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Research summary on how school professional cultures affect new teachers’ experiences

Susan Moore Johnson and fellow researchers at Harvard’s Project on the Next Generation of Teachers have identified three types of school cultures that affect beginning teachers’ learning and effectiveness: veteran-oriented, novice-oriented, and integrated professional cultures (Johnson et al., 2004)

Veteran-oriented culture:  Schools with a veteran-oriented culture typically had a high proportion of veteran teachers who set the norms and modes of interaction and teaching.  Teachers in these schools valued independence.  While collegial interactions could be cordial, they did not engage teachers in sharing and working collaboratively to address the problems of practice they encountered in their classrooms.  Beginning teachers in schools with veteran-oriented cultures received little support, encouragement or guidance.  They were left to sink or swim because the school did not provide them with any way to access the expertise of highly skilled veteran teachers.  The mentoring that did occur in these schools seldom provided beginning teachers with the support they needed. Beginning teachers felt isolated from their mentors.  Their interactions with mentors were limited to occasional meetings and with offers to share materials.  Mentors did not have the time or take the time to observe beginning teachers or to talk with them about their teaching and their learning.

Novice-oriented culture: Schools with a novice-oriented culture typically had a high proportion of beginning teachers. Teaching staff in these schools were highly energetic and committed to their students.  Because the schools had few highly skilled, veteran teachers, however, beginning teachers lacked the guidance about how to teach that they wanted and needed to develop as teachers.  Schools with a novice-oriented culture typically did not provide beginning teachers any mentoring or organized professional development. Beginning teachers did work together, but they remained very uncertain about their development as teachers.

Integrated Professional Culture: Teamwork and collaboration distinguished schools, and subunits, that had an integrated professional culture.  In these schools, veteran and beginning teachers worked together across experience levels in on-going professional development activities.  Interactions among teachers were frequently open and reciprocal, and focused on sharing and jointly addressing the problems of practices the teachers encountered in their classrooms.  Both beginning and veteran teachers in these schools viewed mentoring as a site for their learning. More importantly, in these schools, most veteran teachers acted as mentors, whether or not they were officially assigned.