Sunday, 28 February 2016

Teacher Journey (part 2) - Career-Long Professional Learning through Practitioner Enquiry

The Career-Long Professional Learning standard is an aspirational standard that challenges practitioners to signpost their professional learning in a way that is unique to them. The CLPL, alongside the Standard for Registration and the Standard for Leadership and Management are all underpinned by the themes of values, sustainability and leadership, and can be used throughout a teachers’ career to support their professional learning.

The OECD (2105) report describes the CLPL standard as supporting practitioners to develop “decisional capital”, which is the “deliberate development of judgement and expertise over time” through a commitment to continual professional learning, informed by their own practice and research. Teachers make judgements on a minute by minute basis, these judgements have their basis in ‘new, unique and concrete situations’ and should be considered through the lens of impact on student outcomes. The appropriateness of what and how teachers teach and organise the learning is important, not only for the immediate impact but also the long term impact on learning. All of these pragmatic judgements brings into question the ‘what works’ agenda, where evidence based strategies ‘tell’ teachers what they should do but unless critically viewed, they can discount that situation of the student and their need to learn content with purpose but also this happens through the relationship between pupil and teacher.. ‘What works’ can be considered as a process and practice, rather than communication and encounter and does not take into consideration ‘what works’ for whom, where and when.

Through the application of the CLPL standard practitioners are challenged to reframe the agenda and shape the notion of what a ‘good teacher’ is in Scotland. As there is no consensus in the literature around what makes a ‘good teacher’, the GTCS Standards provide teachers with a framework to move towards an agreed definition in Scotland as to the values, knowledge, skills and abilities that we, as the teaching profession, think makes a ‘good teacher’. This evolving concept of what it is to be a ‘good teacher’ requires teachers to be “active agents in their own professional worlds” Sachs (2003). Being an ‘active agent’ or ‘activist’ a term coined by Sachs, (2003) requires teachers to work collaboratively and take risks. The professional learning undertaken by teachers as they evolve into enquiry practitioners must be part of a learning journey, where opportunities to work together and to ask questions of their own practice and indeed the practice of others, needs to be promoted and supported. This is high on the agenda for Scottish education and must remain so if we are to be true to the aspiration of a learning profession, but where so often as Sachs (2003) states “student learning is a goal, the continuing learning of teachers is often overlooked”.  Although there is not consensus, Sachs (2003) argues that undertaking practitioner enquiry can “act as an important source of teacher and academic professional renewal and development”. Practitioner enquiry as part of a teacher professional learning journey can be planned for and undertaken to support professional growth.

Practitioner enquiry is seen as a vehicle to promote research by supporting teachers to engage with theory, policy and practice within their own local environment and is congruent with the act of ‘becoming’. It should lead to deep transformative learning which significantly informs and influences a professionals’ understanding, practice and impact on pupil experiences. Hargreaves (1999) argues that schools and teachers should be knowledge creators, thus accepting teachers as researchers. This point is echoed by Darling-Hammond and Sykes (1999:256) who state that
“the classroom and the school occupy a crucial place in teachers’ professional growth. It matters how the school organises and promotes teacher’ work and teacher learning”. 

The purpose of any research activity should be related to increasing skills, knowledge or practice of the teacher but also linked to improved outcomes for learners. Linking teacher learning to student outcomes is a way to promote and engage educators in research through practitioner enquiry, Timperley et al (2009) states  “[if] teachers can gain an understanding of what it is they need to learn to improve outcomes for students and have a compelling reason to engage” in practitioner enquiry.

Practitioner enquiry as a form of professional learning, allows teachers the space to engage with research and create their own knowledge, which is very pertinent to their students in their situation. Even more powerful yet is being part of an enquiring community, where all data and evidence is given consideration and the reliance on test scores and ‘what works’ is included but critically reviewed to establish the best path for the establishment, at that time, to support student learning. When a community becomes an enquiring community it opens up the possibility to challenge assumptions, to articulate values, to ask questions of their practice and to form partnerships with academics to engage in theory and research to further enhance the life chances of their students.

So through practitioner enquiry as a means of professional learning, practitioners can address the needs of their own learning so than they can better support student attainment and achievement.

Darling-Hammond, L. Sykes, G. (eds) (1999) Teaching as the Learning Profession; Handbook of Policy and Practice. Jossey-Bass. San Fransisco

Hargreaves, D. (1999) The Knowledge-Creating School. British Journal; of educational Studies, 47(2), 122-144

Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective (2015)
Accessed last : 16 February 2016

Sachs, J. (2003) The Activist Teaching Profession. Open University Press

Timperley, H.S. Parra, J.M. Bertanees, C.  (2009)  Promoting professional inquiry for improved outcomes for students in New Zealand Professional Development in Education Volume 35, Issue 2 pp227-245)  

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