ERG SES G 10, Social Justice and Education
This paper is concerned with the agency and community of secondary school teachers in the face of policy innovation. The study aimed to investigate the problems and prospects that shape professional learning in the school subject department, and how this has the potential to influence individual teachers’ practice in the context of change and innovation.
As far back as 1991, Fullan maintained that a supportive work environment is essential to achieve such a major change in teachers’ engagement, understanding, and re-interpretation of their role. The daily work environment that shapes most secondary school teachers’ routines and practices is the subject department. Siskin (1994) proposed that the subject department is the dominant social structure in the secondary school, suggesting that it is the subject department rather than the individual teacher or the school that should be the unit of analysis in educational research. It is here that the subject teacher learns how to plan, support, and evaluate student learning, in essence where they develop their subject pedagogy (Hennessy et al., 2005). The subject department also provides the social context in which teachers demonstrate their competencies, and through the negotiation of meaning, mediate the importance that particular artefacts (such as technologies) have on teachers’ practice (Beckett, 2011). In essence, the subject department provides the horizon of significance or value system of the community, and it functions to shape teachers’ sense of authentic and autonomous self as they develop their professional identities (Taylor, 1992). It is therefore reasonable to assume that the success of a reform, such as the integration of ICT, will be conditional on the impact that it has on both the subject department, personified as a group of colleagues, and upon the prevailing subject culture. Kennewell et al. (2002) stressed that ‘teachers are social learners, and change is likely to remain superficial unless it is based on their own desires for change arising from within the subject culture’ (p. 94).
The particular focus of the study was on the historical social action of Australian teachers in the science departments of three secondary schools, as they attempted to enact policy innovation requiring them to integrate new technologies into their everyday teaching practice. Taking the view that professional learning or workplace learning is a characteristic of the individual, their work environment, and their working relationships (Billet, 2008; Edwards, 2010; Shotter, 2013). I therefore explored the science teachers’ experiences of learning to work with new technologies as members of their primary workplace site (Kennewell et.al., 2002; Siskin, 1994), the school science departments, situated in a school context. Using the work of Wenger, McDermott and Snyder (2002) on communities of practice and Edwards’ (2010) theory of relational agency, in concert with Harvey’s (2002) interpretation of Bhaskar’s (1998) transformational model of social activity, to create an analytical frame to interpret the data collected during fieldwork.
My research sought to understand the extent to which the professional learning environment, provided by science departments, enabled and/or constrained teachers’ integration, assimilation, and accommodation of new technologies into their teaching practices. To explore these phenomena, I needed to develop an understanding of the participants’ habits of interpretation, their social orders of practice, and the culture of their professional environment. This included the individual and shared meanings that they held with regard to pedagogic practice and the professional relationships that they had developed. To explore these social orders in the naturalistic setting of the school science departments, I used an interpretivist methodology, and I present these social phenomenologies in the form of three ethnographic case studies. To achieve this, I employed a multiple methods approach to data collection using one-to-one interviews, field observations and document analysis.
The data collected from each of the three schools was presented in the form of an interpretive case narrative and as a representation of the analytical framework. These two products can be readily employed a case-based teaching resources (Shulman and Shulman, 2004) in teacher education or as objects of comparison (Shotter, 2013) for those responsible for managing change in the secondary school. It is anticipated that through discourse generated by these case-based resources, teachers will identify the problems and prospects existent in subject departments that are likely to shape the professional learning associated with the introduction of a major policy innovations in their particular context.
Beckett, D. (2011). Learning to be–at work. In P. Hager & S. Holland (Eds.). “Becoming” a professional (pp. 57–76). Netherlands: Springer. Bhaskar, R. (1998). The possibility of naturalism: A philosophical critique of the contemporary human sciences. New York, NY: Psychology Press. Billett, S. (2008). Learning throughout working life: A relational interdependence between personal and social agency. British Journal of Educational Studies, 56(1), 39–58. Edwards, A. (2010). Being an expert professional practitioner: The relational turn in expertise (Vol. 3). London, England: Springer Science & Business Media. Fullan, M. (1991). The new meaning of educational change. London, England: Cassell. Harvey, D. L. (2002). Agency and community: A critical realist paradigm. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 32(2), 163–194. Hennessy, S., Ruthven, K., & Brindley, S. (2005). Teacher perspectives on integrating ICT into subject teaching: Commitment, constraints, caution, and change. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 37(2), 155–192. Kennewell, S., Parkinson, J., & Tanner, H. (2002). Developing the ICT capable school. London, England: Routledge. Shotter, J. (2013). Agentive spaces, the “background”, and other not well articulated influences in shaping our lives. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 43(2), 133–154. Shulman & Shulman, J. (2004). How and what teachers learn: a shifting perspective, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 36:2, 257-271 Siskin, L. S. (1994). Realms of knowledge: Academic departments in secondary schools. London, England: Falmer Press. Taylor, C. (1992). The ethics of authenticity. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press. Wenger, E., McDermott, R. A., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press. Wenger, E., & Trayner, B. (2011, December 28). What is a community of practice? Retrieved from http://wenger-trayner.com/resources/what-is-a-community-of- practice/
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