How teachers learn across the career continuum in school contexts
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 09:49 by Chris Furner
The study explores the ways in which teachers learn in school contexts and the development of whole-school programs for teacher professional development from the perspective of working in schools themselves. While it is grounded in many facets of the literature regarding teacher learning and professional development, and what might be construed as good practice from that literature, it is also noted from the literature that development of whole-school professional development programs remains problematic in many schools. This study therefore was grounded in the perspectives of three schools attempting ongoing improvement of their programs, and what might be learnt from that. The schools which participated in the study did so voluntarily and were drawn from the Independent School Sector in NSW, Australia and ranged from a large non-denominational school to a small faith-based school. The research looked at what was unique to those schools and what might be learnt across them. To investigate the work of schools an exploratory approach was adopted, centred on the principles of action research, where the researcher acted as a participant observer as well as a facilitator of action research cycles at each school. The emphasis was on working alongside and with schools, with qualitative methods of enquiry used to enable learning conversations at individual and whole-school level. This allowed schools to reflect upon their practice in relation to teacher professional development and learning, and plan for improvement. Learning conversations with teachers in these schools revealed how qualitatively different the learning was at each of the career stages. Further, it emerged that the impact of school context and ethos on teachers as learners, and the role played by the principal, were pivotal to teacher development at every career stage. The study revealed the complex nature of teacher learning in schools and suggested that generic solutions in relation to the development of effective professional development programs at school level are not necessarily accessible to individual schools. Rather, processes that enable whole schools to reflect, evaluate and plan were shown to be beneficial in enabling gradual improvement to their practice in ways that were meaningful and sustainable for their school communities. The development of frameworks derived from the literature by the researcher, in response to a specific request in a school in its action research cycle, assisted schools in bridging the theory-practice divide. Overall, the outcomes of the study gave new insights into what might be learnt about teacher career-stage learning and the coordination of strategic whole-school professional development programs from the perspective of the process of seeking ongoing improvement in each school.