Building a Team: The Developmental Stages of a Teacher

It is fair to say that the team of teachers the director of a child care center assembles will be a diverse group of people. Educational levels, job expectations, and career aspirations will differ widely – as will experience, professional demeanor, individual learning styles, cultural and, now, generational differences.

When designing staff development opportunities, we know that there is not a one-size-fits-all product. Directors of early childhood programs must know the individual members of their teams. And, if developmental events are to really make a positive impact, they must, as a first step in assessing training needs, observe and reflect upon the ages and stages of these teachers.

When thinking about and planning for staff development and training, I tend to begin with the end in mind. And then, work backwards. Who is the audience? What are their specific needs? What is to be accomplished? And, what will most effectively get us there?

Dr. Lillian G. Katz, Professor Emerita of Early Childhood Education at the University of Illinois, and a distinguished leader in our industry, has written numerous articles about the Developmental Stages of Teachers, and, in this post, I will highlight her work.

Among others, Dr. Katz suggests the following dimensions of training for teachers:

  • Developmental stages of the teacher
  • Training needs at each stage
  • Location of the training

So, for your consideration:

Stage 1: Survival

This stage may last the entire first year of teaching. Teachers’ main concern is whether they can survive. “Can I get through this day – this week?” “Can I make it until my vacation?” “Can I really do this work day after day?” The first full impact of responsibility for a group of young children (and the addition of parents) inevitably causes teacher anxiety. And the disconnect between anticipated success and classroom realities adds to the feelings of inadequacy, and of not being fully prepared.

These teachers need support, understanding, encouragement, reassurance, comfort, and guidance. Needed is specific skills instruction, and insight into the complex causes of behavior. This instruction should be provided in the teachers’ classrooms. On-site instructors could be senior staff members, mentor teachers, program coordinators, or consultants who know the beginning teachers, as well as their teaching situations. Training must be always and readily available. Trainers should have enough time and flexibility to be on call as needed. Crises happen when they happen – and support is needed in real time.

Stage 2: Consolidation

Once teachers have decided that they can survive, they are now ready to consolidate the gains made during the first stage, and to think about tasks and skills to be mastered next. These teachers usually begin to focus on individual children who pose problems, and on troublesome situations. “How can I help … ?”

In the first stage, beginning teachers acquire information about what young children are like and what to expect of them. In the second stage, teachers are beginning to identify children whose behavior departs from the pattern.

On-site training continues to be valuable. Trainers can help teachers through mutual exploration of a problem. An on-site trainer can observe the teacher and child, and arrive at suggestions and strategies rather quickly. Discussion between teachers and trainers can help teachers interpret their experiences, and move toward a solution to a problem.

The need for information about specific children moves learning toward a wider range of resources. Other experts, psychologists, social and health workers can strengthen teachers’ skills and knowledge at this time. In addition, the exchange of information and ideas with colleagues and advisors helps these teachers master the tasks at hand.

Stage 3: Renewal

Often, during the third or fourth year of teaching, teachers begin to tire of doing the same things. They start to ask more questions about new developments in the field, such as, “Who is doing what – and where?” “What are some of the new materials and techniques?” This need for renewal should be taken seriously.

During this stage, teachers find it most rewarding to meet colleagues from different programs – both formally and informally. Teachers are receptive to experiencing regional conferences and workshops, and profit from membership in professional associations and attending their meetings. They are widening the scope of their reading – to include professional journals. And, they benefit from being with other teachers to help each other learn or relearn skills, techniques, methods; to exchange ideas; and to organize special workshops.

Stage 4: Maturity

Generally, this is somewhere around the fifth year. At this stage, teachers have come to terms with themselves as a teachers. They now have enough perspective to ask deeper and more abstract questions like: “What are my historical and philosophical roots?” “How are educational decisions made?” “Can schools change societies?” “Is teaching a profession?”. Now, given their experience, these questions represent a more meaningful search for insight and perspective.

These teachers need an opportunity to participate in conferences and seminars. They welcome the chance to read widely and to interact with educators working on many problem areas, at many different levels. Training sessions and conferences, which Stage 2 teachers enjoy, may be very tiresome to Stage 4 teachers. Similarly, seminars that feature introspective and searching discussion, which Stage 4 teachers enjoy, may lead to restlessness and irritation among Stage 1 teachers.

In the grand scheme of building a team, I think it is useful to think of the developmental growth of teachers as occurring in stages, and linked to the experience they gain over time. Teachers’ training needs change as they become more experienced, and as they move from one stage to another. In addition, the location of training should change as teachers develop – beginning in their classrooms, then moving out into the larger world.

It is often said that experience is the best teacher. Let us, then, create and shape relevant learning experiences for our teachers within the context of their developmental stages. I think we can powerfully influence teacher competency, motivation, and success at all levels – and, in the process, build a more effective team!

Your thoughts?

This entry was posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Training for Early Childhood Directors. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Building a Team: The Developmental Stages of a Teacher

  1. Jennie Fitzkee says:

    This is very interesting! I think perhaps there needs to be a stage 5. The maturity I began to gain after five years is light years from where I am today. Interestingly, your post is the third mention I have read on multiple generations within teaching staff. I am glad I’m not a director, as addressing the needs of everyone is far from easy. Great post, Marcia.

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