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Developing the Professional Identity of First-Year Teachers
Through a "Working Alliance"

Pamelia E. Brott
Counseling Program
University of Houston-Clear Lake
Houston, Texas
brott@cl.uh.edu
Lawrence T. Kajs
Educational Leadership
University of Houston-Clear Lake
Houston, Texas
kajs@cl.uh.edu
 

 

Index  [Top]
Abstract
Professional Identity Development
Working Alliance
Conclusion
References
Authors

Abstract

In the Alternative Certification Program (ACP), mentor-teachers work with first-year teachers to develop their professional identity as teachers. Professional identity is a developmental process that can be nurtured through a "working alliance," a term borrowed from the counseling profession. The "working alliance" is a collaborative and flexible relationship used as a forum for learning. The skills of attending and listening, reflecting and clarifying, and challenging and confronting are essential to the mentoring experience.
[Index]

Professional Identity Development

Alternative Certification Programs (ACP) require beginning teachers to have mentors. The mentoring relationship between beginning- and mentoring-teachers nurtures the professional and personal development of the new teachers (Ganser & Koskela, 1997; Hadden, 1997; Hawkey, 1997; Kajs, Willman, & Alaniz, 1998; Thomsen & Gustafson, 1997). In serving various roles in the mentoring relationship (e.g., parent figure, scaffolder, guide, counselor), mentors have the responsibility to develop the beginning teachers’ professional identity as teachers (Cordeira & Smith-Sloan, 1995; Covey, 1997; Furlong, 1997; Hawkey, 1997).

Studies have shown that becoming a professional occurs on two levels (Hall, 1968; Kerr, VonGlinow, & Schriesheim, 1977). First, it takes place on a structural level, such as formal educational and entrance requirements for entry into the profession. Secondly, it occurs on an attitudinal level, such as the individual's sense of "a calling" to the field. Stated another way, people entering a profession experience change externally, which is in the requirements of the specific career role, and internally, which is in the subjective self-conceptualization associated with the role (McGowen & Hart, 1990). This self-conceptualization can be viewed as one's professional identity.

Issues of professional identity stem from professional socialization and development (McGowen & Hart, 1990). Professional socialization and development is a social learning process that includes the acquisition of specific knowledge and skills that are required in a professional role and the development of new values, attitudes, and self-identity components (Hall, 1987; McGowen & Hart, 1990; Watts, 1987). For instance, as a professional educator, teachers should acquire specific knowledge and skills in such areas as critical thinking, interpersonal skills, and conflict resolution skills, as well as an ability to use computer technology and alternative assessment techniques (Gettys & Holt, 1993; Roden & Cardina, 1996).

Professional identity issues also have been a focus in the vocational behavior literature dealing with person-environment fit. The two best known approaches to person-environment fit have been Holland's (1985) typological theory and the Minnesota Theory of Work Adjustment (Dawis & Lofquist, 1984). Person-environment fit has been shown to have positive outcome implications for job involvement (Blau, 1987), job satisfaction and tenure (Bretz & Judge, 1994), organizational commitment (Meglino, Ravlin, & Adkins, 1989), individual health and adaptation (Moos, 1987), and work attitudes (Smart, Elton, & McLaughlin, 1986). Current research on the Theory of Work Adjustment has focused on the dynamic interaction between individuals and their occupational environments (Lawson, 1993). The theoretical foundations and the related research suggest that individuals will seek out, find contentment, and thrive in environments that support their specific preferences (Bretz & Judge, 1994). In other words, those who fit will thrive.

Molding a professional identity is a developmental process of maturation (Kuzmic, 1994). Effective mentors assist beginning teachers to work through both the personal and the professional ramifications of teaching as they move through the evolutionary stages of development as a professional educator (Spuhler & Zetler, 1994). New teachers begin as novices and advance through the developmental stages to finally become experts (Berliner, 1988). After the beginning practitioner enters the profession, a number of initial losses can occur (e.g., peers, supervisors, trainers) that are likely to affect both the comfort level of one's work as well as the quality of one's professional functioning. Along with the losses, the new practitioner struggles to develop the sort of "work ego" that will enable the practitioner to make sense of the profession. Kuzmic (1994) spoke of the "process of becoming" as the reflective perspective that is an inner understanding from which new experiences are handled.

Professional identity formation and development are individual maturation processes that begin during one's training for the profession, evolve during entry into the profession, and continue to develop as the practitioner identifies with the profession. These processes can be viewed as the experiences that help the practitioner wed theory with reality in the direction of greater flexibility and openness.
[Index]

Working Alliance

The relationship between the mentor-teacher and the first-year teacher (i.e., protégé) is important; however, there are significant differences as to how this relationship may be characterized. One may stress the relationship in itself or the outcomes achieved through the relationship. Borrowing from the profession of counseling, the term "working alliance" can be used to bring together the best of the relationship-in-itself and relationship-as-means. The "working alliance," in the context of a developmental process, is a collaborative, flexible relationship used as a forum for learning (Egan, 1998; Greenson, 1967; Teyber, 1997).

Since the majority of the working alliance is enacted through a dialogue, the communication skills of both participants are critical to the process of mentoring. Thus, interpersonal skills can be viewed as being the highest priority, even higher than course knowledge and teaching experience (Hawkey, 1997). These communication skills are essential tools for developing the working alliance and interacting within the relationship. These skills can be broadly viewed in three categories: (a) attending and listening, (b) reflecting and clarifying, and (c) challenging and confronting. All of these skills are essential tools both for building a relationship and for supporting the developmental process.

The category of attending and listening focuses not only on what is said but also how it is said. Awareness of the nonverbal behavior (e.g., body language, facial expressions, gestures) can assist the mentor in understanding and interpreting the protégé’s behavior. These behaviors need to be understood from a broad range of diversity dimensions brought to the mentoring relationship: individual behavior, natural characteristics, developmental history, cultural aspects, and geographic influences. Active listening is incorporated to hear similarities and discrepancies among the protégé’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. Effective mentors will listen for specific aspects of the protégé’s behavior that need to be initiated, strengthened, or modified.

Reflecting and clarifying encompasses the skills of paraphrasing, summarizing, and mirroring. Many practitioners believe that repeating words to the protégé is "helpful." Although restatement can be useful and appropriate, the systematic and deliberate emphasis on certain kinds of content that relates to the goal of the mentoring process may be "more helpful." Paraphrasing, summarizing, and mirroring are skills used to reflect and clarify both meaning and feeling. These skills are used to stimulate deeper exploration of the facts and feelings the protégé is experiencing. By linking the protégé's facts and thoughts to the feelings (i.e., empathy), the mentor can communicate understanding, provide feedback, and capture important aspects of the protégé's experience.

Challenging and confronting is not to be interpreted as an adversarial approach. Rather, the skills used should help the protégé face reality and consider alternatives. When these skills are used within the working alliance (i.e., trusting relationship), the mentor can provide greater awareness and can introduce an alternative perspective. Challenging and confronting should occur because the mentor cares enough about the protege's development rather than ignore unpleasant or difficult aspects that may interfere with the protégé’s development. Confrontation should be specific, direct, and not evaluative. These skills can be an invitation to examine, modify, or control an aspect of one's behavior.
[Index]

Conclusion

Becoming a professional incorporates both external requirements and internal self-conceptualizations. An individual’s self-conceptualization associated with a career role can be viewed as one’s professional identity. Professional identity issues deal with professional socialization and development, person-environment fit, and a developmental process of maturation. Effective mentors can assist beginning teachers to deal with the stages of development as professional educators by helping them work through both personal and professional challenges of the teaching profession.

Mentors play a critical role in the development of beginning teachers’ professional identity. As beginning teachers move through developmental stages, mentors’ responses and approaches change and adapt to these stages. Nelson and Quick (1997) have attempted to capture the essence of beginning teachers’ personal and professional developmental changes by noting four stages of the mentor-protégé relationship including initiation, cultivation, separation, and redefinition.

This mentoring relationship requires a "working alliance" for learning to occur. In building this working alliance, both the mentor and the beginning teacher need to exercise strong interpersonal skills in the following areas:

    1. Attending and Listening – Attending is the awareness of non-verbal behavior. Active listening is used to hear similarities and discrepancies among the beginning teacher’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. Also, listening for specific aspects of the beginning teacher’s behavior that needs to be initiated, strengthened, or modified.
    2. Reflecting and Clarifying – This category focuses on the systematic and deliberate emphasis on certain types of content that relates to a goal within the mentoring relationship. This is accomplished by using interpersonal skills to paraphrase, to summarize, and to mirror both the feelings and meanings of the beginning teacher.
    3. Challenging and Confronting – The mentor can be challenging and confronting not as an adversarial approach but as a means to help the beginning teacher face reality and consider alternatives. When confronting, the mentor should be specific, direct, and non-evaluative. These skills are used as an invitation to examine, modify, or control an aspect of one’s behavior.

The working alliance between the mentor and the beginning teacher is an important relationship enacted through a dialogue. Therefore, the communication skills of both participants are critical to the process of effective mentoring. These skills (i.e., attending and listening, reflecting and clarifying, challenging and confronting) are essential tools for developing the working alliance and interacting within the relationship. Consequently, ACP program directors may need to ensure that both parties of this relationship have these skills by providing inventories and/or professional development classes or workshops in human relationship skills.
[Index]

References

Berliner, D. C. (1988). Implications of studies of expertise in pedagogy for teacher education and evaluation. Paper presented at the 1988 Educational Testing Service Invitational Conference on New Directions for Teacher Assessment, New York City, NY.

Blau, G. L. (1987). Using a person-environment fit model to predict job involvement and organizational commitment. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 30, 240-257.

Bretz, R. D., Jr., & Judge, T. A. (1994). Person-organization fit and the Theory of Work Adjustment: Implications for satisfaction, tenure, and career success. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 44, 32-54.

Cordeiro, P. A., & Smith-Sloan, E. (1995). Apprenticeships for administrative Interns: Learning to talk like a principal. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA.

Covey, S. R. (1997). Modeling and mentoring. Executive Excellence, 14, 3-4.

Dawis, R. V., & Lofquist, L. H. (1984). A psychological theory of work adjustment. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Egan, G. (1998). The skilled helper: A problem-management approach to helping (6th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Furlong, J. (1997). Mentoring and developing practice in primary schools: Supporting student teacher learning in school. Journal of Education and Teaching, 23, 99-101.

Ganser, T., & Koskela, R. (1997). A comparison of six Wisconsin mentoring programs for beginning teachers. NASSP Bulletin, 81, 71-80.

Gettys, C. M., & Holt, M. A. (1993). Survey assessment of Paideia teachers perception concerning professional staff development. East Lansing, MI: National Center for Research on Teacher Learning. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 369 742)

Greenson, R. R. (1967). The technique and practice of psychoanalysis. New York: International Universities Press.

Hadden, R. (1997). Mentoring and coaching. Executive Excellence, 14, 17.

Hall, D. T. (1987). Careers and socialization. Journal of Management, 13, 301-321.

Hall, R. H. (1968). Professionalization and bureaucratization. American Sociological Review, 33, 92-104.

Hawkey, K. (1997). Roles, responsibilities, and relationships in mentoring: A literature review and agenda for research. Journal of Teacher Education, 48, 325-335.

Holland, J. L. (1985). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Kajs, L. T., Willman, E., & Alaniz, R. (1998). Technology education in a mentor-teacher professional program: A case study. In Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE) Proceedings, Charlottesville, VA.

Kerr, S., VonGlinow, M. A., & Schriesheim, J. (1977). Issues in the study of "professionals" in organizations: The case of scientists and engineers. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 18, 329-345.

Kuzmic, J. (1994). A beginning teacher's search for meaning: Teacher socialization, organizational literacy, and empowerment. Teaching and Teacher Education, 10, 15-27.

Lawson, L. (1993). Theory of Work Adjustment personality constructs. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 43, 46-57.

McGowen, K. R., & Hart, L. E. (1990). Still different after all these years: Gender differences in professional identity formation. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 21, 118-123.

Meglino, B. M., Ravlin, E. C., & Adkins, C. L. (1989). A work values approach to corporate culture: A field test of the value congruence process and its relationship to individual outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 74, 424-432.

Moos, R. H. (1987). Person-environment congruence in work, school, and health care settings. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 31, 231-247.

Nelson, D. L., & Quick, J. C. (1997). Organizational behavior (2nd ed.). New York: West.

Roden, J. K., & Cardina, C. E. (1996). Factors which contribute to school administrators’ hiring decisions. Education, 117, 262-225.

Smart, J. C., Elton, C. F., & McLaughlin, G. W. (1986). Person-environment congruence and job satisfaction. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 29, 216-225.

Spuhler, L., & Zetler, A. (1994). Montana teacher support program: Research report for year two 1993-94. East Lansing, MI: National Center for Research on Teacher Learning. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 390 802)

Teyber, E. (1997). Interpersonal process in psychotherapy: A relational approach (3rd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Thomsen, S. R., & Gustafson, R. L. (1997). Turning practitioners into professors: Exploring effective mentoring. Journalism and Mass Communication Educator, 52, 24-32.

Watts, R. (1987). Development of professional identity in Black clinical psychology students. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 18, 28-35.
[Index]

Authors

Pamelia E. Brott, Ph.D., LPC, NCC

Pamelia E. Brott received her doctorate in Counseling and Counselor Education from The University of North Carolina-Greensboro in 1996. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Counseling Program at the University of Houston-Clear Lake (Texas). Her areas of interest and research include professional identity development, narrative career counseling, and the process of counselor development in the training process.

Counseling Program, Box 35
University of Houston-Clear Lake
2700 Bay Area Boulevard
Houston, TX 77058-1098
281/283-3541 (office)
281/283-3599 (fax)
brott@cl.uh.edu

Lawrence T. Kajs, Ed.D.

Lawrence T. Kajs received his Ed.D. in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy from Harvard University in 1988. Prior to his Houston assignment, he was on the faculty at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas. Dr. Kajs is currently an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Houston-Clear Lake (Texas). He teaches graduate courses in school law, management theory, and school personnel. He is co-founder of the Center for Excellence in Mentoring (CEM) at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.

Educational Leadership
University of Houston-Clear Lake
2700 Bay Area Boulevard, Box 193
Houston, TX 77058-1098
281/283-3555 (office)
281/283-3599 (fax)
kajs@cl.uh.edu

[Index]

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