Beginning Teachers: Not Just Surviving but Thriving

by | Feb 17, 2020

Attrition rates for beginning teachers in Australia are concerning — so how can leaders and teachers support their early years colleagues?

Attrition rates for beginning teachers in Australia are concerning — so how can leaders and teachers support their early years colleagues?

Across Australia, school leaders are reporting high numbers of beginning teachers entering the profession. Since the provision of effective support for beginning teachers throughout their first year is central to developing their expertise and encouraging retention, a critical question is raised: what type of support is most effective for both retaining new graduates and successfully developing their proficiency? How do we help them to not just survive in their first year but thrive?

Educators know that teaching is a challenging profession where development from graduate to proficient status requires both time and individualised support. Consequently the Australian teaching community has recognised the need to better understand and fulfil the unique needs of beginning teachers (AITSL, n.d.).

Attrition rates for beginning teachers in Australia are concerning, with scholarly literature and media articles estimating that 30–50% of teachers leave the profession within their first five years (Weldon, 2018). In recent research conducted by Monash University (2019), teacher survey data indicates that 26% of beginning teachers do not intend to stay in the profession past five years. Flow-on consequences of these high attrition rates include negative effects on student achievement and increased economic costs.

These figures are not unique to Australia. In the UK and the USA, the question of how best to support beginning teachers is gaining interest among educational researchers. Hawker Brownlow Education author and presenter Dr Tina Boogren is one such researcher.

Drawing on the findings from her own research as well as other researchers and practitioners in the field, Boogren (2015) describes the primary reasons beginning teachers leave the profession and provides approaches that school leaders can adopt to support and retain early career teachers.

Primary reasons beginning teachers leave the profession:

  • A perception that school leadership under-support or under-value them, leading to frustration.
  • Stress caused by workload, expectations, or the number of responsibilities demanded of them.
  • Anxiety over a lack of expertise.

The Specific Needs of Beginning Teachers

During their first year, beginning teachers are faced with a steep learning curve and an assortment of mental and emotional challenges. Each challenge is characterised by defined needs. It is essential for school leaders to understand these challenges and their accompanying needs. Only then can leaders provide the necessary support that both develops beginning teacher expertise and encourages retention. So, what are these challenges? What are these unique needs? And how might we best meet them?

In her research on supporting and mentoring new teachers, Ellen Moir (1999) from The New Teacher Centre in California defines six phases or challenges that beginning teachers cycle through during their first year: anticipation, survival, disillusionment, rejuvenation and reflection. In her book Supporting Beginning Teachers, Tina Boogren unpacks each phase and aligns these with primary areas of need as defined by Lipton and Wellman (2001). . These include:

  • Physical needs – setting up their classroom, navigating the school’s physical environment, locating resources and curriculum materials.
  • Emotional needs – maintaining energy, a listening ear, reassurance, wellbeing.
  • Instructional needs – classroom practice, a focus on students’ academic performance and their own teaching performance, coaching and mentoring.
  • Institutional needs – understanding the school culture, building relationships with colleagues, leadership, parents and students, keeping up to date with educational research.

Phases of first-year teachers' attitudes toward teaching

Phases of first-year teachers’ attitudes toward teaching — adapted from Moir (1999) for the Australian context.

Keeping Beginning Teachers in Our Schools

If understanding the unique needs of beginning teachers is the first step to success, the second is knowing how best to address these needs. Time and tailored support are essential if beginning teachers are to develop their expertise and feel they can survive the first-year transformation. Deliberate practice and a well-planned and monitored mentoring program are key.

Develop Expertise Through Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice is well known in the field of education. Based on the original work of psychologist and researcher Anders Ericsson (2006), deliberate practice has received increased attention through Hattie’s (2017) meta-analysis of factors that influence student achievement. Deliberate practice, according to Boogren (2015), is also applicable for beginning teachers as a necessary strategy to develop their expertise. However, she maintains that beginning teachers cannot do this alone. They require intentional and comprehensive support catered to meet their individual needs. Ideally mentors or coaches should be assigned to provide this support.

Designing Effective Mentoring Programs

What are the hallmarks of an effective mentoring program? In their book Coaching Classroom Instruction, Marzano and Simms (2013) provide the following three recommendations.

1: School leaders should select high-quality mentors who:
  • have demonstrated proficiency in increasing student achievement in their own classrooms
  • possess a vast knowledge of curriculum and instruction
  • interact with others in a professional and considerate way
  • agree with the goals of the mentoring program
  • comprehend and can describe what effective practice looks like
  • engage in self-reflection and continuous improvement in their own roles as mentors.
2: Mentors should build effective relationships with beginning teachers through quality conversations. Quality conversations include:
  • high-level communication skills in questioning and responding
  • taking a non-judgemental approach
  • modelling positive interactions.
3: Mentors should provide specific types of new teacher support that include:
  • physical
  • emotional
  • instructional


Beginning teachers chose this profession because they want to make a difference. What influences their decision to stay in the profession is knowing they are valued, supported and guided. Most importantly they need to see that they are achieving success with their students.

School leaders can increase beginning teacher retention and successfully transition them from graduate to proficient by understanding the challenges and specific needs of beginning teachers and by implementing an effective mentoring program.

Resources and Services for Mentoring Beginning Teachers

180 Days of Self-Care for Busy Educators

Tina Boogren

How can educators lead happier, healthier and more fulfilled lives inside and outside the classroom? Author Tina H. Boogren invites teachers, paraprofessionals, counsellors and administrators to participate in 180 Days of Self-Care for Busy Educators, a guide to low-cost and no-cost research-based practices to support their health and wellness, one day at a time.

Buy now at Hawker Brownlow Education

Provides Instructional Support

The New Art and Science of Teaching

Robert J. Marzano

The New Art and Science of Teaching by Robert J. Marzano is more than a revision of The Art and Science of Teaching. It is a greatly expanded volume, offering a framework for substantive change based on Marzano’s fifty years of education research and observation.

Buy now at Hawker Brownlow Education

Marzano High Reliability Schools Summit

Incorporating The New Art and Science of Teaching

Brisbane, March 26–27 2020

The Marzano High Reliability Schools Summit, incorporating The New Art and Science of Teaching, is a leading school transformation event for F–12 educators. The summit’s keynotes, breakout sessions and resources translate Dr Robert J Marzano’s 50 years of research into practical strategies attendees can use to significantly advance student achievement

Book now at Hawker Brownlow Education/Solution Tree Australia

Using and Analysing Data in Australian Schools

Why, How and What

Selena Fisk

In Using and Analysing Data in Australian Schools, Selena Fisk brings her experience as a classroom teacher and school leader to demonstrate how understanding and using data effectively can not only change the way you see your students, but how they see themselves as learners.

Buy now at Hawker Brownlow Education

Provides Instructional and Emotional Support

Cognitive Coaching

Developing Self-Directed Leaders and Learners, 3rd Edition

Arthur Costa and Robert J. Garmston with Carolee Hayes and Jane Ellison

In this greatly expanded and extensively updated edition of a widely popular resource you see how teachers’ individual and collective capacities for continuing self-improvement are strengthened over time through Cognitive Coaching.

Buy now at Hawker Brownlow Education

Resources for the Beginning Teacher

The Beginning Teacher’s Field Guide

Embarking on Your First Years

Tina Boogren

This title offers the advice and empathy F–12 beginning teachers so desperately need. Author Tina Boogren pairs the six phases a new teacher goes through with personal essays she wrote during her first years in the classroom. She arms readers with classroom strategies and self-care practices tailored to the challenge they’re likely to encounter in each phase, and encourages them to record their reflections directly in the book.

Buy now at Hawker Brownlow Education

Thriving as a New Teacher

Tools and Strategies for Your First Year

John Eller & Sheila Eller

Thriving as a New Teacher provides new educators with the tools they need for success as they begin their career. The authors draw from best practices and their extensive experience to identify the characteristics of thriving new teachers – teachers who have comfortably moved into the profession by overcoming initial challenges that can get in the way of success.

Buy now at Hawker Brownlow Education


AITSL. (n.d.). Spotlight: What do we know about early career teacher attrition rates in Australia? Retrieved from:

Boogren, T. (2015). Supporting Beginning Teachers. Victoria, Hawker Brownlow Education.

Ericsson, K. A. (2006). The influence of experience and deliberate practice on the development of superior expert performance. In K. A. Ericsson, N. Charness, R. R. Hoffman, & P. J. Feltovich (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance (pp. 683–703). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Heffernan, A., Longmuir., Bright, D. & Kim, M. (2019). Perceptions of teachers and teaching in Australia. Victoria, Monash University

Lipton, L. & Wellman, B. (2001). Mentoring Matters: A practical guide to learning-focused relationships. Sherman, CT. MiraVia.

Marzano, R. J., & Simms, J. A. (with Roy, T., Hefl ebower, T., & Warrick, P.) (2013). Coaching Classroom Instruction. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research.

Moir, E. (1999). The stages of a teacher’s first year. In M. Scherer (Ed.), A better beginning: Supporting and mentoring new teachers (pp. 19–23). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Weldon, P. (2018). Early career teacher attrition in Australia: evidence, definition, classification and measurement. Australian Journal of Education.

Sonya Mackenzie Sonya Mackenzie is both the general manager and a training associate with Hawker Brownlow Education. Sonya works with educators, school communities and education systems to build their capacity for self-directedness, collaboration and transformational classroom practices. Read more articles by Sonya Mackenzie

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