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Bruno: Notes From A Former Induction Coach

Conflicting-Direction-ResumesA propos of a new report on state induction programs from the New Teacher Center (NTC), the Education Realist helpfully reminds us that the research on such programs suggests that they may not be very useful in absolute terms, let alone cost-effective.  

What, then, should we make of teacher induction programs? On the one hand, NTC-style induction programs appeal to me as a "best practices" approach to improving education. In contrast to more "results-oriented" improvement efforts, I think "best practices" approaches better accommodate the reality that most individual educators are unlikely to know with confidence how to achieve the sorts of outcomes we want to see.  

This isn't because most educators are incompetent, of course; rather, it's because education is hard and if you can't be very confident that some new, difficult-to-implement strategy will be productive then you don't have much incentive to try it out. By identifying professional standards and then encouraging new teachers to meet them more rapidly, teacher induction programs may be a promising route to reform and improvement.

On the other hand, it's not clear to me that the teaching profession is close to having a meaningful, valid set of professional standards on which new teachers can rely for guidance. Having recently been both an induction coach and an inductee, my experience is that the California Standards for the Teaching Profession are frustratingly vague. (What, for example, is a new teacher supposed to make of the recommendation to "use knowledge of my students' lives, their families, and their communities to inform my planning of curriculum and instruction"?) The standards of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards are, if anything, even more daunting, especially from the point of view of a novice.

To see how open to interpretation teaching standards often are, contrast them with the University of Toronto's Best Practices in General Surgery, which include such concrete suggestions as: "Patients undergoing surgery where the abdominal cavity is entered should have active measures undertaken to maintain core temperature between 36.0 and 38.0° C".  This is followed by a discussion of specific interventions that can be used to achieve the desired outcome (e.g., "warmed intravenous fluids and inspired gases as well as forced air warming.")

In short, existing professional standards are probably insufficiently specific to effectively guide new teachers to improve their practice. My suspicion is that the weaknesses of these professional standards goes a long way toward explaining the limited effectiveness of teacher induction programs to date. Such programs can be only as good as the standards on which they are based. - PB (@MrPABruno) (Image source)


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