Knowing why and daring to be different: becoming and being teachers-as-learners
Robinson, Gillian Susan
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In Scotland, the interest and investment in the professional development of teachers is currently focused on the ongoing development and implementation of its new curriculum: Curriculum for Excellence. To cope with ever-evolving curricular and pedagogical demands and to be able to effectively identify and meet the needs of the students they teach, teachers need to become, and be, teachers-as-learners. Accordingly, teachers and those with responsibility for defining and supporting teachers’ development are likely to have a vested interest in identifying and understanding what might best facilitate teachers’ learning. Engaging with this agenda, the purpose of this study is to promote and inform dialogue within and between all those in the educational community who have responsibility for teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD), so that some of the complexity involved in becoming and being teachers-as-learners might be recognised and better understood. With the aim to explore what we can learn from teachers’ own accounts of becoming and being teachers-as-learners in Scotland today, this co-operative enquiry was conducted with nine Chartered Teachers (CT), six of whom were fully qualified CTs and three of whom were still en route to achieving full CT status. To meet the Scottish Standard for Chartered Teacher, teachers need to demonstrate that they are teachers-as-learners. Enquiring with these teachers was, therefore, seen as particularly apposite to this study’s chief aim. Attending to the personal, professional and political influences they perceived as significant, these teachers shared their views, when they looked inwards to their own feelings, reactions and dispositions; outwards, to the professional and political environments with which they interact and backwards and forwards, over time. This is the first study to carry out an inquiry with Chartered Teachers in a way that allowed them to explore this complexity, because it sought to explore all four dimensions, i.e. inward, outwards, backwards and forwards (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000:50) of their storied accounts. Storied accounts of the teachers’ learning journeys were co-created during a loosely structured, dyadic, in-depth interview. Integral to this process, was discussion about the artefact(s) that eight, of the nine, participants had created for this study, to represent, reflect upon and record aspects of their journeying. Thematic narrative analysis has illuminated the complexity and particularity of each teacher’s learning journey as well as some important commonalities across them. This thesis further explores the teachers’ accounts of their experiences, in depth, and the key issues these accounts raise. Through examination of individual accounts, we learn, for example, that the teacher’s own disposition to professional learning really matters but, importantly, that it does not necessarily define the outcome. Sometimes supported and sometimes inhibited by the professional and political contexts in which they work, these teachers, motivated by a powerful sense of moral purpose, report that they have made significant and apparently, sustainable changes to their thinking and practice. Postgraduate CT study proved crucial to their journeying because, for the first time since qualifying, they had been encouraged and supported to make sense of why and to what extent, their day-to-day practices would, or would not, meet the needs of their students. It is this understanding why that appears to have made the greatest difference to their practice and to the reconstruction of their professional identities. It emerged as one of the most significant influences to their becoming and being teachers-as-learners. To do so, however, the teachers felt they have had to ‘dare to be different’. Their ability, willingness and commitment to talk about, promote and evaluate learning, in critically informed ways has meant they have often felt isolated. Despite this, the perceived benefits of being a teacher-as-learner were seen to more than compensate for what might be viewed as negative experiences. The findings suggest significant implications for the provision of, and teachers’ participation in, CPD in Scotland. They indicate the need to establish a much clearer and more critically informed focus on developing teachers’ knowledge and understanding of why they do what they do to promote learning and to develop their professional enquiry skills and understandings. If this is to happen, it will necessitate systemic change and support, involving, individual teachers, teachers as collectives within school cultures, CPD facilitators/providers and policy makers at all levels.