01 SES 07 B, Teachers' Values and Beliefs: Professional development implications
In 2004 we began a longitudinal study of 22 primary/middle-school teachers (i.e., K-8) who had just completed their preparation programme and were starting full-time teaching; the study is still ongoing. While drawing on insights from the study over the years, in this paper we report especially on interviews conducted in 2013-14, that is, the participants’ tenth year of teaching (by which time 2 had left the study, reducing the sample to 20). Although we have explored many aspects of the teachers’ experiences and development, our focus here is on the impact of their own values on their teaching, especially their facilitation of values learning and, in particular, learning in the area of community and inclusion. Our research questions were:
- How did the teachers’ own values impact their teaching?
- In particular, how did their values impact their teaching of values, especially in relation to community and inclusion?
- In what ways could the teachers’ attempts to promote values learning have been enhanced?
Teachers are often viewed primarily as technicians who have the narrow task of transmitting pre-set and largely “objective” subject content to students. Accordingly, reference to values – and certainly teachers’ own values – is seen as mainly irrelevant, apart from a few obvious values such as hard work and pursuit of academic knowledge. By contrast, the perspective framing our research is that, while subject learning is very important, schooling should also embrace learning of both personal and sociocultural values. This view of the importance of values learning in schools has been advanced by a number of theorists, including Chapman & West-Burnham (2010), Dewey (1916, 1960), Goleman & Senge (2014), Noddings (2003, 2013), West-Burnham & Coates (2005) and White (1991).
Addressing values in school classrooms may seem to lead to indoctrination, with teachers imposing their values on students. But as Westheimer (2015) observes: “Schools have always taught lessons in citizenship, moral values, good behavior, and ‘character’” (p. 3); and this has not usually been thought of as indoctrination. More importantly, values can be fostered without indoctrinating if a dialogical, “constructivist” pedagogy is used, with teachers certainly having input but also encouraging students to say what they think and ultimately choose their own beliefs and values (Falk, 2009; Meier, Knoester, & D’Andrea, 2015; Piaget, 1968; Vygotsky, 1978; West-Burnham & Coates, 2005; Zeichner & Liston, 2014).
Values learning is essential for students’ personal, social and political development because these require learning to make sound value judgments. For example, in developing appropriate social relationships, students need to consider questions such as how much social interaction is optimal, what is an appropriate balance between their own needs and the needs of others, and how inclusive should they be in their relationships. A sound approach to community participation and inclusion necessitates developing a whole “way of life” (including a set of values) within which the needs of oneself and others are taken care of. As Burnett and Evans say in Designing Your Life (2016), achieving well-being requires a “lifeview,” a “life compass” and a sense of “the good life.”
Our study is relevant to the Conference focus on inclusion and exclusion in education because we explore – among other things – the beliefs and practices of the participating teachers regarding establishing inclusive classrooms and fostering in students the values and skills needed for such a community. One of our findings is that many teachers place considerable emphasis on the value of an inclusive classroom community and on developing strategies for facilitating growth in this area.
We draw on several sources in this paper, but the immediate stimulus to our thinking is the (ongoing) longitudinal study of 20 teachers, originally 22 when the study began in 2004. The two who left the study dropped out fairly early without telling us why; data from them is not included here. The participants are all at the primary/middle-school level, teaching mainly in diverse and low-SES schools. All except one of the 20 are still teaching, a remarkably high retention rate that may in part be due to their participation in the study: most say their involvement is very important to them. The study sample consists of all those 2004 graduates of several pre-service programs in a large metropolitan region who had a K-8 teaching position and accepted a general invitation to take part in the study. In the first 3 years of the study we interviewed and observed the participants twice per year; since then we have interviewed and (where possible) observed them once per year, usually toward the end of the year. Each interview is about one hour in length and is recorded and transcribed. Over the years many of the interview questions have been modified to explore new areas and adapt to the changing career stage of the teachers. Each year the same questions are asked of all participants, but probe questions are also asked and additional comment is encouraged. In 2013-14 we asked the teachers specifically about the impact of their general life values on their teaching and whether this had increased in recent years. Our research approach is qualitative, as defined by Merriam (2009) and Punch (2014). For example, we have a modest sample (the 20) and study them in some depth; our interview questions are largely open-ended; and the themes emerge as the study progresses. In analyzing the transcripts, we begin by reading them several times to identify themes or "codes" related to the central issues of the study. We then develop a table of themes matched to participants and, going through the materials again, record where reference is made to each topic. The longitudinal nature of the study means we are able to gain the trust of the teachers and get a fuller knowledge of their views and practices and how they have changed and developed over time (Menard, 2002; Saldaña, 2003).
1. There is need for professional development work in values and values education. The teachers in our study reported viewing their students’ value development (including in matters of community and inclusion) as of considerable importance, and described how this perspective influenced their teaching. However, they arrived at this view and practice largely on their own and in the face of school policies and public outlooks that favor almost exclusive attention to academic learning. There needs to be more discussion in in-service (and pre-service) teacher education of the importance of values development and related social and emotional learning, notably in the areas of community and inclusion. 2. In such in-service (and pre-service) discussion, particular attention should to be given dialogue. Dialogue and knowledge construction are often stressed in relation to subject teaching; but the values area is sometimes seen as one in which there are obvious truths that should be inculcated. This approach needs to be queried. Equally, however, we should avoid a relativist position according to which any value is as good as another. Instructors/facilitators should definitely state many of their views on values but also give participants plenty of time and encouragement to say what they think and arrive at their own conclusions. 3. In order to help students with their values development, teachers need to be constantly growing in their own values. There was little said by the teachers in the interviews about their own values development. Although teachers should not indoctrinate their students, the more progress they make in their own values learning the more insights they will have to share with their students and the better they will understand the complex processes of values learning. Again, this needs to be stressed in both in-service and pre-service education.
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