From Isolation to Conversation: Supporting New Teachers' Development
reviewed by Jerian Abel - 2003
Title: From Isolation to Conversation: Supporting New Teachers' Development
Author(s): Dwight L. Rogers and Leslie M. Babinski (Editors)
Publisher: State University of New York Press, Albany
ISBN: 0791453359, Pages: 160, Year: 2002
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From Isolation to Conversation describes the authors’ experiences supporting beginning teachers through problem-based discussion groups and the benefits new teachers experience as they participate in an inquiry-oriented and peer-supported form of professional development. The book begins by exploring the first year of teaching, its challenges, and its importance. The authors suggest that this first year is critical not only in deciding who will leave teaching, but for those who stay what their conception of themselves as a teacher will be. The importance of professional development as professional learning in collaborative settings is presented through a review of the literature that includes researchers such as Schlechty (1984), Meyer (1999), Cissna and Anderson (1994), and Hollingsworth (1992).
A central premise held by the authors is that beginning teachers lack “the opportunity to reflect on their work by engaging in earnest and sustained conversations about teaching with their peers” (p. 5). This component of professional development is missing not only from traditional workshop approaches but also from school-based mentoring programs that rely on an experienced teacher as the mentor. The authors present a compelling case for the importance of peer groups for professional development by guiding the reader through research and literature on job-embedded professional development, learning communities, and the development of self-as-teacher.
Using a qualitative approach involving the analysis of audiotape transcriptions of group meetings, facilitator’s field notes, interviews and questionnaires, this book captures the joys and frustrations of beginning teachers’ first year of teaching. The authors followed nine “New Teacher Groups” over a three-year period. The New Teacher Groups were designed from Caplan and Caplan’s (1993) consultee-centered consultation model, which utilizes a problem-based approach and a non-evaluative external facilitator. The authors clearly present their research methods including recruitment strategies and data collection and analysis methods. Their guiding questions were:
The authors end the book by presenting three essential components of professional growth: active teacher engagement in learning, talking with peers, and learning to collaborate. Although these three key lessons may not be new, their importance in the development of quality teachers should not be overlooked. This book provides another window into these ideas by allowing us to look through the eyes of beginning teachers able to talk openly with peers about their disappointments and challenges as well as their successes and joys.
In addition to a refreshing perspective on the components of professional growth, other strengths of this book are the chapter on group features, which principals and teachers should find informative, and the chapter on developing a comprehensive support program for beginning teachers, which districts may find helpful. While the book falls short on specific, realistic suggestions for securing resources, more specific information on implementing New Teacher Groups is provided in the appendix. Principals and teachers may find the appendix more helpful; districts and administrators may look to Chapter 8 for bigger ideas.
Overall, the book presents a good balance of research, literature, and teacher voice. In fact, it is the teachers’ insights and comments that lend richness to the book. Appropriately, the book does focus exclusively on beginning teachers and how they can be better inducted into the teaching profession. Yet the importance of critical conversation for all staff should not be overlooked; changes to a school structure that would support all teachers moving from isolation to conversation would not only support the beginning teachers, but all teachers, and ultimately would have a greater impact on student learning. The teachers’ stories reflect not only experiences of beginning teachers, but the continuing challenges all teachers face and the importance of moving out of isolation and into collaborative, supportive, and critical dialogue and support.
Caplan, G. & Caplan, R.B. (1993). Mental health consultation and collaboration. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Cissna, K.N. & Anderson, R. (1994). In Anderson, R., Cissna, K.N., & Arnett, R.C. (eds.), The reach of dialogue: Confirmation, voice, and community (pp. 9-30). Cresshill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Hollingsworth, S. (1992). Learning to teach through collaborative conversation: A feminist approach. American Educational Research Journal, 29, 373-404.
Meyer, T. (1999). Conversational learning: The role of talk in a novice teacher learning community. Unpublished doctoral dissertation: Stanford University. Accession No: AAG9943700.
Schlechty, P.C. (1984, November). Restructuring the teaching occupation: A proposal. Paper presented for the American Educational Research Association project, Research Contributions for Educational Improvement.