Final Thoughts

October 12, 2012

Success For Novice Teachers: The Importance Of Fit

In recent years, there has been growing focus in Michigan and the nation on beginning, or novice, K-12 teachers. And for good reason: according to recent data from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, more than 20 percent of teachers are in their first four years of teaching and there are more teachers in their first year than at any other level of experience (Carroll & Foster, 2010). With research indicating that teacher quality has a significant impact on student learning outcomes, many school administrators and policymakers are exploring ways to bolster the effectiveness of novice teachers and increase the likelihood that they will remain in the profession.

A common strategy used to support beginning teachers involves assigning a formal mentor to work one-on-one with them. Under certain conditions, working with a formal mentor can help novice teachers with regard to confidence in their teaching and the quality of their instruction; mentoring can also provide an important source of psychological support. At the same time, large-scale research on mentoring for beginning teachers has produced indeterminate results (Glazerman et al., 2010). While this strategy seems to have much potential, in practice it tends to have a limited impact.

Match Matters

Why does mentoring seem to have mixed results? What are some alternative ways to structure support for beginning teachers? Over the past few years, Ken Frank (MSU professor of measurement and quantitative methods), myself and several Ph.D. students have looked to the field of organizational psychology for possible answers to these questions. For the past decade, researchers in this field have studied how well individuals outside of K-12 education fit with their work environments and they have found strong relationships between increased fit and positive outcomes, such as work performance and retention.

In studying fit, one can examine how well an individual fits with:

  • the goals and values of their organizations (referred to as person-organization fit),
  • the beliefs and practices of their co-workers (person-group fit) and/or
  • the expectations and requirements of their job (person-job fit).

Researchers can get subjective measures of fit, by asking individuals about their perceptions of how well they fit with their organization, group or job. They can also obtain objective measures of fit by comparing an individual’s self-reported beliefs, values or practices with those associated with their organization, co-workers or profession.

In recent research on 200 beginning teachers in Michigan and Indiana, we found that higher levels of subjective and objective fit with one’s close teacher colleagues were associated with higher levels of commitment and retention (Grogan & Youngs, under review; Pogodzinski et al., under review). In other words, when a novice teacher fits in with their colleagues, they are more likely to exert effort to carry out the school’s mission and to continue teaching. In contrast, novices who do not fit in with their colleagues are less likely to work to execute the school’s mission or to remain in the profession. Similarly, in research using the 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey, we found that higher levels of both person-organization and person-job fit were related to higher levels of teacher retention (Grogan & Youngs, 2011).

Start With Hiring

What are the implications of our research on beginning teacher fit? Using a social psychological approach draws our attention to the process of teacher hiring. In particular, schools and districts that (a) share information about their teaching philosophies and practices with applicants and (b) obtain information about applicants’ teaching philosophies and practices are better positioned to hire teachers who are likely to fit in with their new colleagues and their new school as a whole.

In addition, those applicants who have completed extensive student teaching assignments (such as those required at Michigan State) or who have other types of teaching experience may be more likely to remain in teaching over time. Instead of focusing on one-to-one mentoring relationships, it may make sense for district administrators and principals to look to their hiring practices as a key way to support novice teachers.