Addressing Teacher Retention with Discipline-Based Community of Practice

As educators, we need to put more emphasis on creating a balance between gaining proficiency as a teacher and as a subject specialist.

Key Takeaway: As educators, we need to put more emphasis on creating a balance between gaining proficiency as a teacher and as a subject specialist. Teachers, particularly those in the secondary level, must be able to build relationships and develop pedagogical knowledge, but at the same time extend their learning within subject disciplines and reignite the passion for the subject areas that brought them to teaching. —Jerome Lingo

Teacher exodus and retention have always been an issue in the teaching profession. Premature departures are often rooted in workload isolation and burnout, a lack of work-life balance, poor leadership or administrative support, and teaching in remote or isolated environments. However, a promising solution to teacher exodus, especially within the secondary school context, is creating a discipline-based community of practice intervention to provide identity development for early career teachers and ongoing learning in subject areas for all teachers. The Teacher as Practitioner (TAP) program is believed to keep teachers optimistic about their long-term, quality engagement in the teaching profession. 

In order to retain educators, it is integral that we acknowledge teachers’ two sub identities: teacher and subject specialist. As Morris and Imms suggest, “it is critical that teachers can teach well; that is they develop pedagogical knowledge and skills, they build relationships with students, staff, and parents, and they work as part of the overall school community. On top of that, it is also essential for them to be subject specialists with expert skills and knowledge about the subject areas they are trained to teach.” Unfortunately, especially for beginning teachers, there is much emphasis on the art of teaching over being a subject specialist. “Teachers slowly diminish personal practice of their disciplines and having two sub identities lead to competing demands on teachers’ time, focus, and belief systems.” As a result, “diminishing this practice negatively impacts the quality of teaching,” and more often leads to an early exit from teaching. 

The big question is—how can schools and teacher education providers develop teachers as both educators and subject specialists? According to Morris and Imms, there are three supports that can be offered. First, it is essential to balance ongoing learning in both domains. Induction and mentoring are often removed after one to three years and do not support teachers across the course of their careers. Providing professional networking opportunities that aim to support a teacher’s practice as part of their “ongoing individual professional learning [can] also become a community of practice where teachers can share and discuss their discipline practice and its impact on their classroom teaching.” 

Second, we need to provide teachers opportunities to interrogate their identity and consider how their growing experiences shape both their identity development and classroom practice. Lastly, as a community, we should explore what support could be provided to teachers as they develop their identity in the early years of their career and as their needs change over time within and beyond the classroom walls. 

With these elements in mind, maybe then increased teacher retention can be achieved, and we can constructively help our educators to understand their work and their place in society. 

Summarized Article:

Morris, J. E., & Imms, W. (2021). ‘A validation of my pedagogy’: how subject discipline practice supports early career teachers’ identities and perceptions of retention. Teacher Development, 1-13.

Summary by: Jerome Lingo — Jerome believes the MARIO Framework is providing structure and common meaning to learning support programs across the globe. Backed up with current research on the best practices in inclusion and general education, we can reimagine education . . . together.

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We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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