10 SES 14 C, Partnerships and Communities of Practice
In recent years, international policymakers’ interest in the link between teacher quality and student outcomes (PISA, McKinsey, OECD TIMMS etc.) has focused attention on methods and practice in teacher education and development. Teachers’ individual and collective capacities are seen as key to promoting school improvement (Stoll, 2006) within this agenda.The role of collaborative learning in this process, in the form of professional learning communities (PLCs) for teachers, could be understood as a universally positive development, and significant research evidence (Cordingley et al, 2005) has been generated to support it. However, Watson (2012) and Fullan, (2007) warn that the concept of the professional learning community (PLC) is almost “de rigeur”, and uncritically regardedas a “good thing” (Trotman, 2009). This study will focus on a particular case of a professional learning community that has become influential in the USA and is now being developed in Scotland.
This new variant of the PLC arrived in Scotland via The Harvard Institute for School Leadership – the Learning Round (LR). Building on previous research, this study will provide an original contribution to the existing knowledge base by investigating this practice. LRs are fundamentally social processes, with emergent social practices. Through the examination of social interactions within LRs, and cultural, structural and personal changes that might be attributed to these interactions (Priestley, 2011), the study will investigate whether or not this approach offers a relevant, effective and workable model of collaborative professional learning. The aim is to improve understanding of teacher attitudes and beliefs about learning communities, identify the optimum social and relational conditions necessary for effective LRs, and locate the process in the wider teacher professional development frame. This study is making a significant contribution to the field of educator collaborative learning and in particular to the process of LRs for which little research evidence presently exists. It will inform future policy and practice in the area. It will be guided by the following questions:
1. How are LRs understood and valued as a collaborative professional learning activity by
2. What individual, cultural or structural factors enable and inhibit the implementation of LRs?
3. What outcomes can be identified through this process (for example changes in individual attitudes, or changes to school structures and culture?)
The focus on school improvement can give rise to tensions between expectations around individual and collective learning. The purpose of the LR model is not only to enhance individual teacher capacity, but also to effect improvement in learning outcomes and contribute to system-wide improvement more generally. Opening up learning spaces and encouraging relational practices (Boreham and Morgan, 2004) are recognised as factors which can embed organisational learning and promote collaboration, helping identify some of the requisite environmental and sociocultural conditions for success at organisational level in the collective learning domain. The role of relational dynamics at the heart of professional learning communities and social network theory are key areas of focus (Coburn and Russell, 2008). Priestley, Biesta and Robinson, (2013; 2015) identify the quality of relationships as a significant factor in the development of teacher agency. Collegial or collaborative practices, characterised by generative dialogue and reciprocal non-hierarchical relationships as suggested in the LR model lead to a greater sense of teacher agency. Relational resources, supported by a web of strong horizontal connections as enacted in the PLC, have been shown to allow a collaborative culture to develop, facilitate further relationships and develop a stronger sense of teachers as agents of change, perhaps helping to shape ideas of professionalism (ibid.) and allowing for an evaluation of how far this model stands up as a valid contribution to teacher education.
The study is modelled on a collaborative enquiry basis (Angelides, 2003), and provides one example of closer partnership working between schools and universities, as recommended in Donaldson (2011). In this model, the academic researchers/facilitators work in collaboration with teachers in order to analyse and develop existing practice, and can add an outsider's, or critical friend's perspective (Angelides, 2003). Philpott and Oates (2016) also contend that the academic facilitator in collaborative learning practices can enhance teacher agency in the longer term and shine some light on the theory-practice relationship that might be encountered in a collaborative setting involving school/university partnerships. As participant observers of social phenomena we seek to understand and explain, and also as facilitators in this process, we will draw on ethnographic approaches (Hammersley, 2002). We have organised a series of workshops with participants in their school setting to develop their understanding of LR methodology and make observations, notes and reflections on this process. After the LR and follow-up workshops have taken place we will invite participants to take part in a semi-structured exit interview. We have elicited information by interviewing potentially between 8 and 12 participant teachers. We have asked the teachers to reflect on their experiences in the enquiry based on the questions in the attached interview schedule. An interview is a common method to collect qualitative data (Wilson, 2013). Although the researcher often has a list of broad questions to ask to standardise the interview, the semi-structured nature of the interview allows the researcher to be flexible, allowing them to use prompts or sub-questions to stimulate further discussion. A semi-structured interview also allows participants to respond to the questions using their own terminology, meaning the researcher can gain better understanding of the interviewee’s “attitudes, motivation and rationale” (Menter et al, p.127).
Conclusions are still to be analysed at point of writing, but will be complete by the time of the conference. The study will shed some light on the conditions necessary to underpin collaborative practices both in schools and within wider school-university partnerships. In a time where requirements are called for in both closer theory/practice links and analysis/ understanding of teacher agency as a feature of the wider improvement agenda, these findings should speak to this priority whilst also illuminating dynamics of relationships which lend support to, or detract from successful collaboration which supports teacher agency in the wider context of school improvement. As a partnership endeavour, findings will be disseminated at university level (namely the School of Education at the University of the West of Scotland) via the School Seminar series and at this academic conference. We also aim to develop a series of professional learning opportunities for teachers in the school where the research took place, as well as the local network of schools to which the school concerned belongs. The collaboration of teacher educators and practising teachers in the research process is an identified priority since recent teacher education reform in Scotland (Donaldson 2010). This is aimed at enhancing teaching as a research-based profession, and at developing research methods and evidence which have been forged from, and are accessible to, practice. The findings from this study will add to this wider agenda. We aim to collaborate beyond the empirical stage of this research project and co-author some publications, based on our findings, for dissemination to both the academic and practitioner communities.
Boreham*, N. and Morgan, C., 2004. A sociocultural analysis of organisational learning. Oxford review of education, 30(3), pp.307-325. Coburn, C.E. and Russell, J.L., 2008. District policy and teachers’ social networks. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 30(3), pp.203-235. Cordingley, P., Bell, M., Thomason, S. and Firth, A., 2005. The impact of collaborative continuing professional development (CPD) on classroom teaching and learning. Review: How do collaborative and sustained CPD and sustained but not collaborative CPD affect teaching and learning. Donaldson, G. 2010. Teaching Scotland's Future: A review of teacher education in Scotland. Scottish Government. Fullan, M., 2007. The new meaning of educational change. Routledge. Hammersley, M., 2002. Ethnography and realism. The qualitative researcher’s companion, pp.65-80. Menter, I. Elliot, D, and Hulme, M. (2011) A Guide to Practitioner Research in Education. London: Sage Priestley, M., 2011a. Schools, teachers, and curriculum change: A balancing act?. Journal of Educational Change, 12(1), pp.1-23. Priestley, M., Miller, K., Barrett, L. and Wallace, C., 2011b. Teacher learning communities and educational change in Scotland: the Highland experience. British Educational Research Journal, 37(2), pp.265-284. Priestley, M., Biesta, G. and Robinson, S., 2013. Teachers as agents of change: Teacher agency and emerging models of curriculum. Reinventing the curriculum: New trends in curriculum policy and practice, pp.187-206. Priestley, M., Biesta, G. and Robinson, S., 2015. Teacher agency: An ecological approach. Bloomsbury Publishing Watson, C. (2014), Effective professional learning communities? The possibilities for teachers as agents of change in schools. Br Educ Res J, 40: 18–29. doi:10.1002/berj.3025
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
Network 1. Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations
Network 2. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)
Network 3. Curriculum Innovation
Network 4. Inclusive Education
Network 5. Children and Youth at Risk and Urban Education
Network 6. Open Learning: Media, Environments and Cultures
Network 7. Social Justice and Intercultural Education
Network 8. Research on Health Education
Network 9. Assessment, Evaluation, Testing and Measurement
Network 10. Teacher Education Research
Network 11. Educational Effectiveness and Quality Assurance
Network 12. LISnet - Library and Information Science Network
Network 13. Philosophy of Education
Network 14. Communities, Families and Schooling in Educational Research
Network 15. Research Partnerships in Education
Network 16. ICT in Education and Training
Network 17. Histories of Education
Network 18. Research in Sport Pedagogy
Network 19. Ethnography
Network 20. Research in Innovative Intercultural Learning Environments
Network 22. Research in Higher Education
Network 23. Policy Studies and Politics of Education
Network 24. Mathematics Education Research
Network 25. Research on Children's Rights in Education
Network 26. Educational Leadership
Network 27. Didactics – Learning and Teaching
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