Today’s blogger is Dr. Brie Morettini, who authored “Building Beginning Teacher Resilience: Exploring the Relationship Between Mentoring and Contextual Acceptance,” published in The Educational Forum.
Each year, teacher candidates across the country graduate from colleges of education. Many of these recent graduates already have teaching jobs lined up for the following school year, while many more work earnestly and excitedly on applications for positions.
These beginning teachers are enthusiastic and qualified and possess the pedagogical content knowledge needed to effectively reach the diverse learners who will fill their classrooms. Yet, much more remains for them to learn—so much that it is hard to learn it all in a methods course, a clinical practice seminar, or even through a high-stakes assessment.
For those of us who look back fondly on our years spent in classrooms, the gift of time has rendered our daily challenges and struggles into memories. For beginning teachers, however, these struggles are not memories—they are living, breathing, real elements of their everyday lives in the classroom. The ability to thrive despite the daily struggles of teaching are what we have come to understand as resilience.
Scholarly and practical interest in teacher resilience has emerged as a topic of international interest, as the need to develop a stable teaching force has arisen as a global commitment.
To better understand the nuances of beginning teacher resilience, we sought to develop a study that focused on one rather commonplace aspect of beginning teacher resilience development: mentoring. I recently co-authored a piece with Dr. Kathryn Luet and Dr. Lisa Vernon-Dotson about mentoring as an element of building resilience, which is featured in The Educational Forum and is titled “Building Beginning Teacher Resilience: Exploring the Relationship Between Mentoring and Contextual Acceptance.”
Research shows that beginning teachers who receive mentoring from more seasoned, veteran teachers are more likely to return to their high-needs school than teachers who do not receive mentoring. Mentoring, therefore, has become a widely practiced aspect of first-year induction for beginning teachers in an effort to retain talent and diminish the high rates of teacher turnover that plague the profession, particularly in high-needs schools.
Our study is part of a larger grant-funded project aimed at improving mentor quality by drawing on tenets of sociocultural theory. We maintain that individuals learn and grow when educational opportunities attend to environmental factors and teachers’ specific needs, and when such opportunities progress in logical stages promoting incremental learning and growth. Specifically, the context in which beginning teachers work influences their learning about the nature of the profession.
As part of our grant-funded project, cohorts of mentor teachers received 2 years of intensive professional development on culturally responsive pedagogy, anti-racist education, and critical friends’ groups. These topics were identified through a large-scale needs assessment with teachers from Hillside Public Schools. This represents an organic approach to mentoring targeted at the needs articulated directly by beginning teachers.
The study explores whether and to what extent, if at all, this targeted mentoring support contributed to beginning teachers’ resilience.
What we found throughout our study was that resilience is best achieved through a nested approach. More specifically, beginning teachers begin to build resilience when they experience layers of contextual acceptance: acceptance from students, colleagues, and the larger community. And, mentoring offers entrée into feelings of acceptance from colleagues, which consequently prompts some beginning teachers to feel belonging or acceptance from their students and ultimately the larger community in which they teach. The feelings of belonging and acceptance that a range of mentoring experiences creates for beginning teachers enhances resilience, which helps beginning teachers overcome their perceived lack of preparation for the rigors of teaching, particularly in a high-needs setting.
The beginning teachers in this study referenced the support they received from some level of mentoring, whether the support occurred as formal mentoring required by the state for first-year teachers or as more informal, sporadic mentoring from colleagues. The study illuminates the importance of formal and informal mentoring spaces for beginning teachers and of building a community of support and acceptance so that beginning teachers can manage and overcome the chronic and acute stresses that accompany teaching.
Dr. Brie Morettini is an Associate Professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary and Inclusive Education at Rowan University. She teaches courses on research literature and analysis, working with families and communities, and inclusive early childhood and elementary education. Her research focuses on beginning teacher identity development, beginning teachers’ perspectives on the profession, and the use of self-study methodologies to uncover and acknowledge epistemological frames.