(Re)Framing Classroom Contexts: How New Teachers and Mentors View Diverse Learners and Challenges of Practice
by Betty Achinstein & Adele Barrett - 2004
Research on new teachers identifies two critical challenges in relation to how novices view their students: "practice shock" that results in an overfocus on controlling students and a cultural mismatch that causes novices to see diversity as a problem. This article explores how mentoring strategies intervene at this critical phase, influencing novices' beliefs about students and teaching practices. This study examined 15 new teacher-mentor pairs over 2 years in northern California through mentoring conversations, classroom observations, and interviews with mentors and novices working with culturally and linguistically diverse elementary students. Drawing on sociological, organizational, and new teacher educational literature, the study explores how novices and mentors come to "frame" and negotiate student diversity in the classroom. The authors describe three ways of viewing classroom relations that the new teachers and mentors usedmanagerial, human relations, and political. This article challenges current thinking about novice development by revealing how mentors offer new teachers a repertoire of frames to diagnose challenges and develop alternative approaches to meet the needs of diverse students.
I think that I am going to try to focus on classroom management, especially from the very beginning because I just think that that is the key element that needs to be in place before you can even teach the kids. They need to know how your classroom is structured.
─ New teacher
My mentee and I come from different points of view about students. Her mindset about good teaching is that there is a lot of control. . . . I look at students as who they are as people. . . . I got into teaching as an opportunity to do social change work. And then management is just a necessary thing to make it go right, but it’s not how I look at teaching and students.
As the new teacher above describes, novices identify management as a pressing problem. Yet this problem may at times have more to do with how the novice is seeing her students and analyzing classroom interactions than with discipline. Alternatively, the mentor quoted at the beginning of this article demonstrates multiple ways of viewing students. She sees students as people and views teaching as political or social change work. These perspectives move beyond the management concerns of the novice. What this mentor offers her mentee are diverse ways of seeing students, opportunities to reanalyze classroom problems, and methods for generating alternative solutions. This article reports on a study of mentor-novice interactions. It challenges current thinking about new teacher development by revealing how mentors offer novices a repertoire of frames to diagnose problems and develop alternative approaches to meet the needs of diverse students.
Two major trends are evident from the research on new teachers concerns about classroom contexts and students: practice shock and a cultural mismatch. First, the literature describes practice shock as novices transition from idealism to the reality and complexity of classroom life, and move to more authoritarian and control-focused teaching (Bergmann et al., 1976). Veenmans (1984) classic study identifies classroom discipline as the biggest concern of the novice. Authority and discipline themes are paramount in the discussion of new teacher concerns (Hoy & Rees, 1977; Ryan, 1970). Further, many school administrators highly prize classroom control and measure novice success in terms of discipline. The history of schools as modeled on the efficient factory contributes to this management focus (Oakes & Lipton, 1999) as does a logic of control in many school contexts (McNeil, 1986). Fuller and Bowns (1975) developmental model of teaching concerns identifies an initial survival stage, characterized by efforts to achieve classroom control with a focus on rules and routines (Furlong & Maynard, 1995). In this developmental model later concerns cannot emerge until early concerns are resolved. Many induction programs thus focus initial induction work on procedures for managing students.
While problems of management are in the foreground of literature on novice teacher concerns, issues of problem construction are rarely addressed (Feiman-Nemser, 2001). Feiman-Nemser describes the example of how management is identified as a pressing problem by novices, yet this problem may have more to do with curriculum and instruction, and an ability to engage diverse learners in meaningful and challenging tasks, than with discipline.1 Novices are also often operating from very simple conceptions of teaching and . . . unelaborated schemas about children (Westerman, 1991, p. 302). Teachers bring with them representations of teaching and students from their own classroom experiences, through an apprenticeship of observation (Lortie, 1975) that may not match their new classroom contexts. Compared to their more experienced colleagues, novices are challenged by setting appropriate expectations for students (Reynolds, 1992) and tailoring curricular materials to their students (Schram, Feiman-Nemser, & Ball, 1989).
A second trend in the research identifies a cultural mismatch between students and new teachers that results in perceptions of diversity as a problem and negative characterizations of students. New teachers are disproportionately placed in schools and classrooms with students from low-income families, students of color, and students with diverse language abilities, while the novice population is still predominantly White, middle class, and monolingual (Darling-Hammond, 1997). Novices are also often assigned the lowest ability students and challenging classes (Kilgore, Ross, & Zbikowski, 1990; Rust, 1994). Prospective teachers, Paine (1989) found, bring perspectives that treat diversity as a decontextualized problem. Negative assumptions about diverse students and novices lack of confidence in their ability to teach students from different ethnic, racial, linguistic, and socioeconomic groups can result in lowered expectations and limited practices (Guskey, 1995). New teachers may be dysconscious of negative assumptions about their students of color and hold varied expectations based on race, ethnicity, class, and language (King, 1991).
Research on induction identifies mentoring as a way to shape new teachers perspectives of and interactions with students (see Wang & Odell, 2002). Mentors may intervene at this critical phase, influencing novices beliefs about students and teaching practices. This article reports on a study that asks, how, if at all, do mentors support beginning teachers to reframe their views of diverse learners and challenges of practice. This study examined 15 new teacher-mentor pairs working with culturally and linguistically diverse elementary students. We describe and illustrate with evidence three frames for interpreting classroom relations that beginning teachers and their mentors used─ managerial, human relations, and political. We argue that mentors and novices need multiple ways of seeing to (re)frame their understandings of classrooms and students.
(RE)FRAMING CLASSROOM CONTEXTS AND STUDENTS
This article draws on sociological, organizational, and new teacher educational literatures, as well as our own study to highlight problem construction and how to support new teachers to reframe their views of students and classroom challenges. Erving Goffman (1974) explains that we frame reality to make sense of our everyday lives, negotiate our world, and choose appropriate actions. Frames are the patterns and interpretations used to organize meaning. Frames can be both ways of seeing and bounded constraints of a picture. Frames bring into view certain things while obscuring others. Frames define problems, diagnose causes, make value judgments, and suggest remedies (Entman, 1993).
Donald Scho¨n (1983) identifies how educators frame challenging situations that arise in their practice through naming the problem, setting boundaries of attention to it, and imposing coherence to provide directions for change. Problem setting is a process in which, interactively, we name the things to which we will attend and frame the context in which we will attend to them (Scho¨n, 1983, p. 40). Frames help teachers order their experiences, make decisions, and take action. Scho¨n raises the importance of frame analysis, the ability to examine the ways of selecting and bounding understanding, because, when educators remain unaware of their frames, they do not see a need to make choices among them. They do not attend to the ways in which they construct the reality in which they function; for them, it is simply the given reality (p. 310). In the framing of classroom culture and students, teachers construct and limit their responses to their students.
In our study, we explore three frames adapted from Bolman and Deals (1994, 1997) conceptions. Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal are organizational theorists, specializing in leadership and organizational change. They study private and public sector organizations to understand management and leadership dimensions that influence organizational change. Their work synthesizes multiple perspectives from organizational theory distilled from sociology, psychology, political science, and anthropology and sorts ideas from research (citing their own and others organizational studies) and practice (case studies of modern organizations). A driving problematic in their work is why leaders often misunderstand the situations in which they find themselves. They examine cases of organizational failure (and some successes) to understand how leaders failed to use multiple frames to diagnose problems. For example, they use the case of the destruction of a Korean Airlines jet plane by the Soviet Air Force to demonstrate how misdiagnoses of a complex modern organization led to disaster (1997). They use the case to identify limitations in thinking and ways of framing that expand a repertoire for leaders. In other work (1994), they examine educational organizations and teachers as leaders. They translate their conceptions of framing to how teachers diagnose problems in their classrooms and schools. For example, they identify multiple frames for teachers to navigate challenges of school life through building effective relationships, dealing with school politics, understanding the structure of schools, and using symbols to generate spirit.
Bolman and Deal (1994, 1997) identified four significant frames that are common among organizational leaders and teachers as they view their contexts: structural, human resource, political, and symbolic. The structural frame highlights clear goals, specialized roles, formal relationships, and coordination through authority, policies and rules. The human resource frame views social systems, individuals, and their needs and feelings. The political frame identifies conflicting goals, power arrangements, and negotiation. The symbolic frame emphasizes culture as central, highlighting rituals and symbols.
We modify these to identify three key frames that beginning teachers and mentors in our study exhibited. The managerial frame highlights issues of control or management of student behavior and procedures to maintain order in the classroom. Adapting conceptions from the structural frame, a managerial frame captures how many teachers identify authority, policies, and rules in response to their classrooms. In fact, much of the professional literature highlights this frame as essential to the novice. Developing authority, classroom control, and management systems are often the central focus of new teacher professional development. The human relations frame identifies the classroom as a community defined by relationships between individuals with feelings and needs. Like the human resource frame from Bolman and Deal, it spotlights the social system of the classroom, the caring interactions necessary between teacher and students, and among students. Many teachers enter the profession with a human relations frame hoping to build strong bonds with their students. The political frame sees the classroom as an arena of struggle between forces for social change and those that reproduce inequalities in the larger society. While Bolman and Deal (1994, 1997) identify this frame in terms of the negotiations of conflicting interests and resources, the frame can also be thought of in terms of a social justice mission that many teachers bring to the profession. This frame views teaching as a political act and the classroom as a site for liberation. It is a frame that acknowledges the power differentials in the classroom and society, and can work to change them.
Each of the frames highlights different concepts, and metaphors for the classroom, students, and teachers (see Table 1). Whereas the managerial frame views the classroom as an efficient organization and the teacher as manager, a human relations frame sees the class as a caring family and the teacher as collaborator, and a political frame highlights the classroom as democratic community with the teacher as facilitator.
Understanding the distinct meanings of each frame and having a repertoire of frames allows individuals to reframe. Reframing is the process of examining a situation from multiple perspectives. Reframing involves analyzing ones own initial frame, reexamining and renaming the situation, exploring different root causes, and opening alternative solutions.
Table 1. Three Frames for Viewing Students and Classroom Contexts
THE POTENTIAL OF MENTORING NEW TEACHERS TO (RE)FRAME LEARNERS
Bolman and Deal (1994) argue that when teachers are able to reframe, they are able to see new possibilities and become more versatile and effective in their responses (p. 7). Reframing enables the teacher to see a situation from multiple perspectives. Mentors who work closely with novices, within the classroom context and within a trusting relationship, may be strategically positioned to help novices think of students and teaching in new ways. Experts possess more elaborate schemata (knowledge structures that organize and connect information) than novices (Livingston & Borko, 1989). Thus mentors can provide cognitive apprenticeships for novices, thinking aloud and revealing their thinking processes (Collins, Brown, & Newmann, 1989). Huling-Austin (1992) suggests that mentor teachers should be encouraged to explain the organization of their thinking in great detail to the novice teacher and to understand that the limited schemata that many novices possess will limit their ability to make inferences about students and classroom processes (p. 176).
A few recent studies contribute to an understanding of how mentoring can help novices reframe their thinking about students. Feiman-Nemser (2001) describes such practices as educative mentoring or growth-producing experiences. In her study, she describes the case of Pete Frazer, a master mentor, who identified his role as helping novices develop a practice that is responsive to the community and reflects what we know about children and learning (p. 20). He focused on finding openings for productive lines of thinking by pinpointing problems that helped move the novices thinking and teaching practice forward. Orland (2001) identifies, in her study, the importance of mentor positioning, whereby the mentor learns to position herself/himself in relation to his/her mentoring context by changing interpretive lenses as s/he encounters new situations (p. 86). Schaverien and Cosgrove (1997), in their study, explore how a mentors series of conversations helped a novice refocus on specific instances of student learning that had been misinterpreted or neglected at an earlier occasion, and supported the novice to reinterpret these instances through critical questioning. Athanases and Achinstein (2003) demonstrate how mentors knowledge of multiple ways to assess student understanding can focus novices on individual learners, particularly low performers, and help new teachers generate methods for changing instruction to meet students varied needs. Achinstein and Athanases (2003), in their study on mentoring for equity, disclose how mentors can name issues of inequities associated with teaching racially and linguistically diverse youth, and help novices to rethink their practices.
However, mentoring is less often seen to directly change deeply unconscious beliefs or attitudes towards students. Much of mentoring in practice can better be characterized as situational adjustment, technical advice, and emotional support (Little, 1990). Furthermore, induction is often focused on socialization into the current system, rather than a critique of the dominant norms. Little research has examined in detail what mentors do to help novices rethink their beliefs and approaches to students. This study contributes to understanding how mentors frame and reframe novices conceptions of students that shape teachers subsequent practice.
Our research questions were as follows: What kinds of frames are used by mentors and novices to view diverse learners and challenges of practice? What are the patterns of frame use? How are the frames used differently by mentors and novices? And how, if at all, do mentors support beginning teachers to reframe their views? This article examines examples from a study of 15 new teacher-mentor pairs in Northern California. The 2-year study involved case studies of novice-mentor dyads to explore interactions in the mentoring context. A case study approach offered an opportunity to capture a description of the interactions between mentors and beginning teachers, the content of their conversations, and the nature of classroom practice over time (Yin, 1989). For the purposes of this article, cross-case analysis of the 15 cases on the theme of reframing and three case study vignettes are included. The three cases were selected because they most clearly and dramatically highlighted the distinct frames and processes of reframing exhibited across the larger set of 15 cases. As an analytic tool, vignettes provide a focused description that is representative or emblematic of the phenomenon studied (Miles & Huberman, 1994). The vignettes from the three cases included here were representative of the mentoring interactions within each of the three cases.
PARTICIPANTS AND PROGRAM CONTEXT
All of the 15 new teachers were at the elementary level, Grades 26, and included 4 women of color, 9 White women, and 2 White men. The teachers ranged in age from early 20s to mid-30s. The mentors were 11 White women, each with 15-plus years of teaching. The full-time released mentors each had a caseload of approximately 15 new teachers and ranged in mentoring experience from 1 to 4 years in the first year of the study (2 first- year, 5 second-year, 3 third-year, 1 fourth-year mentors). The study took place in California, which has a statewide program called Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA), administered by the California Department of Education and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. The 12 schools represented in the study were in predominantly medium-sized districts with high percentages of English language learner populations, poor communities, and underperforming students. The new teachers received support from a highly regarded induction program representing a university, county office, and district consortium of educators committed to ongoing professional development to support reflective practitioners. This program involved 2 years of onsite weekly mentoring support and monthly beginning teacher seminars. The mentors in this program were selected through a rigorous interviewing process and participated in ongoing professional development on a weekly basis in mentoring. The program of support was structured around the California Standards for the Teaching Profession. The mentor and mentee engaged in lesson planning conversations, mentor observations of class- room teaching, post-observation reflecting conferences, analysis of student work, modeling lessons, sharing resources, and goal setting.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS
There were four primary means of data collection: audiotapes and transcripts of mentoring conversations between the beginning teachers and mentors; a series of taped interviews with beginning teachers and mentors; observations and videotapes of classroom practice; and documents on the collaborative work of mentor and beginning teacher. For this article, we draw primarily on the mentoring conversations and interviews. We organized data collection around two 1- to 2-hour long videotaped classroom observations from the fall and spring. Before the observation, the new teacher-mentor pair conducted a 20 to 60 minute planning conference to review teacher lesson plans and make adjustments. A 3060 minute reflecting conference was held after the lessons that examined observation data on the lesson and student work that resulted. We conducted short interviews before and after the lesson with the mentor and teacher, separately to establish the lessons content, goals and objectives, and perceptions of outcomes. At the end of the year, the beginning teacher and the mentor participated in an extensive tape-recorded interview that included questions about the mentoring relationship over time, teachers development of practice, areas of growth, and beliefs about teaching. Finally, we collected documents generated by the mentoring program such as collaborative work logs, classroom observation forms, student work samples, classroom profiles and class lists. With the exception of the interviews, all activities were part of the curriculum of the induction program.
Conferences and Interviews
After the taped interviews and conferences were transcribed, we analyzed the data on three levels: preliminary coding, pattern coding, and cross-case analysis (Miles & Huberman, 1994). The first level of preliminary coding summarized segments of data that related to references about students and classroom context. The second level of analysis involved identifying pattern codes. We began generating pattern codes of talk about students and classroom contexts directly from the data, and initially identified issues of classroom management, relationship building, and equity concerns. It was at this level of analysis that the researchers realized the similarities to Bolman and Deals frames and went back to examine more closely the connection between those codes generated from the data and the organizational theorists frames. We then adapted three of Bolman and Deals frames to re-code the data. We went back to the conference data to generate further subcodes under the frames (see Table 3, later in article). The two researchers reached 90% agreement on inter-rater reliability checks. We used the codes and subcodes to recode a select sample of conferences. We decided to draw on the reflecting conferences from the Fall of the first year of teaching for the 15 cases, as the time we thought would have the greatest amount of talk about managerial concerns. With this subsample we determined the percentage of total conference time addressing each frame and identified as other, the percentage of talk not about students or frames (e.g., procedures for lesson activities; issues with mentor, colleagues, or administrators; and subject matter talk that did not reference student interactions). While statistical analyses were limited by the size of the sample, we estimated correlations among the three frames. We also identified whether the novice or mentor initiated the framing and explored mentor differences in use of frames (see Table 2 for sample coding).
M: I was curious what your thinking was about the little boy whispering in the back.
T: Well thats why I said, keep your thinking in your head, and remember, dont call out. Because weve been working on that. He likes to say what hes thinking right away.
M: So this is a way of acknowledging that?
Frame Code: Managerial
Subcode: Student Behavior
Initiator: Mentor Initiates
To understand the process of reframing or renegotiating meanings, we selected three cases that best highlighted the distinct frames and processes of reframing exhibited across the larger set of 15 cases. We developed vignettes with instances from these three cases. Cross-case analysis was the third level of analysis. After having written up three vignettes and summarized the pattern codes across all 15, we used matrices and other displays to condense and compare. Finally, we conducted a member check, sharing our initial findings with a group of participating mentors and their colleagues (a group of 35 mentors) at a professional development seminar for mentors in the induction program. At that time, we received feedback on the frames and findings that we incorporated into this article.2
MENTOR AND NEW TEACHER FRAMES
USE OF FRAMES
Given the literature on novices concerns, one might assume that the managerial frame would be the sole or dominant frame evident during conferences. Table 3 reports the percentage of cases that addressed the three frames and the subcodes under each frame. It is notable that all three frames were addressed, even though the conferences were held in the fall of the teachers first year, where one would expect the managerial frame to be a primary focus.
The managerial frame was addressed in 93% of the cases. This talk focused on routines and procedures for managing students during activities in the classrooms, behavior problems and consequences for discipline,
Table 3. Percentage of Cases That Addressed Frames
timing and pacing of lessons in relation to students lack of engagement, and student movement patterns (e.g., how students were seated, and the teachers physical proximity to students as methods to manage students). The human relations frame was addressed in 100% of the cases. The human relations talk involved knowing individual students needs and learning styles, student-teacher relationships and communications, classroom culture (e.g., a sense of community, collaboration, and connections with students and parents), and student expression, choice, and motivation. The political frame was addressed in 87% of the cases. This frame captured talk about diverse students needs in order to foster equity and access to learning. Such talk highlighted: differentiation of instruction (e.g., scaffolding, grouping practices, students prior knowledge and cultural understandings); teachers expectations about learners; an analysis of race, culture, language and access; and inequities of student participation in classroom discourse (which individuals and groups were not participating). While almost all of the cases used three different frames for some of the conference time, we examined the percentage of talk (amount of lines of total transcript) that each frame was used in the conversations across the 15 cases. Table 4 shows how each case had a different ratio of amount of time on frames. These data challenge the literature that predicts management to
Table 4. Percentage of Talk on Each Frame in 15 Cases
*Other represents talk not about students or talk that did not fit into the frames.
**Vignettes from three of these cases are included later in this article: Case 4 is Carmen and Deidre; Case 15 is Maggie and Sonya; Case 14 is Tina and Laura.
Table 5. Percentage of Talk on Frames
Note. M = Managerial, H = Human Relations, P = Political
be the dominant focus, highlighting instead how in only one of the 15 cases was over 50% of the talk on managerial concerns. In some cases, like Number 5 and Number 7, the mentor and teacher spent a more balanced amount of time on each frame, and in others, like Number 10 and Number 12, most talk was framed as political and human relations, with very little time on the managerial.
We also examined the average amount of talk on each frame to understand the cases that demonstrated above average use of certain frames (Table 5). We found that on average, the managerial frame made up 22% of the conference talk, human relations accounted for 26%, and political frame made up 16% of the talk. Thus, on average, managerial frames were not dominating the conversations. Furthermore, rather than focusing solely on one frame, mentoring conversations included extended talk utilizing multiple frames. In nine of the cases we found above average amount of talk using multiple frames. Most surprising was finding six of the cases with above average use of multiple frames that did not include the managerial.
Table 6. Correlations Among Frames (Pearson Correlation, Two-Tailed Significance, n = 15)
*p ≤ .05.
** p ≤ .01.
We also examined correlations among the three frames to determine any relationships in the use of frames. Table 6 identifies a negative correlation between the managerial frame and the political frame, as well as a negative correlation between the managerial and human relations frames. This suggests that the managerial frame may eclipse views of other frames. There was a positive correlation between the use of human relations and political frames, identifying a compatibility in the use of those two ways of seeing, or that the two are related concepts.
INITIATOR OF FRAMES
We wondered if mentors were the initiators of certain frames, introducing the novice to new ways of viewing students. As Figure 1 demonstrates, we found that new teachers tended to initiate more of the occasions when the managerial frame was addressed (teachers 60%), while mentors more frequently introduced the other two frames (mentor-initiated human relations 68%; mentor-initiated political 75%). Thus, mentors were more often initiating nonmanagerial frames to their new teachers.
Figure 1. Initiator of Frames
Figure 2. Mentor Differences Across 3 Mentors
(Mentor A, 2 Novices; Mentor B, 3 Novices; Mentor C, 2 Novices)
In three cases where our sample included mentors who worked with more than one new teacher in our study, we were able to explore mentor differences in use of frames (Figure 2). Two of the mentors demonstrated dominant approaches across novices in their caseload. While mentor A had a managerial-dominant approach in both cases, mentor B had a more balanced framing approach in all three cases. Mentor C had different approaches with different mentees. These data may suggest that some mentors have broader framing repertoires, or more flexibly adjust their approaches to the needs of each novice, than other mentors.
THREE VIGNETTES OF (RE)FRAMING
In this section we look in more depth at three case study vignettes about framing and reframing in practice. The vignettes reflect the dominant patterns of each case and most dramatically capture the managerial, human relations, and political frames identified in the larger set of 15 cases. The three represent cases─ Numbers 4, 15, and 14 on Table 4─ and are presented here in that order. The first case vignette explores how a new teacher with strong political commitments faced the challenges of classroom life and moved to a managerial frame with which she was uncomfortable. The mentor worked with the novice to see the human relations, political, and managerial issues that underlie what initially seemed to be only a management problem. The second vignette demonstrates how a mentors use of the political and human relations frames challenged a novices assumptions about low ability students. The third case vignette shows some of the challenges that arose when a new teacher and mentor remained focused solely on a managerial frame.
CARMEN AND DEIDRE─ I’M BECOMING THE TEACHER I DON’T WANT TO BE
Carmen3 came to the profession with a strong political frame. A Latina and one of the first in her family to complete higher education, she had a clear social justice and equity mission. Her commitments were heard in the way she described her role as a change agent, who she taught (bilingual, low income youth), and how she talked with deep respect about her students. Carmen explained my students have cultures, which carry rich and deep values and we cherish our differences. I am proud of them. She taught in a 45 combination class with 27 students (18 of whom were English language learners). The elementary school was 96% Latino and included 84% students on free and reduced lunch. Deidre, Carmens mentor, also shared her strong commitment to social justice. They both taught at the same school, same grade level, and even the same classroom. Deidre, a white woman, was a third year mentor and veteran classroom teacher.
What happened when Carmen, who as Deidre described, was a politically passionate teacher, teaching for social change, struggled to respond to challenging student situations? How could her mentor play a role in reframing the situation, sustain a powerful vision that brought the teacher into the profession, while helping to address the realities of her classroom? In response to issues about missed homework, cheating on tests, and problematic events with students, Carmen found she had become too punitive and felt she was becoming the teacher she didnt want to become. She approached these challenges by inviting a class meeting, which involved calling on the student community to discuss the issue and decide consequences. This approach empowered students with decision making authority. Unfortunately, the students created more punitive solutions than Carmen was comfortable with and yet she found herself carrying out these measures. She shared this in her mentoring session with Deidre:
Teacher: This whole punitive thing─ I didn’t think about that before we actually had our class meeting. Why am I not thinking about the theories and the philosophy I had before I even came into teaching? It’s like I’m in survival mode . . . I feel like I’m becoming the teacher I never wanted to be. I hate that. I really do.
Mentor: Then thats a perfect thing to go back and say, I respect you guys that you have high standards for each other and my philosophy is lets find a solution thats not punitive, but more positive. . . . You want these to be logical consequences and reasonable for them as well as you. Not 15 phone calls home a week!
They went on to discuss how the issue was further complicated by the fact that the homework was linked to upcoming tests. Carmens commitment to not letting students feel failure meant that they could not take the test until they had done the homework that would prepare them. The mentor built on this approach, highlighting relationship and power dimensions.
Mentor: What youve just said to me sounds very unpunitive. It could be like you dont have your homework you cant take the test, versus Wow, Im reluctant to let you take the next test because I dont want you to feel bad about it and I know if you havent studied its going to feel bad. The fact you talked about it with them and that it went well suggests that letting them in more on your thinking and process helps.
Building on Carmens strengths of giving power to students, her mentor helped her re-focus on some doable strategies and procedures to approach her students. This maintained Carmens commitments to empowering students, but also involved a more realistic plan of action.
Mentor: Yeah, I want to applaud you for really including your students in the thinking about it, and I want to also encourage you to find a way that works for you. I believe its ok to say, You know Ive taken into consideration your thinking. Ive weighed out the thinking and whats realistic for me to do and heres the proposal.
Deidre also offered some clear strategies and procedures that she had used in her own classroom practice to address similar concerns.
Carmen was also challenged by a student who had cheated on practice tests. Deidre helped Carmen see that students may feel pressured and that by moving to a stance where she thinks about feelings and relationships with students, she can readjust her approach. The mentor used her own human relations frame to help Carmen.
Mentor: Kids put a lot of pressure on themselves. If youre becoming aware theyre interpreting this [test] as being a really high stakes thing . . . anything you could do to acknowledge that theyre feeling a lot of pressure would help . . . . Think about the precious kids, like precious Marcos. He wants to do so well on this. And that might help you come from a place where you and your heart want to come from.
The mentor used a political, human relations, and managerial frame to help the beginning teacher see the problem in a new light and act in new ways. The political frame helped validate Carmens beliefs and reinforced her commitment to empowering students, and not letting them fail. The human relations frame enabled Deidre to show how these approaches are hurting Carmen (staying up till all hours phoning parents, feeling compromised about her beliefs). Deidre also used the human relations frame to highlight what the kids are experiencing that may be contributing to the problematic issues. In this case, she highlighted the pressure students felt about testing. Deidre drew Carmens attention to one student, Marcos, referring to him as precious. She wanted Carmen to find her heart and understand the students. Finally, Deidre suggested some clear strategies and procedures under a managerial frame that presented Carmen with usable options to address the problem at hand that did not compromise her commitments to students.
MAGGIE AND SONYA─ REFRAMING ‘‘LOW-ABILITY’’ STUDENTS
This case vignette is about a new teacher who was challenged by how to support her struggling students and yet foster their independence. It is also about a mentor with political and human relations frames who hoped to move the new teacher to see her English language learner students as capable of higher order learning and in need of different kinds of teaching. What could a mentor do to open up the vista of a novice teacher whose students were labeled low ability?
Maggie, a new teacher and White woman in her 20s, drew the short straw among her colleagues. She received the low language arts ability- tracked kids at the fourth grade, while her more experienced colleagues have the highs and middles. She was confronted for the first time with a classroom full of English language learners (ELLs). The elementary school demographics were 96% Latino students, 66% low income, and 55% ELLs. While Maggie described her students as motivated and their parents as respectful, she saw the students needs as distinct from mainstream students because they were the intensive group, often referred to as the low group.
Their parents dont have the ability to help in reading and writing. They are English language learners and a lot of the students are coming into an English-only class for the first time. . . . Then you have all the disadvantages that come along with poverty. Kids may live in a one bedroom house with ten other people. They dont have a quiet place to read.
Sonya, Maggies mentor, was a 4th-year mentor and veteran classroom teacher. With a strong commitment to social justice, Sonya identified her vocation as liberation work for kids and as challenging the system. Both Maggie and Sonya described their relationship as collaborative and full of trust.
She is an unusual profile of a new teacher, explained her mentor, Sonya. She has outstanding classroom management. But, as Sonya explained further, she is willing to accept control as a sign of success and has confused a quiet class with actual learning. It is hard for her to open up and look at what the kids are really understanding and doing. It is hard for her to take things to higher level thinking. Maggies principal and colleagues supported the way she was teaching the curriculum and approaching classroom management. The principal thinks everything she is doing is great and the other teachers want her to make her class as rote as possible because it makes their grade level look good for test scores, explained Sonya.
Sonya was concerned that Maggie was creating a level of dependence among her students, as she tended to read for them out loud and never push them to develop their independent reading comprehension abilities. She was teaching to the lowest common denominator, and not differentiating instruction. Sonya called this concern an equity issue:
It is an equity issue in that there is a culture among teachers who have accepted that these kids are of limited intelligence. These kids are designated low learners. They are not being treated as 10 year olds, but as 6 year olds. Its totally humiliating their intelligence and what they are capable of doing. You would never see that in a white middle class school where the parents are empowered. This is an attitude formed in a vacuum of being challenged.
While Maggie described her students as low, and identified six students as extremely below grade level, she was concerned that she might be giving too much guidance such that she didnt know the students abilities to work on their own. Sonya took this opportunity to work with Maggies concerns and extend her to think about developing her students independence and higher order capacities.
Mentor: So thats one of your concerns, is how to move them toward independent work so you know what they can do on their own.
Teacher: Thats one of my concerns. . . .
Mentor: How does differentiation look given that its a whole group activity and it does sound like a quite diverse group since you have the six students who are not comprehending independently yet.
Teacher: The only differentiation would be for the lower kids, I would be reading it out loud. Theyre following along . . .
Mentor: Im wondering about your whole thing you started out with how do I know what they can do on their own. Along with it, how do I give the maximum opportunity so they can do it on their own. Im wondering if youre not depriving the other 17 students of a chance to see what they can get on their own before you read it to them. Youre differentiating for the emergent people. What kind of differentiation could happen for the other people so that they could have the experience of figuring out how much they can get. . . . Not letting the differentiation for the very beginners keep the others from trying to get it on their own first. We want to push them away from feeling dependent, which some of the kids who wind up in these so called low intensive groups experience. One of their issues is theyre more teacher dependent, theyre not independent.
Sonya used her political frame focused on equity, access to learning, and raised expectations to move Maggies thinking. Sonya began by revisiting Maggies goal of having kids be more independent learners. Then Sonya directly asked Maggie about how she was differentiating instruction given the complexity of her classroom. She wondered if Maggie may have been depriving a group of students of access to learning because of her approaches.
Sonya also pushed Maggie to challenge the way she had been reliant on reading aloud to the students and then asking them questions. Sonya encouraged Maggie to think about ways that she could ask students to interpret the text before she read it to them, to challenge them. Its easier to hear it read by someone else . . . than trying to figure it out. Sonya tried to find avenues for Maggie to see how capable her students were of doing higher level work. She modeled higher level questioning and interactions with students in Maggies classroom. She also collected data about student understandings and independent capacities as a way to challenge Maggies conceptions about her low learners. Finally, she analyzed student work with Maggie to identify individual students strengths and challenges.
Maggie reported some important learnings from the mentoring session:
Ive struggled a bit with the thought of me giving them too much scaffolding. Im working on this. Am I doing too much as opposed to giving them enough support? Am I teaching them towards independence as opposed to passing it out to the class. Maybe Im not allowing them enough independence . . . I know next time I would do things differently. That was a real a ha I had from the observation and feedback process.
Sonya identified some important shifts in Maggies practice in the lesson that followed their feedback sessions. She saw Maggie differentiating instruction by working with the group of six students who needed particular kinds of support. Maggie also allowed the other 17 to move ahead and work on their own comprehension. Maggie identified that she made growth in learning more about differentiating instruction and meeting the needs of all learners. However, she knew she needed to continually grow in these areas.
Sonya found that she and her mentee came from different points of view about students and teaching. Thus, Sonya recognized that she could not directly or overtly confront Maggie with her political frame. She focused Maggies attention on the students as humans capable of high levels of thinking.
My goal in the political sense is not something I can hit head on with her. Like its not going to make sense to her these things I said to you [the interviewer] about how there is a whole cultural social thing that allows a whole group of teachers to look down on kids and expect less of them without even realizing they are doing it. Thats not some place I would go with her. But I want her to see who they are as human beings and what they are capable of.
Sonyas approach was to build on Maggies system and find as many openings as I can.
Sonya reported that reframing work would deeply challenge Maggies relationship with her school site. She is going to have to think critically about her peers and the principal when she does that. Sonya offered an alternative voice in Maggies professional life. I dont think anybody stepped in to help her really understand the needs of her students with English language learner needs. Which is a huge omission . . . . She wasnt hearing it from anybody but me and she was a little bit resistant to hearing it from me. Sonyas reframing challenged Maggie’s assumptions as well those ways of seeing found in the broader school culture.
TINA AND LAURA─ REFRAMING CHALLENGE
This case vignette is about a teacher who remained focused on constraints of time, procedures, and ultimately classroom management throughout the 2 years of work with her mentor. Laura, Tinas mentor, felt the effects of this overemphasis on management, ultimately reinforcing Tinas structural and procedural approach towards the students in their mentoring exchanges. Tina, a White woman in her 20s, was in her first year teaching a third grade class of 20 students, including 8 English Language learners and a high percentage of students with special emotional, learning, speech, and social needs. The elementary school where she taught had 520 students and a 90% Latino student population. Laura, a White woman, was a second year mentor who had experience teaching in the primary grades. Tina identified a variety of challenges that plagued her. Her main concerns were problem students and the need for classroom management. She felt that the students placed in her class were a particular challenge. She said, I personally felt that I had received quite a few students who had either severe behavior problems and one student with a learning disability and others who just had a lot of things going on in their life, and that was impacting them at school and their behavior.
Tinas experience of these challenges became the focus of the mentoring sessions. When teaching did not go as Tina had intended, she typically explained the challenge as being a result of problems with student behavior and classroom management.
Mentor: But for the most part you felt like everyone was at least making attempts to be able to read their material?
Teacher: Well, once they stopped fooling around and once they started focusing on the task I asked them to do, they were (making an attempt to complete the assigned activity). But for a while there, they were unclear in my procedures.
When an issue about addressing the needs of a second language learner arose, the teacher and mentor quickly returned to managerial concerns of behavior and control. Laura initiated a question about differentiating instruction. Tina raised an issue about Jose, a second language learner struggling in the class.
Mentor: I was wondering about your special needs students and if there would be anything you might do to differentiate the instruction for some students to make this a more successful lesson for them?
Teacher: Thats actually one question that I did not come up with that I wanted to ask you how I could help those students. I would like some guidance from you on that one. Im finding it a challenge right now . . . At this point, I need to really focus on Jose. I dont know, he hasnt been classified as having a learning disability or anything like that but, as youve seen when you come in, he was the one that sat kind of over here.
Mentor: Right. And he has second-language needs.
While the conversation began with an exploration of the students needs, after reviewing observation data from Tinas lesson, the mentoring conversation ended with a reaffirmation of control procedures for Jose. Rather than further exploring issues about English language learning and access, the conference moved to quickly resolve the perceived problem with a behavioral modification contract.
Mentor: It might be affirming for you, to see this much data, that maybe its time to put Jose on a contract as we had discussed a little bit before. How are you feeling about that now? Is that something that you think you want to do?
There are some reasons why the mentor may not have shifted the focus away from the managerial frame that the novice brought to the conferences. Tina was overwhelmed with control issues and spent much of her time with Laura venting about the classroom or site. The mentor felt she needed to focus on Tinas needs and to be responsive. Laura explained, One strategy (that was effective with Tina) is just listening, because she needs to talk and she needs to vent. Restating some of her feelings and thoughts was real helpful. Tina appreciated this attention to her needs of the moment. In this coaching process youve been really flexible with me, saying, well where is it that you need to go right now. What do YOU need right now? . . . Youre directly addressing the needs that I have at the moment.
Tina also acknowledged that at times she was not ready to hear some of the ideas from Laura. There were a couple of instances, Tina explained, where she suggested that I use a different program and other things and I just basically said . . . maybe in the future I will change my practice, but right now I would like to stick with what I am doing. Laura had to carefully read Tinas readiness to receive feedback and new ideas. She explained,
My approach depended on if [Tina] was open at that time. She will say right up front, she will tell you what her needs are. Lets save that for next time, she would say. She will always bring up that conversation again. She will say Im ready to talk about it now. Its more about timing. Im conscious of not wanting to overwhelm her. Is she really ready to absorb this? Am I giving too many ideas?
In trying to be responsive to Tinas needs, Laura at times may have withheld feedback that could have changed beliefs or practices. The mentoring conferences thus remained focused predominantly on managerial concerns. In viewing videos of Tinas practice over 2 years, we found that her dominant approach to teaching was also managerial, spending most of her instructional time on procedures, management of behavior, direction giving, and controlling student movement. Thus the managerial focus in the mentoring conversations was evidenced in the classroom culture as well.
The literature on novice concerns and teacher development highlights management as a central concern of new teachers. For example, Kagans (1992) review of research on professional growth among novices reports that new teachers face students who do not meet their preconceptions and thus novices become disillusioned, growing increasingly authoritarian, even planning instruction to control misbehavior. We found evidence that mentors interrupted this cycle by introducing novices to new ways of seeing students and challenges of practice that moved beyond a managerial-only focus. Mentors were able to do so through their use of multiple frames. Modifying Bolman and Deals (1997) categories, we found mentors used three frames: a managerial frame that highlights procedures and control of student behavior; the human relations frame that spotlights social systems, individual needs, and relationships in the classroom; and the political frame that identifies inequities, power, and classrooms as arenas for social change. Mentors more often initiated the non-managerial frames and promoted reframing as a way to interpret experience, expose underlying values, and address problems from a multiplicity of perspectives.
REFRAMING OFFERS NOVICES A REPERTOIRE OF WAYS TO DIAGNOSE PROBLEMS AND TO MANAGING CHALLENGES
Novices need multiple ways of framing in order to understand the complexity of problems, identify underlying values, and make decisions to manage their challenges. For example, Carmens mentor helped identify alternative causes of and solutions to test-taking problems. This mentor identified relational needs to care for the students who felt pressured by test taking, the managerial needs to respond to cheating, and the political issue of supporting students who historically performed poorly on testing. The mentor helped the teacher see that by reframing the problem to think about relationships with students and the politics of her context, the teacher could readjust her approach.
Scho¨n (1983), in describing the importance of frame analysis by practitioners, argues that when practitioners become aware of their own frames, they can see alternative ways of framing. A teacher takes note of the values and norms to which he has given priority, and those he has given less importance, or left out of account altogether (p. 310). Analyzing frames allows teachers to become aware of tacit frames they may hold. Reframing also provides a schema for problem solving needed in uncertain, complex classroom situations. Novices, in particular are challenged to analyze or read their classroom interactions and define problems they face. Due to their limited understanding of the nature of the problem and their emerging repertoire of responses, they may identify solutions that lead to unintended consequences. They may move into a survival and control mode that may not address another underlying problem.
Mentors can introduce their more expert schemata and offer different ways of seeing a problem. As Cuban (2001) articulates, people who develop skills in redefining familiar situations have in their heads more than one way of seeing the world. They have developed their capacity to juggle diverse ways of viewing daily occurrences. To the degree that one can hold in his or her mind multiple ways to see a situation, to that degree opportunities to reframe a problem and dilemma multiply (p. 26). Mentors can provide new understandings and articulations of challenges of classroom practice for novices to re-view their student situations. It is the framing or formulation of classroom problems that is critical for making sense of classroom life and identifying solutions.
REFRAMING FOCUSES THE NOVICE ON STUDENT LEARNING AND DIVERSE LEARNERS NEEDS
When mentors helped new teachers reframe, they focused the novices on individual learners and often-overlooked subgroups and their learning needs. This was critical in the linguistically and racially diverse California classrooms in our study. Reframing spotlighted hidden or ignored dynamics that affected student learning. The mentors utilized processes such as observation data on student actions, analysis of student work, and scripts of teacher-student interactions that helped the new teachers bring students into focus. For example, when Sonya shared with Maggie evidence about her individual students work and thinking, their differentiated needs, and that they were capable of higher order learning, this pushed Maggie to rethink the dependence approach she had constructed. Sonya helped Maggie reframe her thinking about the capacities of her individual students and a political frame challenged her lowered expectations of diverse learners.
Moreover, the human relations and political frames both spotlight concerns of individual learning and diverse learners perspectives. In conferences where mentors used analysis of student work or explored individual learning, they were able to identify differences of language, culture, and ability. They discussed the whole child and what supported his or her learning best. The mentor and new teacher were able to discuss differentiated instruction to support the students and move their learning forward.
MENTORS FACE TENSIONS IN REFRAMING
Reframing was no easy task for mentors. It exposed dilemmas in mentoring, including being a supporter versus a critic; addressing competing school cultures and conflicting frames; and facing limitations in mentors repertoire of frames.
Reframing creates a tension between the mentors role as friend and critic. The mentors job is often perceived of as easing the transition of novices. It thus may be challenging for mentors to directly confront novices beliefs or practices. The mentor language in the conferences examined in this study included indirect suggestions and less confrontational exchanges as mentors sought to maintain rapport with novices while extending novices thinking. Similarly, Strong and Baron (2004) found that mentoring conversations were dominated by indirect or veiled suggestions. In a study of 143 mentors, Ganser (1998) found that mentors dominant metaphors for their role identified friendly interpersonal relationships likened to kinship ties. Mentors in Smiths (1993) study identified their role as comfort creators. In their efforts to maintain their friendship and support, mentors may miss opportunities to challenge or push practice.
The case vignette from Tina and Laura best demonstrated this tension. This mentor struggled with holding back comments when she perceived the new teacher needed to vent. For example, Laura was challenged when Tinas needs focused them on managerial concerns in their mentoring work for 2 years. While being responsive, at what point must a mentor take the lead in reframing even when it challenges the rapport that she built as a supporter? The mentor, who also focused predominantly on management issues, was rarely able to reframe the new teachers thinking. When opportunities to discuss students and learning arose, the teacher identified the need for routines and procedures to control problematic behavior. Thus opportunities to focus on pedagogy, curriculum, and learning were eclipsed by concerns for control. The mentor rarely made moves to reframe as she felt she was responding to the sense of overwhelm that the new teacher presented and was sensitive to the readiness of the new teacher to hear challenges to her practices.
Second, mentors struggled with holding frames that differed from those of their mentees and school cultures. For example, Sonya had to find a way to challenge Maggies thinking by connecting to her frames without hitting her over the head with Sonyas political ideas. The mentor struggled to find a way that respected the new teachers values, while introducing some of her concerns. Sonya also recognized the challenges of a school culture (e.g., messages from principal and colleagues) that reinforced Maggies managerial frames and eclipsed the political frames. The mentor realized that her critical approaches may have brought the new teacher into conflict with her school culture. The mentor explained, She is going to have to think critically about her peers and the principal when she does that. This also raises the question, can a mentor reframe a school? Maggies school culture reinforced a managerial frame. When Sonya came in with a political frame was she able to challenge the pervasive messages sent by the school?
A further tension for mentors was that some of the frames conflicted. There was a negative correlation between the management frame and the other two frames. The political frame is one critical of the status quo and can be directly at odds with the managerial frame. For mentors to hold both frames simultaneously (or equally) is problematic. While Sonya tried to meet Maggies need for a sense of control and management, ultimately Sonya found such approaches resulted in inequitable opportunities for the students in the classroom and undermined fundamental assumptions of the political frame. Underlying this tension is a deeper issue about the role of mentors in moving teachers from seeing their primary role as managing students to taking a political role.
The final tension resulted from mentors having different repertoires of framing. Some mentors demonstrated a balanced repertoire of frames and framed things differently with different new teachers, while others had a limited range where one frame was dominant across their caseload. This raises a question about how wide or limited is the repertoire of frames a mentor brings to the exchanges with a novice.
What are the implications of reframing for practice and research? First, for mentors and new teachers, this work shows how novices may better understand their self-reported control problems by considering them through different frames. The process of reframing provides a problem-solving schema that supports novices in interpreting, generating alternatives, and making thoughtful decisions in the complexity of classroom life.
Reframing holds implications for the widespread finding that new teachers, especially those teaching racially and linguistically diverse or lower income students, adopt a dominant managerial mode. The case vignette of Laura and Tina speaks to this finding. The mentor and novice remained focused on a managerial frame throughout their 2 years of conferencing. In turn, Tinas practice over 2 years remained predominantly focused on procedures, management of behavior, direction giving, and student control. The time on managerial concerns compromised opportunities for students to gain access to rich academic learning. Instead, it contributed to what Haberman (1991) describes as a pedagogy of poverty, one that overemphasizes control practices, including punishing noncompliance, settling disputes, monitoring activities, and engaging in directive instruction. The management frame tended to preclude other ways of seeing students, limiting a novices vision of children. In contrast, the other two case vignettes, demonstrated shifts in teachers thinking and practice beyond management, as the mentoring conversations provided a diverse repertoire of reframing. Thus mentors and novices were able to go beyond the focus on management issues by adopting alternative ways of framing their students and classrooms.
Second, for those engaged in professional development of mentors, the study suggests that mentors should examine their ways of viewing students and learn to reframe when appropriate. Individual and group reflection may enable mentors to explore which frames are dominant or underused in their own repertoire. Mentors will need support and practice in how to introduce new frames in challenging situations. Reading the mentoring situation and knowing how to introduce new frames that both push and support novice practice are learned capacities. Use of case vignettes such as those included here may prove helpful in role-playing and collectively reflecting on reframing. Furthermore, they need to discuss their own role as reframers. Many mentors may not take such an active role in challenging novices ways of seeing. When we shared these findings with the group of mentors involved, they raised questions about the political frame, concerned about being perceived as activists by the school. Yet reframing may be a vital activist role for mentors, one that challenges novices assumptions about students, learning, and schooling.
Third, mentors may want to consider the tensions between various frames because the values behind each frame matter for students. The political frame challenges many of the assumptions of the managerial one, highlighting different beliefs about students and teaching. While many mentors are encouraged to focus early and often on the managerial frame (by new teachers, administrators, and induction programs), they rarely have an opportunity to discuss the implications of an overfocus on managerial concerns. Such an overfocus on managerial frames may serve to limit new teachers problem-solving capacities and deeper under- standings of individual students and classroom interactions.
Finally, for researchers, this study challenges the dominant induction literature that identifies a developmental model of teaching concerns with an initial survival stage focused on control and a necessary focus of induction support on managerial concerns. The evidence from this study demonstrates that mentors supported reframing of managerial concerns to focus on multiple ways of understanding classroom challenges.
Furthermore, we hope the generative nature of Bolman and Deals framework will inspire other induction researchers to look to organizational theory and examine framing in new teachers and mentors work lives. We found that Bolman and Deals theoretical perspective contributed to our new way of seeing classroom life for novices. Further research is needed in the area of novice teacher frames and mentor reframing. Future investigations could examine the use of multiple frames and connections to problem-solving approaches, moving novices practice toward a more student-centered focus, and understanding conditions that facilitate this transition. An exploration of how frames about students influence conceptions of subject matter and pedagogy would also extend the present study. To study framing processes, researchers will need to investigate teachers thinking, talk with mentors, and talk with students, over time. This requires close analysis of mentoring and classroom discourse. Examining how novices and mentors frame diverse classroom contexts is a vital focus for further inquiry if mentors are to expand new teachers visions.
The authors thank the mentors and new teachers involved in the study. A special acknowledgement goes to Michael Strong, Stephen Fletcher, and Anthony Villar for their significant contributions to data collection and ongoing feedback on this study. We wish to thank Ann Lieberman, Lyn Corno, and anonymous reviewers with TCRecord for feedback on the article. We thank the staff at the New Teacher Center, University of California, Santa Cruz for their support and comments. Research was supported by the New Teacher Center, at the University of California, Santa Cruz (Ellen Moir, Executive Director).
1 Alternatively, new teachers may use curriculum and instruction in ways that solely maintain control and do not advance learning. They thus can teach defensively, simplifying content and lowering expectations as a means to promote classroom order (McNeil, 1986).
2 The mentors appreciated the three frames and concurred that they reflected the kinds of mentor-novice talk about students. Most interestingly, some of the mentors were concerned by the term political in one of the frames because they saw it as a negative term that would concern administrators. At a subsequent meeting one of the participating mentors facilitated a discussion about the importance of their understanding the political nature of their roles, including their work as advocates for beginning teachers, change agents in schools, and teacher leaders.
3 All individual names are pseudonyms to maintain the confidentiality of participants.
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