This post reflects some reading I have been doing in the last few weeks as I grapple with teacher professionalism, teacher identify and teacher agency and how this is affected by the professional learning stance of the teacher and their context.
Some forms of professional learning are more suited to supporting the development of knowledge and understanding, skills and abilities, and dispositions than others. There are opposing views around who determines the professional learning agenda for teachers, which can be polarised to: teachers should be the agents of change (enhancing their professionalism through teacher agency) versus teacher learning which should be driven by external change agents (policy and curriculum). In both cases, the culture of the school matters, if the mechanisms and supports are available to promote teacher agency then this model will predominate, however, if a supportive and trusting culture does not exist then perhaps the model will comply more to external drivers. Professional learning communities can be a strong driver of improvement if utilised effectively, Fullan (2003) cautions that professional learning communities will not necessarily lead to changes in practice if the interactions simple reinforce ineffective practice. So, professional learning and learning communities need to interact with views beyond their own context and involve themselves in critical reading and reflection to move their thinking and practice to being more research enhanced.
Professional learning communities are a powerful means of engaging teachers in professional learning that can lean into the improvement agenda but also build teacher capacity through teachers engaging in and with research. It is important that professional learning communities are led by teachers, because this type of professional learning goes beyond developing and sharing knowledge and practices, and is more about establishing, cultivating and valuing opportunities for informed professional judgement, decisions, and actions. This is echoed in teaching Scotland Future (2010) where Donaldson discusses teachers as “expert practitioners whose professional practice and relationships are rooted in strong values, who take responsibility for their own development”.
Professional learning requires that engagement with teachers’ learning is at the centre of the process. Learning in a professional context should be driven by both teacher and student needs, as without this there is little motivation to make any improvement. Therefore, professional learning that is practical, personalised to the teachers learning needs and relevant to their classroom practices, has a greatest effect on teacher learning and thus student outcomes. When teachers recognise themselves as problem solvers and self-select their professional learning approaches, they tend to seek authentic professional collaboration and develop the skills of evaluation and reflection. Effective professional learning should be coherent, outcome orientated, sustainable and evidence informed professional learning that takes cognisance of how adults learn.
Practitioner enquiry offers a method of effective teacher learning as it derives from and informs the professional learning of teachers, it supports collaborative working using a range of approaches, and helps teachers to gain knowledge and understanding, develop skills and abilities, and interrogates their values as part of the learning process.
Chapman et al believe that their research into “[School Improvement Partnership Programme] SIPP partnership are ‘proof of concept’”. They posit that ‘system coherence’ can be created through a ‘set of agreed principles and broad framework’ that supports professional learning, but has the built-in flexibility to be context specific and can “strengthen the middle through continuous professional learning underpinned by discipline collaborative enquiry”.
The relationship between teacher professionalism, teacher identify and teacher agency, professional learning is complex and unique to the individual. The way in which professional identity can be developed and enhanced is within the power of the individual but is also dependent on the support and leadership in their context. Collaborative practitioner enquiry can offer a means of creating the conditions to support teacher agency but this must be flexible enough to allow individual needs to be met but also structured enough to support improvement through effective partnership working. How teacher professionalism, teacher identify and teacher agency, and professional learning can be expressed through professional capital is my next line of enquiry.
Campbell, C. Leiberman, A. Yashkina, A (2016) Developing professional capital in policy and practice
Chapman, c. Chestnutt, H. Friel, N. Hall, S, Lowden, K. (2016) Professionals capital and collaborative inquiry networks for educational equity and improvement?
Duncalf, D. Lloyd, D. Pratt, A, Horsfall, P (2017) Teacher perspectives of cultivating learning through practitioner enquiry to transform practice