Sunday, 4 December 2016

Teacher professionalism and teacher identity through professional learning

This week I have been engaged in re-reading learning theories with the intention of underpinning my thinking about professional learning to help me co-create a resource to support teachers gather evidence of impact. This is where my thinking has got to so far.

Engaging with teacher professionalism and teacher identity will require a commitment to professional learning which will involve new learning or a revisiting of previous learning. This involves teachers developing new knowledge, skills, abilities and developing dispositions, while using literature to underpin their thinking.

Within learning for teachers, we have to consider how adults learn and how to support this learning. This raises questions about whether adult learning is different from children’s learning, and as such, should be structured differently. Knowles in his discussion of adult learning offers his principles of andragogy, which are based on various assumptions and are contested. Hartees’ (1984) critique of Knowles work discusses that adults are essentially self-directing, characterised by their experiences, and have a readiness to learn through a problem solving approach. This is added to by Mezirow’s (1997) research on adult learning, which shows that for adults to experience transformative learning, they must experience something different from children’s learning and become critically reflective of their own and others practice.
This begs the question of national bodies such as GTCS as to how can they support adult learning that is required to move the teaching profession to a research enriched profession? The answer will involve providing teachers with a range of opportunities in a variety of formats that offer rich, creative learning experiences that lead to mastery, which also challenges dispositional stances. This has to be accompanied by effective leadership that promotes teacher agency and can be defined as “the capacity of teachers to act purposefully and constructively to direct their professional growth and contribute to the growth of their colleagues” Calvert (1026:4). This supports the notion of practitioner enquiry being a professional learning activity where practitioners individually or collaboratively engage in enquiry into their own practice and then share findings locally or nationally. This has to be supported with structures of intelligent accountabilities within a positive professional learning environment that promotes a culture of continuous learning – life long learning.
Teacher professionalism and teacher identity is underpinned by the work of Dewey who argues for a scholarly approach to teacher education. This incorporates reflective practice where each learning experience is connected and reflected on holistically. Professional learning which is invoked by intrinsic motivation is more powerful than professional learning which is fostered upon teachers as it supports intellectual stimulation and growth and supports the teachers learning journey. Teachers as learners, like children, need to feel secure in their environment and feel confident in supporting the life-long learner within them. Teachers need to be guided by their thirst for knowledge and desire to learn, but take cognisance of their moral responsibility and the social justice agenda within the accountability framework of the learning community.

Each teacher should be supported to engage in appropriate, for them, professional learning in an environment and with the resources that supports their teacher journey. Sometimes that professional learning can be uncomfortable as we are programmed to ‘make sense of the world’ and sometimes professional learning disrupts our thinking. Teacher learning should be an active experience, typified by professional discussions and activities which involves gaining professional skills, knowledge, abilities through practitioner enquiry and professional learning.

Schools should try to create opportunities for professional learning in an environment that stimulates professional dialogue and encourages practitioner enquiry. Professional dialogue is an intensely social activity and through the internalisation of dialogue connections to ideas and thoughts ‘contributes to ‘sense making’ for each individual. So, sharing through verbalising is powerful as teachers make sense of their internal monologue and supports others to build on their knowledge and understanding.
For teachers, this means participatory modes of professional learning, creating a collaborative community of learners which involves all teachers within the community contributing what they can to building knowledge for the shared benefit for all, in an environment which celebrated difference.

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