01 SES 01 B, Professional Learning Through Action Research
Nowadays, teachers have to deal with a wide range of professional challenges in order to adapt their teaching practices to the new society demands, to be able to adjust their practice to pupils and parents’ expectations, to implement educational reform, among others.
In order to cope with these challenges, on one side, the development of teachers’ professional capital has a fundamental connection to transforming teaching every day. In the development of this professional capital there are several factors intervening and it requires knowledge, training, practical expertise and continuous improvement that is undertaken collaboratively. Professional capital is conformed by a balanced combination of human capital (the talent of individuals); social capital (the collaborative power of the group); and decisional capital (the wisdom and expertise to make sound judgments about learners that are cultivated over many years) (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012).
On the other hand, in their attempt to stay up-to date, teachers have to continuously improve their skills and knowledge thought effective strategies of professional learning and development. In spite there is a general agreement that in the process of school improvement, the role of evidence informing teachers’ educational practices is fundamental, it has long been recognised that this is no simple matter (e.g. Cain, Wieser, & Livingston, 2016).
The communication we present aims to explore the role of educational research in the configuration of the professional capital of teachers involved in innovative teaching experiences in a sample of primary schools in Catalonia.
In order to do that, we’ll answer the following questions:
- How teachers configure their professional knowledge? How teachers make use of their professional knowledge to support their practice?
- What is the role of collaboration between teachers and schools in the configuration of professional knowledge of teachers?
We support our argument on the advances on the development of the body of studies which examined the ways in which research evidence affect teachers practice and contributes to the development of their professional knowledge (e.g. Biesta, 2007; Cain, 2015; Cooper et al., 2010; Nutley et al., 2007; Weiss, 1979, 1980, 1982). More recently, the work undertaken by Penuel and colleagues (2017), examines the three types of knowledge (instrumental, conceptual and symbolic) and explores different uses of them in school context. Considering the instrumental use as: “when policy makers encourage education leaders to use research to inform their decision making, they implicitly invoke a theory of action in which evidence from research findings directly shape decisions related to policy or practice”. The authors define conceptual use, as occurring “when research changes the way that a person views a problem or the possible solution spaces for a problem”. Finally, symbolic use, arises when research evidence is used to validate a preference for a particular decision or to justify a decision already made (Penuel et al., 2017: 2).
Teachers’ knowledge represents a valid source for school improvement, and it is created and managed in both individual and collaborative environments. Actually, the notion of collaboration as a vehicle for educational improvement and development is currently the subject of renewed interest across school systems globally (e.g. Armstrong, 2015; Muijs, 2010) and much attention has been paid to practitioner collaboration (Brown & Poortman, 2017; Hargreaves & O’Connor, 2018) as source of personal and school development.
In order to address the aims a sample of 213 teachers from primary schools in Catalonia have been surveyed. The sample is formed by 40 primary public and private schools in Catalonia. Currently the study is ongoing; however, 21 head of schools responded the survey. Most of them have a higher education degree, are women and have more of 20 years of teaching experience. 83.10% are teachers in public schools and 75.59% are experienced teachers with more than 11 years of experience (13.15% are early stage teachers, 11.27% are middle stage teachers). The survey is structured on different dimensions as follows: - Sources of professional knowledge - Use of knowledge in teaching practice - Role and conception of research on the configuration of professional knowledge The items are designed as a four points Likert scale. Descriptive analysis including frequencies and means are presented.
Results indicate that teachers mostly consider colleagues out of their schools as main source of new knowledge to inform their educational practices (M = 3.09 out of 4), followed by colleagues from their own school (M = 2.82 out of 4) and previous knowledge (experiences) (M = 2.74) Teachers perceive the school culture as sensitive to use of evidences, sharing of knowledge among staff and high trust levels (M = 3.29 to 3.19 out of 4). In addition, teachers acknowledge the existence of leadership being open to the partnership between staff and external stakeholders to fundament their decisions and to promote innovations (M = 3.24 out of 4). In addition, teachers acknowledge the use of different sources of knowledge, placing in the first place professional blogs and webs (used frequently and always in 45.07% / 34.74% with a M = 3.09), followed by books (used frequently and always 39.34% / 16.11% with a M = 2.59), than research papers (used frequently and always by 35.21% / 14.08% with a M: 2.43) and in the fourth place educational administration web pages (used frequently and always by 30.33% / 13.27% with a M = 2.31). Data revels teachers understand research as a learning opportunity (M = 3.51), followed by research understood as a source of teaching improvement (M = 3.45) and finally research is conceived as way to solve society problems (M = 3.33). More than 75% of teachers show a preference for the research which is relevant and applicable to their professional context. Findings report that teachers give greater weight to the views of their colleagues (human capital), and to their pre-existing practices than they do to evidence derived from scientific sources and a clear preference of teachers for conceptual use of knowledge (oriented to solve specific situations or general society problems) comparing to instrumental and symbolic use.
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