Early Childhood Teachers Coping with Educational Change

Article excerpt

Introduction

IN OUR WORLD CHANGE is inevitable. As shifting economic, political, societal and technological forces interplay, they directly and indirectly influence every facet of our lives. Regardless of where we live, our occupation or social standing, change impacts on us all. How we cope with change influences our general wellbeing, active engagement and continuance within our chosen profession (Gold & Roth, 1993; Holmes, 2005; Institute for the Service Professions, 2005; Vandenberghe & Huberman, 1999), thereby determining our quality of life and capacity to function in the world we live in.

Ongoing change has become a feature of most educational organisations and systems. Driven by the desire to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of educational services, 'educational change'--in the form of imposed and mandated changes to policy, practice and resource allocation--has become commonplace. Educational change impacts on those working within these systems, challenging teachers in their roles as educators. Teachers are not only expected to persevere in their performance of teaching duties, but are also required to implement, at a school-based level, new initiatives and reforms mandated by the organisations they work for. Educational change in the workplace impacts on teachers' beliefs and practices (Smylie, 1999), influencing their ability to 'cope'; i.e., their ability to remain productively engaged in the act of teaching. The approach teachers adopt to cope with the implementation of mandated educational change also determines their ability to be 'sustained' (Holloway, 2003; Lokan, 2003); i.e. their ability to maintain professional engagement and competence as well as job satisfaction, a work-life balance and personal wellbeing.

In Australia, issues such as national standards of literacy and numeracy, boy's education, Indigenous education, inclusion of students with special needs, the health and wellbeing of young children and increased access to early childhood education have altered the nature of teachers' work (Committee for the Review of Teaching and Teacher Education, 2003a; Commonwealth Taskforce on Child Development Health and Wellbeing, 2005). In Western Australia, educational reforms--including the Outcomes and Standards Approach, based on the Curriculum Framework (Curriculum Council, 1998) and the 2004 to 2007 Strategic Plan (Department of Education and Training, 2003b)--directly impact on early childhood teachers' knowledge and pedagogical practice.

At the same time, trends within the Australian teaching profession, including the ageing and feminisation of the profession, limit promotional opportunities and increase teacher accountability (Australian Education Union, 2003; Department of Education and Training, 2002, 2003a; Institute for the Service Professions, 2005) have resulted in changing work expectations.

Incidences of teacher-job disillusionment, stress, burnout and attrition have been well documented (Angus & Olney, 2001; Department of Education and Training, 2003a; Lock, 1993; Scott, Skinner & Dinham, 2002; Vandenberghe & Huberman, 1999). Without question, the nature of teachers' work has become more complex, as has their ability to cope with the demands placed upon them.

Teachers are acknowledged as being the key factor in the successful implementation of educational change (Hargreaves, 1997; Hargreaves, Earl, Moore & Manning, 2001). The literature indicates that teachers' attitudes and ability to collaborate are key factors contributing to successful educational reform (Fullan, 1998; Hargreaves, 1997; Hargreaves et al., 2001; Hargreaves & Evans, 1997; Hargreaves, Lieberman, Fullan & Hopkins, 1998). Competencies associated with teachers' emotional intelligence, including motivation and self-awareness, are also considered to contribute to teachers' coping with educational change (Fullan, 1997; Goleman, 1995, 1998; Hargreaves et al. …