundation of learning through social means. CFGs are focused on regular and intentional use of protocols developing the behaviors of collaboration and reflection as well as a focus on teaching and learning managed by skilled facilitation.

Methods

This study explored Niles Community Schools’ (NCS) culture and the induction of newly hired teachers using a mixed-method approach. I surveyed all teachers within NCS and interviewed 19 induction participants. The School Culture Triage Survey (SCTS) is a three-factor, 17-item survey about a school’s culture. The factors focus on professional collaboration, affiliative collegiality, and self-determination/efficacy. The survey is designed to assess the general health of a school and/or district. Analysis of this survey allowed me to describe the existing school and district culture by descriptive statistics with further analysis of significant differences. Qualitative data were collected from teachers through focus-group interviews, written reflections, observations, and meeting agendas in order to describe, analyze, and interpret patterns of behavior, beliefs, and culture. The data was used to describe the learning culture, identify structures, and recognize individuals who contributed to the success of the newly hired teachers within Niles Community Schools.

Results Seventy-six teachers’ responses to the survey were analyzed, and 19 participated in focus groups. The highest mean on the survey came from the item asking how often they met to discuss instructional strategies and curriculum issues. The lowest mean came from the item asking if they visit/talk with each other outside of the school. This and other data suggest that social interaction between respondents was primarily work related. Mentors in an induction CFG gave an overall rating that indicated the culture in buildings and the district needs modifications and improvements. Newly hired teacher participants in the CFG induction program had an overall rating that indicated the culture in the buildings and the district should be monitored and maintained, making positive adjustments. New teacher participants scored significantly higher than did mentors and teachers not participating in the induction program on two indicators: Staff is empowered to make instructional decisions rather than wait for supervisors to tell them what to do, and People work here because they enjoy and choose to be here. Data and focus group responses indicate participants recognized a need and had a desire to learn from each other. Both participants and mentors reported developing confidence in their ability and skills to lead while in the program. They found the work beneficial and could identify specific skills associated with collaboration and felt more attuned with their colleagues. There was value in reflection, connecting learning as well as providing feedback for future learning. Induction participants recognized that no matter how many years of experience they brought to the district, teachers still could learn or provide insight for others to learn. Structures that made learning and cultural development effective included meetings designed with clear norms, goals, protocols, team building, and a review of prior learning, and reflection. Support and training to equip district coaches (principals) on aligning district goals and objectives to help individuals and groups meet their goals was also seen as important.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Induction programs can create an environment for collaborative engagement that promotes adult and organizational learning. As they provide opportunities to share and learn, they fuel a passion for growth that can nurture a culture of learning and achievement throughout the school. As leaders work to cultivate a mind-set that adults must be the primary learners within the school, they can create processes and experiences that are supportive of new teacher development. The development of specific induction goals that align with the organization’s goals and individual growth seems central in the success of such a collaborative. Intentional meeting design should be developed from district and program goals while simultaneously integrating participants’ needs and wants, since choice is vital in ownership of learning. Traditional models of mentoring generally have a 1:1 ratio between mentor and mentee. Creating a constellation of mentoring relationships with multiple educators growing their knowledge base together, provides newly hired teachers a richer environment for learning and opportunity to maximize their potential. Learning communities should integrate skill development, provide protocols (learning plans), and decentralize leadership to provide for organizational development. Mentors should have clear expectations (job descriptions) yet maintain flexibility in their work. They should work directly with a coach to develop their own skills while developing those they mentor. This connection is the backbone to the nurturing and creation of an organizational culture grounded in learning and growth. Successful induction should be determined by the sustainability created through organic development. Non-participants should become participants, participants should become mentors, and mentors should become coaches. Once this reciprocity is integrated throughout the organization, there is a high potential for the creation of an organizational culture conducive to creativity, innovation, and continuous adult learning through a vibrant environment of engagement.

Subject Area

Community schools--Michigan--Niles, First year teachers, Teacher orientation

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