01 SES 06 B, Evaluating Teachers and the Impact of Professional Development
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is instrumental in facilitating learners to consider their roles and responsibilities regarding pressing global issues and to support them in developing the requisite ‘knowledge, skills, values and behaviours needed for sustainable development’ (UNESCO, 2018). ESD also aims at enabling learners to ‘work and live in a way that safeguards environmental, social and economic wellbeing, both in the present and for future generations’ (United Nations, 2005). If ESD is to be effectively implemented in schools it is essential that teachers have the relevant Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) (Shulman, 1986). However, research suggests that teachers do not have the requisite competence or confidence to employ innovative and engaging pedagogies to teach sustainability (Popova et al., 2016).
To this extent an international initiative that explored whether an established model for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) based on competencies-orientated sustainability education would be transferable across different international contexts. The overall aim of the project was to ascertain whether teachers’ engagement with the CPD programme, in three different countries (Ireland, Germany and Mexico) would influence changes in teachers’ classroom practice ultimately resulting in students developing more deeply rooted sustainability competencies. During the second year of this two year project 10 Irish primary school teachers, teaching in five Dublin schools participated in the five month CPD programme. The professional development comprised three key components: a framework for effective professional development; Inquiry Based Science Education (IBSE); and Competency-Orientated Sustainability Education.
A number of educational educators (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017; Desimone, 2009; Guskey,2003; Borko et al., 2010) have identified several key features that are required for professional development to be successful. These include: focus on content, active learning coherence, duration and collective participation. The framework of the professional development programme in this study was based on Desimone's (2009) model for evaluating the impact of professional development, comprising four steps: (1) participation in effective professional development; (2) increase in teachers’ knowledge and skills; (3) use of new knowledge and skills to improve their approach to pedagogy; and (4) instructional changes promote increased pupil learning.
The content of the CPD was based on the content and skills underpinning the Irish Primary Curriculum (DES, 1999) and teachers were introduced to Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE) pedagogies as these closely align with the social constructivist pedagogies underpinning the Irish Primary Science Curriculum. Furthermore, developing environmental awareness and a responsible disposition towards the environment is seen as an important element of contemporary science education (OECD, 2017). Each workshop made explicit connections to the Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations, 2015) and embedded a framework based on five key sustainability competencies, namely: systems thinking; futures thinking; values thinking; stakeholder engagement; and, strategic action (Frisk & Redman, 2011; Wiek et al., 2011).
The influence of the current professional development programme on teaching and learning about sustainability was explored in two phases. Phase one was concerned with the influence of the programme on teachers’ classroom practice (Step 3 of Desimone’s model) (Authors, forthcoming). Phase two (presented here) considers data gathered from Irish primary school children and explores whether their teachers’ participation in the programme has impacted children's learning (Step 4 of Desimone’s model). Specifically the paper addresses the following research questions:
What effect did Irish primary teachers’ participation in the CPD have on their pupils’:
- Knowledge of sustainability?
- Attitudes towards sustainability?
- Experiences of learning about sustainability through inquiry based science education?
This study adopted a mixed methods design (Johnson and Onwuegbuzie, 2004) that involved the collection, analysis and integration of quantitative research data via pre- and post-programme questionnaires and focus group interviews. Data were gathered from 250 Irish primary school children aged between 8 and 12 years. The questionnaire comprised three sections. The first section contained eight multiple choice questions regarding children’s knowledge about sustainability. Sections 2 and 3 contained six and nine (respectively), three point (smiley face) Likert scale format attitudinal statements gathering information about learning sustainability in school and about the children’s attitudes towards sustainability. The children were asked to indicate to what extent they agreed or disagreed with each statement. The face and content validity of the questionnaire was validated through piloting where the questionnaire was administered to a sample of 5 primary school children (ages ranging from nine to twelve years old); minor revisions were made following the pilot. All data were coded and entered into Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) (version 23) for analysis. Descriptive statistics were used to clean the data, check for missing data and outliers and to determine a general profile for each question (Pallant, 2016). Task-based group interviews were conducted with four children randomly selected from each of the ten classes at the beginning and end of the CPD programme. With reference to a structured interview protocol, the children were invited to respond to four pairs of photographs depicting different scenarios related to a selection of key sustainability concepts (e.g. renewable energy, air pollution, plastics). The task supported the children to draw upon their sustainability and science related knowledge to discuss their understandings of the scenarios depicted within the images, their perceptions of connections between images and their perspectives on sustainability beyond the images. Each interview followed a structured interview schedule and was piloted with two children (ages nine and twelve) from an Urban Dublin school. The interviews were recorded and transcribed. A phonological mode of inquiry was chosen to analyse the pre and post interview data (Goetz & Lecompte, 1984) supported by the use of Nvivo, a qualitative data analysis software.
This paper argues that the inclusion of children’s voice within the investigation into the impact of a continuing professional development programme for teachers provides a valuable insight into the development of sustainability-related learning, but also reiterates the complexities of classroom practice at the intersection between inquiry-based science and education for sustainable development. The paper offers some insight into the development of children’s attitudes towards and understanding of sustainability across a time period parallel to their teacher’s engagement with a programme of continuing professional development. At a methodological level, the paper provides a reflection on the employment of child-centred mixed methods in an exploration of the efficacy of teacher education, considering the pitfalls and potential of such an approach. Furthermore, it is apparent that a key challenge for professional development providers i is the investment in the development of a system of high-quality professional development in the area of sustainability. For professional development to be effective it is essential that there is an improvement in pupil learning outcomes (Darling-Hammond et al 2009). Findings from phase one of this study revealed an increase in teachers’ sustainability-related knowledge, an increased implementation of sustainability-related methodologies and more frequent engagement in IBSE pedagogies (authors, forthcoming). Findings from the second phase of this study, reported in this paper, explore the impact of teachers’ participation in professional development on their pupils’ learning (Step 4, Desimone’s model) and could inform future professional development programmes adopting Desimone’s ( 2009) framework .
Darling-Hammond, L., Wei, R.C., Andree, A., Richardson, N., and Orphanos, S. (2009). State of the profession: Study measures status of professional development. Journal of Staff Development, 30 (2), 42-50. Desimone, L. M. (2011). A primer on effective professional development. Phi Delta Kappan, 92, 68-71. Borko, H., Jacobs, J., & Koellner, K. (2010). Contemporary approaches to teacher professional development. In P. Peterson, E. Baker, & B. McGaw (Eds.), International encyclopedia of educa- tion (Vol. 7, pp. 548–556). Oxford, UK: Elsevier. Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., Gardner, M. (2017). Effective Teacher Professional Development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. Department of Education and Science (1999). Primary school curriculum: Science. Dublin: The Stationery Office Department of Education and Science. (1999a). Primary school curriculum: Science. Dublin: Desimone, L.M. (2009). Improving impact studies of teachers’ professional development: Toward better conceptualizations and measures. Educational Researcher, 38 (3), 181-199. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.3102/0013189X08331140 Frisk, E., & Larson, K. L. (2011). Educating for sustainability: Competencies & practices for transformative action. Journal of Sustainability Education, 2, 1-20. Guskey, T. R. (2003). What makes professional development effective? Phi Delta Kappan, 84(10), 748-750. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20440475 Johnson, R.B., & Onwuegbuzie, A.J. (2004) Mixed methods research: a research paradigm whose time has come. Educ ation Research 33: 14–26. Kennedy, M, M. (2016) How does professional development improve teaching? Review of Educational Research, 86 (4), pp. 945-980 Mallon, B. (2018) The Impact and Evaluation of Development Education in Irish Primary Schools DICE, Dublin Murphy, C., Smith, G., Varley, J., and Razi, O. (2015) ‘changing Practice: An Evaluation of the Impact of a Nature of Science Inquiry-Based Professional development Programme on Primary Teachers’ Cogent Education (2) pp. 1-19 http://doi.org/10.1080/2331186x.2015.1077692 OECD (2017) PISA 2015 Assessment and Analytical Framework: Science, Reading, Mathematic, Financial Literacy and Collaborative Problem Solving. PISA 2015 Science Framework https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264281820-3-en Smith, G., (2014) The impact of a professional development programme on primary teachers’ classroom practice and pupils’ attitudes to science. Research in Science Education 215-239 doi: 10.1007/s11165-014-9420-3 Wiek, A., Withycombe, L., & Redman, C.L. (2011). Key competencies in sustainability – A reference framework for academic program development. Sustainability Science, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 203-218. Shulman, L.S. (1986) Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching, Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4-14.
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