Beginning well: Early career teacher experiences informing systemic policy change

Early career teachers (ECTs) are the subjects of much policy attention, with reviews of their preparation, analysis of early attrition and solutions of systemic support through mentoring initiatives. Extensive research has established some of the enabling and constraining factors for ECTs face as they transition to professional practice, including personal factors such as wellbeing, interpersonal relations, structural factors such as complex roles and quality of induction, and cultural factors including how effectively they are socialised into the profession, or supported to manage student behaviours. An ongoing policy dilemma has been connecting the known factors for individual ECTs to effective cultural and systemic change. This paper reports on research that invited ECTs from Lutheran schools in Queensland (LEQ) to share their experiences as informants within a system to answer the question, “What factors are influencing the narratives of beginning teachers as resilient professionals?” Their experiences then enabled policy leaders to know how to support ECTs to find success at their entry into the profession and also throughout their career trajectories. Beginning teachers in their first six months of professional practice investigated and reported their transition experiences using a digital reflective tool and through focus groups. The researchers worked alongside mentor teachers and leaders to analyse the data, to then make immediate policy recommendations for further support of beginning teacher transitions to LEQ. Thematic analysis was conducted by the ECTs, and LEQ and the researchers and reported as three findings to school leaders and LEQ executive members. Quantitative data indicated that the LEQ ECTs were experiencing slightly more frequent responses as “distressed” and fewer “soaring” responses than ECTs in other systems. The beginning teachers were seeking reassurance and information to help them judge their own performance as teachers from formal and informal sources within the school, to answer a persistent concern: ‘Am I doing it right?” They ECTs appreciated and sought greater access to mentoring, being observed, observing others and making mistakes without being judged. They wondered ‘How do I navigate the work without feeling overwhelmed?’ seeking advice about how to navigate between their personal and professional ideals, and the values of their workplace. Finally they had questions about how to maintain their commitment to making difference to students. In analysing the data, the mentor teachers realised that these were issues about wellbeing and teacher feedback that impacted all staff members. This reflexive process of seeking to understand ECT experiences has enabled timely, nuanced and effective policy responses at a systemic level.