01 SES 06 C, Professional Learning in Early Childhood Contexts
Our rapidly changing societies put forward new demands on competences which our young people need for their professional and personal lives and for active participation in democratic societies (e.g. Carlgren, 2015; EU, 2006). Curricula are reformed accordingly with new demands on teaching practices. Continuing professional development, CPD, is needed for curricular intentions to turn into an enacted curriculum (e.g. Amaral & Garrison, 2007; Lynch, 1997). However, CPD is often arranged on a general school level rather than considering the strong impact which the teachers’ personal background and sense of relevance of the CPD message has been shown to have on CPD effectiveness (e.g. Opfer & Pedder, 2011). Teachers may benefit from getting opportunities to observe, to be observed and to reflect on alternative teaching practices in a collaborative, systematic and evidence-informed approach, focusing the students’ needs, and allowing personal theories and convictions to be challenged in a respectful manner (e.g. Timperley, 2011). However, the well-known gap between education research and school practice is often shown as teachers’ unfamiliarity with reading, understanding, interpreting and contextualizing education research. Hence, teachers may need regular support from colleagues trained in the research process or from researchers, in critical friendship (e.g. Zimmermann Nilsson, Wennergren & Sjöberg, 2016), for practitioner enquiry to be systematic, focused and informed by research. Additionally, practice theory (Nicolini, 2012) and the practice turn in theory (Schatzki, Knorr Cetina & von Savigny, 2001; Carlgren, 2015) suggests that education research results which are achieved with an active participation of teachers may have more noticeable influence on the practice than results from research on teachers.
This paper reports on a systematic process of pre-school teachers’ practitioner enquiry. The informal research process is owned by them and supported through critical friendship with a formal researcher. The formal researcher’s investigation on qualitative outcomes from the practitioner enquiry adds to the production of education research which is achieved with teachers. The focus of the practitioner enquiry / informal research process is to what degree the preschool teachers address and respond to the children in an equitable fashion.
Preschool teachers’ personal experiences and epistemological beliefs have bearings on their teaching practice and how they address and respond to the children (Brownlee & Berthelsen, 2006; Orlenius & Bigsten, 2006). Teachers’ verbal responses may be complemented, contradicted and / or emphasized by their mimics, body language and tone of voice (Orlenius & Bigsten, 2006; Aspelin & Persson, 2011). Relational pedagogy provides an understanding of how the responses may support the child’s development and learning; in a cognitive, emotional and / or social manner (Aspelin & Persson, 2011). There is a demand (National Agency for Education, 2010) on teachers to address and respond in an equitable fashion to all children. Self and peer observation is an effective method for teachers to get aware of how they address and respond to the children. Video recordings of oneself provides opportunities for reflection, individually or together with colleagues, in a teacher learning community (Endacott, 2016; Meade & McMeniman, 1992; Sydnor, 2016) as a process of practitioner enquiry / informal research.
- What are the explicit preschool teacher learning outcomes from practitioner enquiry / informal research process of systematic self-reflection about their ways of addressing and responding to the children in video-recordings from meal-times?
- What implicit preschool teacher learning outcomes may be identified from a formal research analysis of the preschool teacher statements?
- To what extent may preschool teachers’ practitioner enquiry include components which research has shown to be required for effective continuing professional development, CPD?
As a response to the call for a more reflected and evidence-informed practice, a group of 5 preschool teachers and 1 school leader started an informal research team to work with 70 teachers at 7 preschools. The purpose was to introduce systematic reflection on the practice within a teacher learning community setting. ‘Addressing and responding equitably to the children’ was selected as focus for reflections. Based on recurring questions from substitute personnel about the “rules for meals”, the meal-time situations were chosen as the setting for systematic reflections on how the teachers address and respond to the children; meal-times are more frequently guided by personal theories and traditions than other daily routines. All teachers had to video-record themselves during meals with the children, self-reflect on their ways of addressing and responding to the children and send an informally written report to the informal research team. After one cycle of trying out the informal research process, they self-reflected about their mimics, body language and tone of voice followed by reflection on how they provide social support to the children’s development and learning. The formal researcher collected information on the self-experienced effects of the research process from all the participating preschool teachers, using a digital questionnaire with a mix of closed and open questions. Eight teachers volunteered to be interviewed for more detailed data. This data was collected using open-ended questions in qualitative, semi-structured research interviews (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009), which were recorded and transcribed. Content analysis (Graneheim & Lundman, 2004) in combination with thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) was used to identify explicit categories and implicit themes from responses in the questionnaire and the transcript material. The practitioner enquiry / informal research process was analyzed from a CPD perspective in relation to a research based model for effective professional development; The Interconnected Model for Teacher Professional Growth presented by Clarke and Hollingsworth (2002).
A need for pre-defined aspects for self-reflection of video-recordings was established. Thereafter, basically all preschool teachers express that they feel involved in the process, which is meaningful to them, and that changes have happened in their own practice as well as in the teacher team. Categories identified include changes (in response to the children, individual reflection, awareness, collaborative reflection and openness), emotions (in relation to video-recordings, fears, stress and sense of lack of time), expectations, (on research team / school management and colleagues), learnings / discoveries (e.g. “see the invisible”, new awareness, about own responses), misgivings and needs / requirements. Implicit aspects identified by the researchers, i.e. the themes, are that the categories relate to / concern either an individual level or a group level, and, in turn, towards individual children or a group of children. The themes are interpreted by the researcher as not being implicit by conscious choice of the preschool teachers. This is in contradiction to another aspect which is interpreted by the researcher as being consciously – to a varying degree - kept implicit and deliberately not made explicit; a concern about expressing reflections which are true to the heart however not entirely in line with the demands of the National Curriculum for Preschools (National Agency for Education, 2016) and the core of values which all teachers in Sweden are requested to work by and strive to cohere all children into. Within this theme of deliberately unspoken reflections there is an indication that the preschool teachers perceive a dilemma, almost a dichotomy, in allowing the children a large degree of influence, initiative and space for curiosity in different situations and not resigning from the leadership role. The practitioner enquiry process fulfills several aspects in every domain of change required for long-term effective CPD as per The Interconnected Model for Professional Growth.
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