I (Clare) was recently doing a Meet and Greet for our newly admitted student teachers to our Master of Arts in Child Study teacher education program. I talked about how teaching is a journey and that you never stop learning. From our longitudinal study of teachers we know that teachers learn a great deal from each other and from reflecting on their teaching. I believe there is a place for formal professional development; however, many teachers (myself included) have found formal PD to be of little use. It is often so removed from daily practice, tends to be top-down, and is a one-off. Teachers need time and place for conversations about their teaching. There is a place for formal structured PD but the way it is so often delivered it is not effective. In previous blogs I have written about my teacher-researcher group which has been a very powerful form of PD because all of the teachers are working on a topic/question that is important to them. One of the students in my grad course sent me this cartoon about PD. Although I chuckled when I read it, I feel that is sums up the sentiments of many.
I (Clare) have been involved in a teacher researcher group for the last 2 years. Along with Pooja and Shelley (regular contributors to this blog and pictured to the left) we have facilitated a group in a secondary school. The work the teachers have done is outstanding! The three of us facilitators did a self-study of our work with this group. Since we did not know the teachers beforehand which was a bit unnerving we felt it was good to study our work. We now feel very much part of the group and feel we have become a learning community. We are presenting on our work with the teacher researcher group at AERA. Here is a draft of the paper Moving From Outsiders to Insiders: Working With a Teacher Research Group. It is still in “draft” form but if you are interested in teachers as researchers you might find this paper useful because we talk about logistics, identity, forming a community, and our learning. AERA 2015 EurekaPaperFinal
For those of you who read this blog and are at AERA I hope our paths cross.
What are the ways teachers learn? What kinds of professional development activities do teachers 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!)
Your opinions and feedback are welcome!
This past week I (Clive) had intense discussions with students in my Foundations of Curriculum graduate course; the topic was educational research and classroom-based teacher learning. Several were reluctant to accept that teachers are “researchers” and “knowledge generators” in an important sense.
I argued that teachers are in an excellent position to conduct inquiry because they are immersed in the classroom for ten full months, year after year: rarely do academics have such a rich context for educational research. They argued that teachers’ research methodology is not rigorous enough to produce genuine knowledge.
Thinking it over, I’ve decided to offer a compromise. I agree that education academics often have much to contribute because they are aware of other disciplines and other real-world contexts. Although they rarely have the same depth of educational experience as teachers, they often have greater breadth of knowledge in certain areas.
However, I will offer this compromise with three provisos:
(i) Teachers’ inquiry is just as rigorous as that of academics, since they observe so carefully the processes and outcomes of their teaching: they have a vested interest in doing so.
(ii) Teachers and academics have equal but somewhat different contributions to make to educational research.
(iii) Accordingly, the relationship between the two must be one of dialogue as equals, rather than “laying down the law” by one party or the other.
Of course, it is true that teachers could enhance their inquiry in certain ways; but the same is true of academics.
Teachers are not always conscious of what they have discovered through experience; it is often “implicit” knowledge. Hence, a major role of education academics is to study teachers and help make their insights explicit and available to others. But it is the teachers who discovered these insights and who must be given the credit.
I’ll try out this compromise on my students next week and see what they think!