'Support our networking and help us belong!': listening to beginning secondary school science teachers

Fox, Alison and Wilson, Elaine (2009). 'Support our networking and help us belong!': listening to beginning secondary school science teachers. Teachers and Teaching, 15(6) pp. 701–718.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13540600903357025


This study, drawing on the voice of beginning teachers, seeks to illuminate their experiences of building professional relationships as they become part of the teaching profession. A networking perspective was taken to expose and explore the use of others during the first three years of a teacher’s workplace experience. Three case studies, set within a wider sample of 11 secondary school science teachers leaving one UK university’s PostGraduate Certificate in Education, were studied. The project set out to determine the nature of the networks used by teachers in terms of both how they were being used for their own professional development and perceptions of how they were being used by others in school. Affordances and barriers to networking were explored using notions of identity formation through social participation. The focus of the paper is on how the teachers used others to help shape their sense of belonging to this, their new workplace. The paper develops ideas from network theories to argue that membership of the communities are a subset of the professional inter‐relationships teachers utilise for their professional development. During their first year of teaching, eight teachers were interviewed, completing 13 semi‐structured interviews. This was supplemented in Year 2 by a questionnaire survey of their experiences. In the third year of the programme, 11 teachers (including the original sample of eight) were surveyed using a network mapping tool in which they represented their communications with people, groups and resources. Finally, three of the teachers (common to both samples) were then interviewed specifically about their networking practices and experiences using the generation of their network map as a stimulated recall focus. The implications of the analysis of these accounts are that these beginning teachers did not perceive of themselves wholly as novices and that their personal aspirations to increase participation in practical science, develop a career or work for pupils holistically did not always sit comfortably with the school communities into which they were being accommodated. While highlighting the importance of trust and respect in establishing relationships, these teachers’ accounts highlight the importance of finding ‘peers’ from whom they can find support and with whom they can reflect and potentially collaborate towards developing practice. They also raise questions about who these ‘peers’ might be and where they might be found.

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