ERG SES H 11, Teachers and Education
In Europe and Western educational systems such as New Zealand, professional learning has become a priority for teachers and lifelong learning an epitome of teacher professionalism. Teachers are professionals who must continuously learn, grow and meet diverse student needs. At the policy level, teachers’ professional learning has become a means to engage teachers in educational reforms. Teachers are at the heart of successful changes in educational systems. The challenge in professional learning is how to engage teachers in effective, meaningful and practical learning initiatives.
In New Zealand, teacher inquiry was formalised as a professional learning and development policy in 2007. Through teacher inquiry, teacher learning becomes evidence-driven, purposeful and designed strategically to impact on student learning (Timperley, Wilson, Barrar, & Fung, 2007). Teacher inquiry is rooted in the belief that transformational knowledge-building experiences for teachers must be explicitly connected to student learning outcomes. However, this policy demands significant shifts in teachers’ prevailing professional learning mindset.
Teacher inquiry necessitates open, honest and collaborative scrutiny of teaching practices. The process of inquiring into teaching practices can be deeply vulnerable, emotional and complicated, especially if this process is mandated and change-focused. Acknowledging the complexity and particularistic nature of teacher change creates a need for research that forages into the inner sanctums of teachers’ experiences. Soliciting teacher narratives of experience creates the possibility of illuminating the hidden, idiosyncratic and nuanced process that teachers go through when they construct meaning in their professional inquiries. Teacher narratives reveal teachers’ personal practical knowledge as a valuable, insightful and powerful source of understanding. Understanding teacher inquiry experiences through narratives offers a different perspective of teachers’ professional lives.
This study is a narrative inquiry into primary school teachers in New Zealand’s lived experiences of the teacher inquiry policy. The research question, “How are primary school teachers experiencing teacher inquiry as a form of professional learning and development?” opens the door to developing a narrative understanding of teachers’ inquiry experiences. These narratives create the space to examine how teacher inquiry, as a form of professional learning, demands significant cognitive, intellectual and emotional shifts from teachers.
Teacher inquiry in Western educational contexts has roots in movements such as teacher research, action research and practitioner research (Groundwater-Smith & Mockler, 2009). As a profession, teaching in the 21st century has complex and diverse priorities. The teacher inquiry phenomenon represents a shift in how teachers’ professional learning initiatives are being envisioned, implemented and maintained. This study explores teachers’ professional learning in its transitional state from being predominantly short-term and workshop-oriented, to being fluid and responsive to teachers’ and students’ learning needs in teacher inquiry.
It is undeniable that larger agendas are driving systemic educational change. In the current knowledge-based era, educational policies and reforms influence how knowledge is constructed, perceived and shared. Educational systems are surrounded by orthodoxies such as audit cultures, quality teaching, standardisation of teaching practice and accountability (Groundwater-Smith & Mockler, 2009). As political, economic and theoretical-knowledge agendas dominate educational priorities, the potential for teacher inquiry to realise its transformative characteristics may be tarnished, buried and reduced to evidence, objectivity and compliance.
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