Relationships matter - what our research has told us about how important social and professional networks are for a trainee teacher
‘Relationships are a key determinant of our wellbeing. Identity, security, purpose, belonging and happiness are all bound up in the relationships we forge and sustain’ ( from The Relational Lens, 2017 p. 5 reference details at end).
As an Initial Teacher Training provider we have always focused on building relationships with our trainees and also our partnership schools as we know that communication and offering support are key to successfully working with people. However, we wanted to back up our knowledge with evidence so we could do more of what worked well and less of what was not so effective.
In January 2017, we created a partnership with Relational Schools Foundation as building on the success of their work about the strength of relationships between students and teachers, we all wanted to see if the quality and number of relationships had any impact on the success and retention of early career teachers. With Relational Schools Foundation, we also created a partnership with Cambridge Assessment and used their Cambridge Personal Styles Questionnaire to ascertain particular characteristics of the trainees. Dr Alison Fox has played a key part in analysing our data from an academic perspective and publishing it in academic sources and she is speaking at the European Research Conference ECER at Hamburg in September where she will share the key findings from our research.
How was the research put together?
In Year 1 2017-2018 97 secondary and primary trainees were involved in the research:
- We collected various census data from the trainees; asked them to complete their CPSQ questionnaires; complete sociomaps of their personal and professional networks and also complete the Relational Proximity Tool to measure their relationship with their SCITT tutor and school mentor.
In Year 2 2018-2019 121 secondary and primary trainees were involved in the research:
- We repeated the process with the collection of census data; sociomaps and CPSQ data and in June 2019 all the trainees will update their sociomap.
This research data has been analysed by Relational Schools Foundation and Cambridge Assessment and a number of key findings were generated and as an outcome of the research we have made various interventions:
- Allocation of trainees to specific SCITT Tutors for example if a trainee may be vulnerable being isolated geographically; have a small social network; be a career changer.
- Allocation of schools to trainees. Our additional knowledge about the trainee has helped us match placements to trainees more carefully.
- Due to our heightened awareness of the importance of trainees’ social networks we have increased our focus on building relationships quickly with the trainees at the very start of the course and provided opportunities for them to build networks within their cohort and have explicitly encouraged this to happen.
- We are also exploring the concept of 'mosaic mentoring' with our partnership schools in order to help extend a trainee's professoinal capital but also to help take off some of the pressure from our school based mentors by encouraging them to extend the mentoring role to other colleagues too.
- We have found that an unexpected outcome of this research has been that by having explicit conversation with trainees about their social networks it has helped the trainees to realise the significance of having a support network around them. It has encouraged trainees to prioritise maintaining and extending their social network during their training year and into their teaching career.
- We have also had explicit conversations with the trainees about choosing schools at the start of their teaching career which allow them to extend and create additional social and professional networks to offer the support we all know that are important for early career teachers.
This research is a longitudinal study so we need to track the careers of the current cohort (Year 2) and ascertain if the number and strength of their networks has any impact on their resilience and intentions to stay in teaching past the crucial five year stage.
Anecdotally, we think that having a strong personal and professional network is going to be a crucial factor in making a career in teaching a successful one but we are delighted that after the completion of this project with Relational Schools Foundation and Cambridge Assessment, we are going to have actual evidence to support our view and continue on our important journey of being a ‘relational’ Initial Teacher Training provider.
Ashcroft, J., Childs, R., Myers, A. and Schulter, M. (2017) The Relational Lens Cambridge:Cambridge University Press