Finding, supporting and keeping: the role of the principal in teacher retention issues
Volume 8 Number 1, 2009; Pages 37–63
Teacher attrition weakens the school staff's collective knowledge about local conditions, including individual students, and holds back the development of a learning community. It also aggravates social inequity, since a disproportionate amount of attrition occurs at schools serving disadvantaged and ethnically diverse communities. Educational research indicates that retention is lowest in secondary schools, in maths and sciences, and among beginning teachers and those approaching official retirement age. Over time, teacher retention levels may also have been reduced by the widening of career options for women. A research project has sought to 'understand the leadership styles of principals who lead schools that have low attrition and transfer rates'. It was conducted in a US school district characterised by high levels of beginning teacher attrition and also by diversity in student populations, student demographics and curriculum. The researchers interviewed 12 principals from eight primary, two middle and two high schools which, based on two years' data, had the district's lowest levels of beginning teacher attrition. All the principals were able to appoint their teaching staff. They looked for teachers promising a good 'fit' with the school in terms of personality and values. They also looked for a commitment to the students, an ability to connect with them and identify needs, and a capability for 'pacing, individualizing, integrating, communicating, supporting, working with families, teachers and programs'. The principals' support for beginning teachers involved a 'complex balancing act'. On one hand, they recognised new teachers' need to continue learning within the school environment, and for emotional and practical assistance from the principal, a buddy, and the staff in general. They took care to place them in suitable classrooms. On the other hand, the principals also sought to avoid micro-management and also to draw out any fresh professional knowledge or suggestions that the new staff could offer to experienced teachers. The principals felt that their leadership had to be contextualised to the school's distinctive needs while also reflecting general qualities of honesty, fairness and consistency. They encouraged genuine feedback and were aware that they did not have all the answers.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
Teaching and learning
United States of America (USA)
Vice-principalship: their responsibility roles and career aspirations
Volume 12 Number 2, April 2009; Pages 187–207
Job dissatisfaction among vice-principals may be attributed in part to a misalignment between their official and actual roles. The time and effort that they actually spend on different duties does not necessarily match their ostensible roles, may not meet their long-term professional development needs, nor prepare them well enough to assume the principalship in future. To examine and address these potential gaps, a study has examined 331 Hong Kong vice-principals' identified core responsibilities and the perceived importance of these responsibilities. Respondents spent most of their time on staff management, future directions and growth, and accountability, which largely aligned with the importance that they attributed to these tasks. By contrast they felt that they engaged disproportionately in staff management, which they considered the least important of their responsibilities. The disproportionate time required for this work may result from increased teacher workloads and accountability requirements, or may be indicative of inefficient or ineffective management skills. High importance was also attached to issues related to teaching, learning and the curriculum, but vice-principals had relatively little time to attend to these matters. They felt that inadequate time was given to professional growth and leadership development. This may relate to time and financial constraints: vice-principals in Hong Kong are usually required to sponsor their own professional development. Respondents had few opportunities for involvement in financial management, an area where lack of knowledge may present difficulties if vice-principals take on a principalship post. Likewise, their ability to engage in issues relating to future directions and policy, considered important for career advancement, depended on the type of school where they worked: those from government schools spent less time on this dimension than private or sponsored schools, which have greater autonomy. School leadership teams should consider the role of the vice-principal and explore ways to align the time spent on particular issues with the perceived importance of these issues. There is a need for greater emphasis on growth and development in areas of staff management, and also in those areas that would benefit vice-principals aspiring to a principalship role.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Teaching argument writing to 7- to 14-year-olds: an international review of the evidence of successful practice
Volume 39 Number 3, September 2009; Pages 291–310
An update of a 2006 literature review into practices for teaching non-fiction writing, this article examines the evidence for successful practices in teaching argumentative writing to 7- to 14-year olds. Eleven studies were selected for analysis. Englert et al (1991) found that explicit instruction in and modelling of writing strategies and text structures improved students' understanding and command of text structures, 'voice', and audience. Feretti et al (2000) showed that students given a writing task with an explicit goal and additional sub-goals were more likely to write persuasively and address these criteria in their writing. De La Paz and Graham (2002) found that instruction in advanced planning and use of oral composition improved the essay writing of students with learning difficulties; in a similar study, Troia and Graham (2002) showed that explicit, teacher-directed routines for planning, addressing the purpose of writing, brainstorming, organising and revising, resulted in a slight improvement in the essay writing of students with learning difficulties. A study by Graham, Harris and Mason (2005) found that highly self-directed and teacher- and peer-supported approaches to essay planning resulted in struggling, low-SES students writing better and longer essays than students in a comparison group. The above studies together indicate the necessity of certain factors in promoting successful practice: writing process models encouraging students to plan, draft and revise their writing; self-motivation strategies such as target setting; cognitive reasoning training; peer collaboration or modelling; and clear and explicit instruction in writing processes. These findings highlight the value of addressing argumentative writing skills with children in both the 7–11 age range and the 11–14 age range. To ensure success of these strategies, a deep understanding of the writing process and its implications is needed, and pupils need to have opportunities to work together to explore and solve problems. Teachers should have opportunities for professional development in these strategies to ensure they can model good writing practice and be able to coach their pupils in developing argumentative writing skills. A number of additional articles are examined in the review.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Volume 53 Number 3, 2009; Pages 7–11
The author argues the case for teaching scientific literacy in the primary classroom, and suggests ways that it may be introduced and managed effectively. Scientific literacy involves the capacity and disposition for critical questioning and pursuit of valid evidence for claims, and a scientific understanding of concepts such as variables, fair tests, measurement and conclusions. However, less than ten percent of people possess such an understanding. Scientific literacy challenges popular myths, such as astrology's capacity to predict personality and events from the positions of stars and planets. It can also inform people's decision making on issues such as health and the environment. For example, Toowoomba residents voted down a proposal to add recycled water into the drinking water supply, despite scientific evidence that it was cleaner than naturally drained water. Greater awareness of health science would likely reduce the occurrence of conditions such as diabetes, obesity and asthma, and would enhance the public's capacity to confront environmental challenges and judge building standards. For any given situation students need the opportunity to compare the applicability of scientific explanations with other potentially valid constructions of knowledge deriving from religion, cultural traditions and other sources. As Professor Peter Fensham has pointed out, science teachers in the past were 'required to be transmitters of established knowledge' to a greater extent than teachers in most other subject areas. However, scientific literacy can best be developed through an alternative, constructivist approach to learning. Especially at primary school level, this should involve the use of 'materials, venues and concepts' that are already familiar to students. It should also involve students in questioning, discussion and drawing evidence-based conclusions, as outlined in the discussion paper produced by the science advisory group to the then National Curriculum Board in October 2008. Acquisition of scientific literacy can also help to develop literacy more generally, especially among boys. These approaches have been adopted in the Primary Connections program with demonstrated success, particularly in the case of Indigenous students. Primary Connections includes 'well-trialled guidelines and a format that enables teachers to keep class control, yet give up intellectual control to their students'.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
Social life and customs
Scaffolding science teachers in open-inquiry teaching
Volume 31 Number 6, April 2009; Pages 829–850
With science reforms emphasising active and autonomous learning, science teachers need to be able to implement open-inquiry projects and give students both space and structure in their learning. In the Netherlands, teacher educators worked with seven secondary science teachers from two schools to design scaffolding tools to help teachers implement open-inquiry tasks. The tools included a suggested structuring scheme, a series of focusing activities, a go/no go assessment worksheet to assist in quality control of students' research topics, and a peer assessment form to encourage reflection. The teachers found that using the tools helped them scaffold students' learning and provide 'space', and that their ability to plan students' inquiry improved. They found that they needed to find ways to help students cope with the uncertainty of open-inquiry learning, and to provide critical feedback on students' research topics at an early stage, as well as to ensure sufficient time for reflective activities. The 'learning by doing' approach taken to the professional development, which involved explicit scaffolding and modelling, helped teachers transfer their own learning to the classroom environment. Teachers' involvement in a cooperative learning environment helped promote a community of practice; by working with teacher educators as well as colleagues, they received feedback and input from a variety of perspectives. With curriculum innovations emphasising active, autonomous learning, teacher education and professional development should follow a similar pattern in order that teachers have opportunities to become familiar with these approaches, which can then be transferred to the classroom. Using 'guiding by scaffolding' approaches in both the classroom and in teacher education programs can develop teachers' skills in setting open-inquiry tasks.
Key Learning AreasScience
'At least I'm the type of teacher I want to be': second-career English language teachers' identity formation in Hong Kong secondary schools
Volume 37 Number 3, August 2009; Pages 253–270
Teacher shortages in Hong Kong have led to an an increase in the numbers of second-career teachers. These teachers bring unique experience and professional development needs to the role. Interviews were used to examine the identities of eight second-career English teachers, and how their professional development requirements could be supported. The respondents identified with their own former teachers' attempts to broaden students' experiences, and emphasised the importance of 'making connections' and personalising learning. They felt that their experiences from their previous careers were vital in allowing them to connect learning with the outside world, and they drew on skills acquired in the workplace when teaching. The second-career teachers' identities were also influenced by their rejection of traditional teaching approaches. They saw themselves as 'out-of-the-box' teachers whose approaches were at odds with the other teachers'. They considered themselves 'inspirational' rather than 'robotic', and expressed frustration at being perceived as being inexperienced and with limited ability to contribute new approaches. To avoid being judged or scrutinised, they taught the 'way [they] want[ed] to' in the classroom, while presenting an appropriate identity to other teachers. However, this approach limited their opportunities to work with their more experienced colleagues to develop and negotiate teaching and learning practices. Schools should acknowledge the workplace competencies second-career teachers bring from their pre-teaching careers, and should provide opportunities for them to share their skills. They should also provide opportunities for second-career teachers to work with other, experienced teachers, for example in co-planning and co-teaching lessons. Schools could take a more flexible approach to second-career teachers' learning to allow them to negotiate their own knowledge and understandings. This, combined with efforts to value and legitimise them and their work, would help engage second-career teachers as members of the school community, and reduce feelings of frustration or disillusionment.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Teaching and learning
Learning with computer-based learning environments: a literature review of computer self-efficacy
Volume 79 Number 2, June 2009; Pages 576–600
Learning in computer-based learning environments (CBLEs) is related to active participation, which is in turn influenced by students' perceptions of their computer-related capabilities. The authors conducted a literature review of 33 articles to examine the sources of students' self-efficacy, and the relationship between self-efficacy, learning processes and achievement. The research indicated that positive attitudes towards CBLEs were correlated with higher computer self-efficacy; while these attitudes tended to be relatively stable, they could be improved with training programs. Curiosity and enjoyment in using CBLEs as well as the quality and frequency of previous experiences with CBLEs were also correlated with computer self-efficacy; mastery experiences may also lead to more resilient perceptions of capabilities. Students in learning environments where behavioural modelling approaches were used had higher computer self-efficacy than students who received instruction-based training. Strategy-based instruction and the administration of feedback about a user's performance also influenced computer self-efficacy. Perceptions of ability were linked with achievement, with students with high self-efficacy achieving higher performance scores. However, self-efficacy increased as participants developed computer-based knowledge and skills. Learning outcomes may be therefore improved by taking steps to develop users' technological self-perception through increased familiarity with technology. Users with higher self-efficacy were found to navigate technology in a more purposeful, conceptual manner; low-efficacy users relied on linear, sequential navigation. High self-efficacy users also tended to make better use of certain aspects of the CBLE, such as look-up tables. Levels of self-efficacy may be related to the use of key self-regulatory processes, which have been found to facilitate success when using CBLEs. These processes, however, have been found to vary substantially with age. Factors relating to self-efficacy may depend on whether the CBLE used is a 'productivity tool' such as a database, or a 'mind-tool' such as hypermedia, and may differ with individual CBLEs.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Why single-sex schools? Discourses of culture/faith and achievement
Volume 39 Number 2, June 2009; Pages 191–204
Provision for single-sex education is increasing in Britain and elsewhere. Supporters of single-sex education argue that it contributes to achievement and reduces pressures and tensions on students, and benefits disadvantaged minorities. However, research on the effects of single-sex schools on achievement, summarised in a 2006 report by Smithers and Robinson, is inconclusive, hence decisions are often based on 'guesswork, prejudice or attempts to support particular theories'. One important dimension of single-sex education is its relationship to attitudes within a particular school community. A study was undertaken to examine the perspectives toward single-sex education of a diverse range of stakeholders in a particular multicultural urban context in England. Data were collected via questionnaires, focus groups, and community events. Most of the respondents were males. Single-sex schooling was an important issue to almost two thirds of respondents, and support was directed largely toward single-sex education for girls rather than both sexes. White British respondents were the least likely to feel that single-sex education was important. The majority of respondents supporting single-sex education were from Muslim ethnic groups. A majority among all ethnic groups indicated that a school's consideration of religious or cultural needs and diversity were more important than whether a school was single-sex. The two main themes behind selecting a single-sex school were perceptions of higher achievement and better learning environments, as well as the fact that such schools were seen as a means to protect particular cultural traditions or moral codes, or as fulfilling perceived religious requirements. These responses highlight the complex and sensitive nature of issues relating to cultural and religious values, and the impact of these on educational choices, particularly for girls. Younger Muslims were less likely to feel that single-sex education was an important issue, and young people in general were more in favour of co-education, but raised the possibility of separate classes for health and physical education subjects. Young people’s comparative lack of concern on the issue points to changing priorities and attitudes, and has significance in longer-term planning and decision making.
A Fresh Start for a 'failing school'? A qualitative study
Volume 35 Number 4, August 2009; Pages 599–617
Fresh Start is a 'last resort' initiative designed to improve the results of underachieving schools in Britain by closing the school as it stands and opening a new school with improved facilities, a new name, and a new staff on the same site. A new, highly accountable leadership, under a 'super head' principal, is also appointed. This article examines the case of Millhaven High, which was reopened as Greenfield Comprehensive. Millhaven High was an underachieving school serving an extremely disadvantaged community. It suffered from declining intake, poor resources and facilities, and low student achievement, although it had achieved considerable success in teaching refugees and English as an Additional Language (EAL) students. Greenfield Comprehensive, which opened in its place, sought to mitigate these issues. However, problems soon arose. Building refurbishments were delayed, and the new principal soon resigned due to the heavy pressure of the Fresh Start program. Morale fell among the staff who had hoped for opportunities for innovative pedagogy, but were constrained by the demand to raise standards. The new principal pursued a more managerial, disciplinary approach to improve achievement. This approach resulted in high turnover among staff who felt it conflicted with the inclusive approach previously taken at Millhaven. However, the remaining staff were ideologically aligned with the principal, facilitating a 'clean break' from the school's previous identity to foster a new, 'successful' identity. After two years, the school was no longer considered in need of 'special measures', and results had improved considerably. However, this success could be in part attributed to the changing social composition of the school, and practices, such as streaming, that worked to attract and develop 'more able' pupils who could raise average achievement levels. These practices, however, served to disadvantage minority students such as EAL students. Programs such as Fresh Start need to ensure that wider school contexts are taken into account, rather than attributing poor results to ineffective teaching and leadership. Their focus on measurable results should be redirected to instead ensure that schools are catering to the social and academic needs of all students.
Subject HeadingsSocially disadvantaged
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