01 SES 11 A, Teacher Wellbeing and Professional Ethics
In rapidly changing knowledge society it is widely questioned, how educators will meet new needs for learning and education (e.g. Fullan, 2016; Robinson, 2011). We assume that there is a potential misfit between the new demands of teachers’ work and their resources to meet them which may affect on their work engagement and even pose a risk for burnout (Hakanen, Bakker & Schaufeli, 2006).
Epistemic cognition refers to theories and beliefs that people hold about knowledge and knowing, and how they play a role whether knowledge appears meaningful, trustworthy or justified. (i.e., Bråten, Muis & Reznitskaya, 2017; Hofer, 2016). Epistemic cognition plays a role especially in fields of education and instruction, as it has a bearing on how people learn or how they would apply their knowledge and put it into practice (Brownlee, Ferguson & Ryan, 2017; Lonka, Joram & Bryson, 1996; Schommer, 1990; Vedenpää & Lonka, 2014). Research in educational psychology has documented that epistemic beliefs are related to various aspects of learning, for example, conceptual change that takes place when students gradually start understanding fundamental scientific concepts (Mason, Gava & Boldrin, 2008). Overall, research suggests that teachers’ general epistemic cognition is related to their epistemic aims about what kind of instruction would be useful for their students’ learning (Bråten, Muis & Reznitskaya, 2017). Important dimension of epistemic cognition are metacognitive skills to evaluate and justify one’s own thinking, as well as the readiness to collaborative knowledge creation (Lonka et al, 2008).
Various policy and steering documents have their noteworthy impact on teachers’ work. Recent documents on education emphasize the importance of 21st century skills both globally, and nationally as in ongoing case of Finland (i.e. National Core Curriculum of Finland, 2014). Current policy documents reflect a very sophisticated view on epistemic cognition that may be in conflict with teachers’ previous conceptions of knowledge. At school level, it’s eventually a question of a profound change in how learning and knowledge are considered in education, especially among teachers.
It is often taken for granted that teachers are ready to implement such big changes. In educational psychology, various “constructivist” ideas of learning were already introduced during late 1980s, but putting them in practice appeared difficult (Lonka, Joram & Bryson, 1996; Resnick & Klopfer, 1989). Some Finnish researchers proposed to a friction between prevailing institutional routines and pedagogical practices (Hakkarainen, 2009; Lonka, 1997; 2012) and the new, more collaborative and reflective demands. There appears to be a lack of calibration between teachers’ epistemic cognition and their actual practices in the classroom (Bråten, Muis & Reznitskaya, 2017) since teachers are forced to re-evaluate first their conceptions of knowledge and learning, and second, their actual and often well established teaching practices.
All the simultaneous challenges may feel overwhelming for teachers since they have to fundamentally challenge and question many crucial parts of their profession and practical work in an increasingly hasty working environment. To put new curricula in practice, teachers may have to e.g. give up teacher-centered instructional methods and the strict demarcation between different subject-matter domains. We suspect that continuous misfit between the new demands of teachers’ work and their resources to meet them may be in conflict. This may affect on teachers’ work engagement and even pose a risk for burnout. Whereas work engagement can be defined as a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind (Schaufeli, Salanova, Gonzalez-Roma, & Bakker, 2002), burnout refers to a psychological syndrome in response to chronic stress on the job, and which is manifested as symptoms of exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced professional efficacy (Maslach, Schaufeli & Leiter, 2001). Especially cynicism may increase, if there is an experienced gap between teachers’ own values and the demands of the new curricula.
Our research question is: How are teachers’ epistemic cognition, work engagement and burnout are related to each other? We hypothesized that those teachers whose epistemic cognition would fit with the ideas behind new curricula (learning as a collaborative and reflective act) would report more work engagement and less burnout symptoms than those teachers who would entertain epistemic beliefs that are contradictory to such ideas. The participants (n = 228) were Finnish subject-matter teachers from the metropolitan area and a small town in Western Finland of Finland. The questionnaire consisted of 12 two-part six-point (1-6) Likert-type statements based on the MED NORD questionnaire (Lonka et al., 2008; Vedenpää & Lonka, 2014) measuring teachers’ epistemic cognition: collaborative knowledge building, valuing metacognition, certain knowledge and surface approach to learning. In the two-part statements, statement A intended to measure general epistemic cognition (“Knowing one’s own thinking is the major contributor to successful learning”). Statement B measured the epistemic aim to apply the idea of statement A in instruction (“I use multiple methods to enhance this particular skill.”) This methodology was adapted on the basis of Nieminen (2011). Moreover, the questionnaire consisted 9 questions about work engagement and 9 questions about work burnout (Schaufeli et al., 2002). These were part of a larger questionnaire that took about 20 minutes to fill in. In the present analyses, we only used the B questions, since they were more reliable in our previous studies (Vedenpää & Lonka, 2014). Using A questions, however, provided similar results. Based on Lammassaari, Sandström, Järvinen & Lonka (2016) two factors expressing teachers’ epistemic cognition were used in the basis on the analysis: 1) Valuing metacognition and collaboration (META-COLL); and 2) Valuing certain knowledge and surface learning (CER-SURF). We specified four linear regression models (M1-M4). In these linear regression models, the dependent variables were work engagement (EDA) and three dimension for teacher burnout: exhaustion (EXH), cynicism (CYN) and inadequacy (INAD). Respectively, epistemic cognition variables (META-COL and CER-SURF) operated as the independent variables.
Based on our hypothesis that those teachers whose epistemic cognition would fit with the ideas behind new curricula (learning as a collaborative and reflective act), we assume that teachers with such sophisticated epistemic cognition would report more work engagement and less burnout symptoms than those teachers who entertain epistemic beliefs that are more contradictory to such collaborative and reflective ideas regarding the aims of instruction. The preliminary analysis showed that all four linear regression models significantly fit the data (ANOVA). As we hypothesized, work engagement was positively related to metacognitive-collaborative (META-COL) epistemic cognition and negatively with symptoms of burnout, especially cynicism. In contrast, certain knowledge-surface learning (CER-SURF) correlated neither with engagement nor with burnout. From the theoretical and practical perspective, the research contributes to current understanding of the role of teachers’ epistemic cognition as well as of how is it possible to identify potential misfits between the new demands of teachers’ work and their resources to meet them in new challenges that schools’ fundamental change processes inevitably bring out.
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