01 SES 09 B, Professional Learning in Context
Paper/Ignite Talk Session
The widespread culture of performativity has resulted in Governments increasingly expecting schools to demonstrate effectiveness and to engage in evidence based quality assurance processes. Frequently, these include an external process of school inspection combined with an internal process of school self-evaluation (SSE). The importance of SSE as a school improvement mechanism has been acknowledged by increases in the number of countries with legal requirements for schools to conduct self-evaluation (the fact that it is now compulsory in two thirds of European education systems (European Commission/ EACEA/ Eurydice, 2015). SSE can be described as an internal, collaborative, cyclical, evidence-based appraisal and improvement process that assists schools to identify actions that aims to improve teaching and learning, outcomes for learners and overall school performance. A number of terms are used synonymously with SSE in the literature and these include: internal evaluation, data-based decision making, self-review and internal accountability (Nelson et al., 2015).
Despite the provision of a range of national and regional supports (European Commission, 2015), research continues to highlight a wide range of implementation issues across many jurisdictions (O’Brien et al., 2017, 2019). While professional development (PD) is frequently cited as a possible solution (OECD, 2013), there is a dearth of research on models of PD which may effectively build the capacity of teachers to engage in whole-school self-evaluation processes. This action research project explores the implementation of a pragmatic model of PD; named as such as it attempts to be purposeful, practical, realistic, applied and efficient. The intervention was entitled “Let’s help you to lead SSE in your school” and involved the provision of four x 2.5 hour training sessions over one academic year. As part of the research study, the training was delivered twice over two academic years and involved a total of 20 Irish post-primary schools. Each school choose their area of focus for the SSE process but all involved aspects of teaching and learning. As an action research project, the aim of the study was to develop, implement and evaluate a professional development initiative (PDI) aimed at supporting teachers to lead a whole school self-evaluation process. It involved the development of a training programme for the teachers whose role it was to lead SSE in their respective school.
The theoretical framework chosen for the current study is based on the extended evaluative framework for mapping the effects of PDIs as proposed by Merchie et al. (2018) which is largely based on Desimone’s (2009) model of evaluation and similar to that of Guskey’s (2000), widely used model. A key aspect of the extended evaluative framework as proposed by Merchie et al. is the interactive and dynamic relationships between the key components of the extended evaluative framework such as: the features of the intervention; teacher quality; teaching behaviour and student results. While the framework presented by Merchie et al. provides a very useful starting point and an overall structure for the current study, a number of its subcomponents do not reflect the nature of the PDI under investigation. Therefore the theoretical framework was adapted to reflect the key components and expected outcomes of the current study and includes: features of the intervention that support teachers to lead SSE; evaluation capacity building; evaluation practices demonstrated; as well as macro and micro contextual factors.
The research is part of a much larger and ongoing action research project that is being carried out by the Dublin City University (DCU), Centre for Evaluation, Quality and Inspection (EQI) on school self-evaluation in Ireland. The main focus of the overall project is the testing of various models of support and PD for teachers in relation to SSE. The research attempts to find “practical solutions” (Reason and Bradbury 2008, p1) to the SSE implementation issues experienced by schools, as previously outlined. Following Elliott’s model of action research (1991) each research cycle involved a number of activities including: reconnaissance, general planning, developing action steps, implementing action steps, monitoring the implementation and effects. The current study involved the delivery of a PDI in 20 post-primary schools (11 schools in 2016 and 9 schools in 2017). In all cases, the teacher who participated was also the teacher who lead the SSE process in their school. At the end of each year, participating teachers and members of school management were invited to take part in one of four focus groups to explore their experience of the PDI and its impact on the engagement of the schools in SSE. Focus groups were held separately with teachers and with school management. The focus groups took place in a central location outside of the school settings and each lasted approximately 1 hour 25 minutes. The focus groups from both cycles were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. In order to ensure credibility, a rigorous and systematic approach was used to reduce and interpret the data. Firstly, the data was systematically organised which involved grouping similar sources and applying preliminary codes. The data was screened for potential problems which involved checking that it was legible and complete. Transcripts from the four focus groups were broken down into segments or units of data (Merriam & Tisdell 2015) and transferred to a spreadsheet in chronological order. Each unit of data was then coded using both template (from the theoretical framework) and editing (emerging themes) approaches (Bloomberg & Volpe, 2008). The second part of the analysis involved, clustering each unit of data according to the identified codes and the creation of categories. The findings were analysed according to the adapted theoretical framework.
In terms of outputs of the PDI, teachers from 20 schools attended 4 x 2.5hr training sessions which were held in DCU. By the end of each training cycle, all the schools involved in each cycle had completed the outputs of the process as outlined in the Irish Department of Education and Skills (DES) guidelines for school self-evaluation (DES 2016), i.e. all schools had gathered a range of data, completed a school self-evaluation report on an area of focus and developed a school improve plan. A number of features of the intervention were found to support participants to lead SSE in their schools including: a simplified and structured SSE process based on the practical realities of the schools; just in time support and the application of learning in a real school context. Capacity to lead SSE was developed to varying degrees among participants, including the development of a range of knowledge, skills and attitudes towards SSE. However, it is interesting to see that national and local contextual factors had implications for participant’s expectations regarding future use of the learning that had occurred.
Bloomberg, L., & Volpe, M. (2008). Completing your qualitative dissertation: a roadmap from beginning to end. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Department of Education and Skills (2016). School self-evaluation guidelines 2016-2020 post-primary. Department of Education and Skills: Ireland. Desimone, L. M. 2009. “Improving Impact Studies of Teachers’ Professional Development: Toward Better Conceptualizations and Measures.” Educational Researcher 38 (3): 181–199. European Commission (2015) Assuring Quality in Education: Policies and Approaches to School Evaluation in Europe. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Guskey, T. R. 2000. Evaluating Professional Development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin press. Merchie, E., Tuytens, M., Devos, G. & Vanderlinde, R. (2018). Evaluating teachers’ professional development initiatives: towards an extended evaluative framework, Research Papers in Education, 33:2, 143-168. Merriam, S. & Tisdell, E. (2015). Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation, 4th Edition. John Wiley & Sons. Nelson, R., Ehren, M., Godfrey, D. (2015). Literature Review on Internal Evaluation.Institute of Education, UK. O’Brien, S., McNamara, G., O’Hara, J. & Brown, M. (2019). Irish teachers, starting on a journey of data use for school self-evaluation. Studies in Educational Evaluation, vol. 60, pp. 1-13. O’Brien, S., McNamara, G., O’Hara, J., & Brown, M. (2017). External Specialist Support for School Self-Evaluation: Testing a Model of Support in Irish Post-Primary Schools. Evaluation, 23(1), 61–79. OECD (2013) Synergies for Better Learning: An International Perspective on Evaluation and Assessment. Paris: OECD Publishing. Reason, P., & Bradbury, H. (2008). Handbook of action research: participative inquiry and practice (2nd ed.). London: Sage.
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