10 SES 08 D, Research on Values, Beliefs & Understandings in Teacher Education
Following the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, key teacher educators from Northern Ireland (part of the U.K.) and the Republic of Ireland (an independent state and member of the European Union) sought to create a safe space for teacher educators – North and South of the Irish border – to come together and discuss issues of common interest. This organisation was jointly funded by government departments on both sides of the border supplemented by membership fees from teacher education stakeholders in Higher Education Institutions, providers of Continued Professional Development (CPD), curriculum and professional bodies, and teaching unions. This network of people formed SCoTENS (the Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South) which may be the only network of its kind operating across a contested border in the world. Whilst its raisin d’etre lies in peace building, its objectives focus on cross-border co-operation for the enhancement of teacher education through seed-funding to support north-south collaborative research projects, cross border student teacher exchanges and an annual conference to share good practice. Two decades later, facing the challenges of uncertainty around Brexit, this paper addresses the overarching research question namely “What is the value of SCoTENS to its relevant stakeholders?”, a question which will shine a light on the potential trajectory of SCoTENS in the future, post Brexit.
Building on Wenger’s (1998) work on Communities of Practice and his later conception of multiple communities of practice separated by boundaries yet shaping their identity through interaction as evidenced in ‘Learning in Landscapes of Practice‘ (Wenger-Trayner et al., 2015), SCoTENS as an entity was investigated. Using the Value Creation Cycles framework, (Wenger-Trayner et al., 2015) where engagement in social learning loops can produce Immediate value, Potential value, Applied value, Realised value, Transformative value, Strategic value and/or Enabling value, the narratives of key players in the SCoTENS community were explored. Through establishing the formative events, activities, interactions and experiences of a variety of SCoTENS participants as revealed through their personal accounts, it was possible to determine the indicators of value to each participant. Narratives ranged from those of committee members, students on the exchange programme, doctoral students, seed funded researchers, to conference participants. Many of the value-creation stories offered plausible attributions of effects of these indicators to specific activities linked to SCoTENS.
The theoretical framework adopted in this study is basically a phenomenological hermeneutic one whereby the stories of the participants is told but which are interpreted through the lenses of the researcher and participant in dialogue. Phenomenology is the study of the life-world. It “seeks to set aside any assumptions about the object of inquiry and build up a thorough and comprehensive description of the ‘thing itself’” (McLeod, 2001, p. 56 – cited in Swinton and Mowat, 2006, p. 106) and asks the question ‘What is this or that kind of experience like?’ to uncover the phenomenon. Swinton and Mowat (2006, p. 108) state that human beings make sense of the world by using complex hermeneutical processes which occur “implicitly and explicitly, reflectively and unreflectively”. In this sense description is also hermeneutical since the act of describing involves the act of interpreting. The methodology for this study was the interpretation of the narratives of key players who had ‘lived experiences’ in or through belonging to SCoTENS. By understanding their stories, using the Wenger-Trayner (2015) Value Creation Cycles framework, this paper uncovers the value of SCoTENS as a means to promote cross-border collaboration in teacher education across the contentious border between NI and Ireland and offers inspiration to other teacher educators who may wish to collaborate with neighbouring countries across their own contentious borders.
Using a stratified sampling frame, stakeholders were invited to audio-record their ‘SCoTENS stories’ using a set of prompt cards based on each of the seven elements of the Value Creation Cycle framework listed above. Due to the unique North-South partnerships within a number of the formative events, the narratives were completed as pairings to encourage collaboration and also personal elaboration on each of the values. In total 30 stakeholders shared their narratives, comprising 2 pairs from the student teacher exchange, seven individual doctoral students, two conference participants, 3 pairs from seed funded research projects and also three individuals, 2 pairs from the SCoTENS committee and one individual, one Secretariat and two founding members of SCoTENS. There were almost equal proportions of males and females and approximately a 3:1 ratio of representation from South:North of the border. The paired approach to the narrative had the value of allowing the participants to recall their own or shared experiences whilst being guided in terms of reflection by the cues on the prompt cards. The pace was sustained by the pairs’ motivation to share a range of insights both common but also contradictory. Due to the confidentiality of the data collection process, the researcher was not present during the narrative process to prompt, probe or guide the discussions so some points may have been under-developed or unclear due to the limited explanation of context provided by the pair or individual. On average the narratives lasted around 20 minutes. Each ‘SCoTENS story’ was transcribed verbatim and checked for accuracy. A thematic analysis of the data led to the initial identification and coding of main themes, refining of sub-themes and then interpretation of the common issues and trends. Although the majority of transcripts cannot be associated with a individual ‘voice’, the recording of the narratives of the secretariat and the two founding members are unique due to their roles in the organisation. These three individuals were willing to waive their right to confidentiality and anonymity as their ‘voice’ and perspective over the past 20 years was too valuable to be omitted from the study. All other transcripts were labelled (A, B) where A represented the gender of the participant (male – M or female - F) and B denoted the location (north - N or south - S). Any direct quotations used in the discussion of findings could therefore be assigned the appropriate label.
Evidence from the narratives addressing ‘Immediate Value’ related to Mentoring of Others such as key educational leaders working together in partnership sharing ideas and having openness in the conversations. Less experienced members (such as conference participants, seed funding research partnerships, doctoral students) felt a sense of belonging to a community which openly offered support and advice, shared ideas, and facilitated networking in a non-competitive context. The Potential Value element highlighted the opportunities for Exposure. For some it was a vehicle to showcase their work through conference participation, publication or presentation to people from a different jurisdiction. This led to an increased awareness of alternative educational systems, practices or cultural perspectives. Some saw the potential for professional growth, future careers and an increasing archive of tangible educational resources/research reports. The Applied Value cues revealed more individualistic perspectives resulting from stimulating critical thinking ‘in thought’ or ‘through thought’. There was an extended confidence in the research processes, methodologies and project management leading to future bids for research funding. There was also application of new knowledge from cross-border collaborations or research reports to their professional lives. The difference the SCoTENS community can make in a global sense was the Realised value. Through the timeliness of the inception of SCoTENS, the peace-building and core changes in teacher education, connecting to others normally outside your own circle, expanding networks, obtaining a fresh viewpoint based on a shared understanding of the two jurisdictions, emerged as core features of this element. Finally, the Enabling value was evidenced through the interest, commitment and involvement of teacher educators which grew from university collaboration between two people to a cross-national commitment of volunteers from all parties with an interest in teacher education. The notion is sustainability and growth beyond the confines of the island of Ireland was recognised as an area for consideration over the next 20 years.
Wenger-Trayner, E., Fenton-O’Creevy, M., Hutchinson, S., Kubiac, C. and Wenger-Trayner, B. (Eds) (2015). Learning in Landscapes of Practice: Boundaries, Identity and Knowledgeability in Practice-Based Learning . London: Routledge
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