How do teachers learn? Guest blog by Elizabeth Rosales

What are the ways teachers learn? What kinds of professional development activities do Elizabeth Rosalesteachers participate in during their careers? What are the main supports for teacher learning in Ontario? What are the professional learning activities teachers find more helpful? What are teachers’ critiques to the current professional development activities?

These questions were in my mind when I (Elizabeth) started my Master´s thesis research at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Working with Clare Kosnik and Clive Beck in the longitudinal study of teachers (https://literacyteaching.net/projects/) has been a great opportunity to learn about teachers and teaching. My Master’s thesis research was a sub-study of this longitudinal study.

The experiences of Tanya and Anita – the two teachers who participated in my study – offered me a great opportunity to gain insight into their learning experiences. Drew on interviews that were held over their first eight years in the teaching profession, my aim was to:

  • identify the kinds of professional development opportunities that were available to the teachers, and
  • describe the teachers’ perceptions of the possibilities and limits of these opportunities.

The most relevant conclusions of my study are:

–        Mentoring can be very helpful provided the mentor is well-selected, the timing is precise, and the relationship is encouraging

The findings suggest that there are three key elements for a beneficial induction process: (i) the pairing process should consider a match in the teaching assignments of the mentor and mentee, (ii) the induction should start in the first year of teaching and early in the academic year, and (iii) the relationship should respond to the emotional needs of the new teacher.

–        Collaboration can significantly enhance teacher professional learning. However, the benefits can be constrained by educational policy pressures and different visions of teaching within the collaborating group.

The teachers participated in several formal and informal opportunities to collaborate with other teachers. They valued “bouncing ideas off each other” and “talking through” their pedagogical practices in these experiences.

Nevertheless, teachers critiqued the formal opportunities sponsored by the government since they focused on specific content that was not related to their needs. The research points to the necessity of teacher input and decision-making for the design and implementation of relevant professional development programs.

Also, teachers found it challenging when different vision of teaching emerge within the collaborating group. The findings suggest the importance of conducting a discussion of visions of teaching in order to establish common ground on which to build collaboration in a community of teachers.

–        University graduate degree work can be a valuable means of teacher professional learning through fostering connections between pedagogical theory and teaching practice.

The parallel work of teaching and part-time graduate studies presented one of the teachers with several opportunities to link theory and practice. There were reciprocal gains from participation in both spaces. For instance, the readings about new theories of literacy shaped her classroom practice, and also her teaching informed her research.

Further research is needed to understand the potential benefits of graduate studies as an alternative route for teacher professional development.

If you are interested in learning more about Tanya and Anita learning experiences, you can access the following link to download my full work (for FREE!)

https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/handle/1807/65532

Your opinions and feedback are welcome!

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