Review of the Specialist Classroom Teacher Pilot Full Report (2006)

Publication Details

This review was undertaken alongside the implementation of the Specialist Classroom Teacher scheme, in state and integrated secondary schools across NZ, in 2006. This is the Full Report page, the Summary Report page is found here.

Author(s): Lorrae Ward

Date Published: 6 July 2007

Executive Summary and Introduction to the Report

The purpose of this report is to summarise and discuss data gathered during a review of the pilot of the Specialist Classroom Teacher (SCT) role, which was implemented in secondary schools across New Zealand in 2006. The role was part of the 2004 collective agreement and was seen as providing for professional support and learning in schools, as well as providing classroom teachers with an alternative career path.

The SCT role allowed for the initial exploration of different career opportunities to retain teachers in the classroom. The time allowance allocated to the SCT role is four hours non-contact regardless of school size. As such, not only the culture of the school but also its size were potentially key factors in the nature and impact of the role. During the review data were gathered in an iterative process allowing for learning conversations and feedback and feed-forward sessions with key stakeholders: the Ministry of Education (MoE), the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) and the New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA). This group are partners in the long-term work programme, which aims to retain teachers in the profession through the provision of a range of career and professional growth opportunities.

Data were gathered across four separate data collection phases. These phases were:

  • Establishment data
  • Implementation data
  • Case study data
  • Impact data

Each of these phases provided a complete set of findings, which was presented in oral and/or written reports to the stakeholders over 2006 and at the beginning of 2007. These reports form the core of this review. In this way, stakeholders were provided with ongoing evidence on which to base their decision-making around the future implementation of the role. They were also able to have input into successive data collection activities to ensure their needs were being met. During 2006, the period of the review, the partners described above made changes to the SCT role for 2007.

Report structure

The report consists of ten chapters. The purpose of each chapter is outlined here.

  • This first chapter provides both an introduction to the report and a summary of the key themes that emerged from the review.
  • Chapter two provides a brief summary of both the pilot and the review as background information. Review of Specialist Classroom Teachers Pilot 8
  • Chapter three provides an overview of some key literatures within which the review is framed. These are related to teacher leadership, professional learning communities and changing, or enhancing, teacher practice.
  • Chapter four provides an overview of the methodology and the approaches that underpinned it. Each of the “findings” chapters (five to nine) provides a more detailed description of the particular methodology used in each data collection phase.
  • Chapters five to nine are the core of this report. Each chapter focuses on one data collection phase, providing an executive summary of the chapter, a description of the methodology, findings and discussion around those findings, and a summary of the key emergent themes at that time. Chapter five presents findings from the establishment survey provided to all SCTs during the national SCT Hui (April 2006). The data collected from a purposively selected sample of schools is presented in chapter six. In chapter seven the data gathered during the 12 case study school visits is collated under key themes. Chapter eight provides a detailed description of the implementation in three schools as exemplars. The final set of findings presented are those from the online impact surveys. These are in chapter nine.
  • Chapter ten provides a discussion of the emergent themes across the whole review. In so doing, it suggests some areas for consideration for the future implementation of the role and other similar roles.

The emergent themes

A number of key themes emerged across the data collection and reporting process. Themes emerging early in the data collection were later considered in more depth and from different angles. These included the extent to which the SCT role was perceived as an alternative career pathway, and the qualities and expertise necessary for an SCT both to have credibility and be successful.

In particular, the second of these emerging themes, SCT credibility and success, was considered in depth during the analysis of the implementation phase data. What this data showed was how crucial it was to have the right person in the SCT role, and the complexity of the qualities and characteristics required. There was a clear need for both status and recognition of the role but this was seen, at least in these early stages, as coming from the personal and professional qualities of the SCT rather than from the role. They also highlighted the extent to which the role was still being operationalised and established in schools and the teething issues that had resulted.

The case studies provided an opportunity to delve deeper into these themes and to engage in critical discussion with participants in the implementation. At the 12 schools visited, SCTs, senior managers and teachers who had worked with the SCTs were interviewed. These interviews were semistructured, and the exact content and nature varied between participants and schools. What emerged strongly from the case studies was the variation in implementation between schools. The SCT models implemented sat on a series of five interrelated continua, which appeared to have been determined by Review of Specialist Classroom Teachers Pilot 9 school culture and by the personality of the SCT. These continua were of practice, delivery, formality, content and response.

Two key themes also emerged, centred around the extent to which the SCT model was focussed on enhancing professional practice and on being proactive in promoting pedagogical change. Although it is unclear exactly where these came from, the emphasis on confidentiality and self-referral led to the implementation of a model that could be seen as self-limiting and reactive. This emphasis appears to have had unintended consequences in that it potentially supports a privatised culture centred on teacher autonomy. In many instances the SCTs appeared to be focussed on reacting to problems when working with teachers rather than on enhancing practice across all teachers.

The final data collection phase was the impact surveys. Some key messages appeared even though the survey responses were disappointing and there can be no assurance of the extent to which participants are representative. Firstly, it would seem that SCTs were having the most impact on beginning and struggling teachers, which is in line with the initial documentation. Secondly, the greatest reported impact was on classroom management. Finally, these data raised some potential concerns about the ways in which the success of the SCT was being measured in schools. There seemed to be little use of “hard” data, of student results or of tracking shifts in teacher practice in an evidence-based manner. This is not to deny the validity of evidence of shifts in practice, or even of perception when triangulated across data collection methods as was done here. Rather, it is to show that in the initial stages the pilot appears to have focussed on providing support to teachers rather than directly on professional practice and student learning. This may be understandable given the relatively limited resource (four hours per week).

These themes are discussed in more detail in each of the relevant chapters and are synthesised into some key messages or themes in the final chapter. Here, “big picture” themes have been synthesised from across the review. A number of these themes contribute to the success of the SCT pilot during 2006. These incorporate and subsume many of those found in the earlier chapters. They are:

  • The need for a professional culture in schools: In schools where there was already a professional learning culture or where one was strongly emergent, the SCT role seems to have been more proactive, more strongly focussed on professional practice and on working with all teachers. The role appears to have found much more fertile ground in already deprivatised cultures.
  • Reinforcing privatised practice: The SCT role, as it has been implemented in many schools, appears to have worked within a deficit theory where it is not possible to discuss openly concerns about professional practice with teachers. Hence the need for confidentiality and self-referral; to work in a deprivatised learning environment. The result of this may have been to reinforce in some schools the norms of professional autonomy and non-critical collegiality.
  • The need for professional support for SCTs: The SCT role is a new one that requires teachers to work with their colleagues in a coaching/mentoring role as well as in a facilitator Review of Specialist Classroom Teachers Pilot 10 one. This requires additional expertise to that of an exemplary classroom teacher. The advisors and events such as the national SCT Hui (April 26-28 2006) would appear to be important sources of such professional support.
  • The nature of the relationship between SCTs and the teachers they work with: There is a continuum of relationships between the SCTs and their colleagues. At one end are the “guidance counsellors", SCTs who are personal confidants and support people. At the other end are the professional mentors whose core focus is on improving professional practice.
  • The SCT as an alternative career pathway: The extent to which the role is an alternative career pathway and the nature of that path are still being determined. During 2006, it was clear that the lack of status and recognition and the newness of the role meant few could see where it could lead. Also the variety of backgrounds of the SCTs meant there was no apparent linear pathway. Perhaps the real question still to be asked is whether this was an alternative career pathway or an opportunity to gain and share experience. It could also be asked whether a career pathway needs to be linear.
  • Status, recognition and value: Throughout the review, it was clear there were issues surrounding the status – or lack of in many instances – accorded the SCT role. While there appeared to be high value placed on it by those who had worked with the SCTs and by most senior management, there appeared to be little formal recognition of the importance of the role or of its place in the school hierarchy.

The success of the SCT role

The themes discussed above arise from a theoretical framework that sees the SCT role as one of teacher leadership, focussed on enhancing professional practice to raise student achievement. The role is also seen as allowing for the provision of focussed professional learning, for both the SCTs and the teachers they are working with. Within this context, success could be seen as evidence of enhanced professional practice and/or improved student achievement. In addition, a key purpose of the SCT role is to retain teachers in the classroom providing them with alternative career opportunities. In this, it has clearly been successful: the overall consensus from participant SCTs and their managers is that the role is an excellent one. SCTs spoke frequently of the opportunities they had been afforded. The role was described as one that allowed them to enjoy a leadership role, to share their expertise and knowledge and yet remain in the classroom.

The extent to which the role has enhanced professional practice across schools or impacted on student achievement is more difficult to ascertain, and it was not the purpose of this review to summatively judge its impact. Rather the review was intended to identify areas of concern, and to inform future policy and practice. What the review has shown is that in some schools the SCT role has been hugely successful in focussing on professional practice. In others, this focus is emergent while in some, the focus appears to be more on individual teachers. The culture of the school, the priorities of Review of Specialist Classroom Teachers Pilot 11 the school leadership and the personal qualities and characteristics of individual SCTs have all impacted on the implementation of the role. What can be stated with certainty is that the pilot of the SCT role has been successful. Much was learnt from its implementation as evidenced in the changes made for 2007. The review has enabled the ongoing discussion of a number of key themes, which have implications for the long-term work programme and the development of other career pathways or opportunities. The SCTs themselves have benefited hugely in terms of their professional growth, as have a large number of teachers who have worked with the SCTs.

As with all new initiatives there have been teething problems and this was to be expected. It may take time for some of these to be ironed out and for the role to become firmly established within schools. However, its enthusiastic reception and the willingness of the key stakeholders (the longterm work programme partners, and those implementing the role in schools, the SCTs and their senior managers) to learn from its implementation and reflect and adapt the role, suggest that, over time, the SCT role will become an integral and important factor in the enhancement of professional practice.

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Related Pages on Education Counts

For information and guidelines re: appointment of a Specialist Classroom Teacher go to:
www.minedu.govt.nz/goto/10706

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