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The Social Networks of First-Year Teachers: Impact and Influence

Sun, April 7, 3:40 to 5:10pm, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, 200 Level, Room 202C

Abstract

The first year of teaching is a challenging time. Many teachers will quit by the end of their first year (Ingersoll & Merrill, 2012) or experience professional uncertainty (Toom, et al, 2017). Combined with emotional turbulence that often peaks during the first few months, first-year teachers experience vulnerability unlike any other group of teachers (Elden, 2013; Moir & Gless, 2001). This unique vulnerability leaves first-year teachers susceptible to the influence of others as they make sense of teaching and learning and the existing school norms that occupy the greater school culture. During this time, new teachers may turn to formal mentors for advice and insight (Mena et al., 2017; Brock & Grady, 2007), or to from more informal sources such as the teacher next door (Desimone, Hochberg, & Porter, 2013). How this advice and insight infiltrates first-year teacher networks and compounds over time to influence the practices and beliefs of first-year teachers is still relatively unknown. We know that formal mentors can play a powerful role in the development of first-year teachers (Smith & Ingersoll, 2004), but we know very little about how informal mentors and sources of influence impact what first-year teachers believe and practice in their own classrooms (Siciliano, 2017).

This study aims to better understand the impact of social networks on first-year teachers by examining 1) how social networks of first-year teachers are structured and 2) how these networks influence first-year teacher development. All teachers in this study were in their very first year of teaching as teacher of record and worked a large, suburban county that includes 28 school districts and approximately 208,000 public and public charter preK-12 students. Participants were asked to complete surveys and interviews about who they turn to for advice and what they believed about education such as instruction, practice, diversity, and the greater purposes of schools. New survey information included demographics of the new teachers, demographics of the students in their school assignment, and demographic information about the new teacher’s school district. Additionally, individuals nominated by the new teachers (the alters) were surveyed on their own beliefs. Participants completed the survey again during the middle and end of the year and alters were surveyed again at the end of the year. The research team then interviewed new teachers to gain a fuller understanding of their beliefs. The survey and semi-structured interview protocol was piloted in the spring of 2018. Analysis of the final data include an exploratory factor analysis of the survey instrument, reliability and validity measures, and both a selection and influence social network analysis on the networks of the new teachers.

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