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This section describes school context factors that support beginning teachers and provides tools that principals, instructional coaches, and teacher preparation faculty can use to evaluate the presence and effectiveness of each school context factor in their particular settings.

From base camp to summit

The journey from teacher preparation program to beginning teacher is rigorous and inspiring.  Using a mountain climbing metaphor, teacher preparation faculty can guide teacher candidates to a kind of “base camp” level of readiness.  Base camp is not at the bottom of the mountain but is well into the journey to the summit.  Arriving at base camp is already a demonstration of hard work and perseverance, with much effort to learn the basics of the mountain terrain, and acclimation to the environmental conditions.  From there, the schools that hire beginning teachers are tasked with continuing their support and development with an eye toward getting them to the summit of the mountain. 
A teacher may take years to arrive, gaining more experience with each day’s effort out of base camp, experimenting with approaches and equipment, and pressing forward each day with fortitude.

A lot happens in the first few years of beginning teachers’ careers that complements and builds on their preparation and can propel them to a career peak.  In particular, the professional development and the professional culture of schools contribute to what they learned in courses, clinical fieldwork experiences, and student teaching during their preparation.  In addition, depending on the quality of those professional experiences, beginning teachers can accelerate their instructional effectiveness in the classroom.  Feiman-Nemser’s (2001) proposal for a professional learning continuum suggests a curricular framework for professional education that has three phases of development, starting with pre-service preparation, transitioning through the induction period of the beginning educator, and then shifting to the continuing professional development phase for the experienced or accomplished professional.

Table 5.1

Central Tasks of Learning to Teach

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Naming school context factors that matter for beginning teachers

Professional development opportunities and a school’s professional culture can be referred to as school context factors.  These features of schools make an impact on early career teachers’ instructional effectiveness.  Research points to three school context factors that are especially powerful in helping beginning teachers learn how to manage instruction, resources, time, and student engagement in ways that are responsive to all learners, and to maintain high expectations for meaningful, engaging learning.  Those three factors are data-focused professional learning communities, strong communication systems, and induction programs that include mentoring.