10 SES 07 B, Research on Programmes and Pedagogical Approaches in Teacher Education
The process of becoming a teacher sees the student teacher (ST) enrolled on an initial teacher education (ITE) programme as the first step on the continuum of their professional development (Teaching Council, 2013). In the Republic of Ireland (i.e. the context for this study), post-primary ITE programmes include a combination of University-based study and practice in the school context, referred to as School Placement (SP). For SP, ST’s are learning the profession through assumption of the teacher role and are expected to engage in many teaching (e.g. planning, assessment, lesson implementation) and non-teaching activities (e.g. lesson observation, teacher collaboration) thus endeavouring to uncover the true intricacies of the profession (Caires & Almeida, 2007; 2005; Vermunt & Endedijk, 2011).
Importantly, SP experiences are underscored in the retention of ST’s in the profession (Rots et al, 2007). Teaching competencies, knowledge and skills are acquired and consolidated along with a multitude of gains at personal, professional and broader levels (Caires & Almeida, 2005; Flores, 2001; Meijer et al., 2002; Roness & Smith, 2010; Southgate et al., 2013). Personal growth, such as improved self-knowledge, autonomy, reflection, self-regulation of learning, socialisation into the profession and interpersonal skills emerge (Caires & Almeida, 2005; Roness, 2011; Vermunt & Endedijk, 2011). Wider again, the interplay of cultural awareness, acknowledgement of school values, development of relational sensitivities and working through contextual challenges are all navigated in the SP dynamic (Loewenberg Ball & Forzani, 2009).
To understand the acquisition of the aforementioned, contemporary theories of learning are considered. Accordingly, individualistic views have been usurped by social views (Bereiter, 2002; Bransford et al., 1999), with learning now situated in real-world contexts, employing meaningful activities (Lave & Wenger, 1991), scaffolding (Collins, et al, 1989) and learning communities (Bielaczyc & Collins, 1999). Therefore, STs, as learners, do not learn on their own, instead they collaborate and co-construct their knowledge (Putnam & Borko, 2000). As a result, for the ST to be successful in SP, a supportive school environment is crucial, with colleagues’ approachability, guidance, feedback, and collaboration key.
Teacher collaboration generally refers to teachers working (e.g. planning, teaching, researching) and reflecting together, in an effort to improve practice and learning (Woodland, Lee & Randall, 2013, Hargreaves, 1994). The gains from teacher collaboration are well cited from teacher, pupil and school perspectives in much International and European literature (e.g. Fullan, 2009; Hargreaves, 1994; Stoll, 2009, Lieberman & Miller, 2011). In particular, the benefits for the teacher include improvements in the quality of teaching and learning (Levine & Marcus, 2010), heightened moral support, permitting teachers to respond and overcome challenges and insecurities (Roldao, 2007; Forte and Flores, 2010) as well as gain new ideas for professional practice (Forte & Flores, 2014). Forte and Flores (2014) also point to the visibility of teacher work as well as the potential reduction in workload and burden.
Yet, the above findings document the qualified teacher, with a paucity of research on the nature of ST collaborations. It is from this perspective that the current study was conducted, examining ST’s perspectives of collaboration during SP. It is part of a two phase study aiming to investigate the following research questions:
- How do STs perceive collaboration in advance of SP?
- What is the nature of STs collaboration during SP?
- What perceived barriers and opportunities to collaboration do STs experience during SP?
- How could collaborative experiences be furthered during SP and future professional practice, according to STs?
This paper reports the findings from phase one, focusing on ST’s understanding and perceptions of collaboration, collaborations to date, as well as their intentions for collaboration in their upcoming SP.
A mixed method approach (i.e. sequential explanatory design) was employed (Creswell, 2003; Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011). This sees qualitative data expand on the initial quantitative data collected. The freedom to draw upon the respective assumptions of both paradigms opens the researchers to their particular strengths, resulting in one method complementing another (Elliot, Holland & Thomson, 2008). In particular, questionnaires and focus groups were employed as research instruments in the overall study. Phase 1: Research instrument The first phase of the study was conducted three weeks prior to SP, in Spring 2018. A self-completion questionnaire was administered, comprising of open and closed questions. The questionnaire focused on STs understanding and perceptions of collaboration to date as well as their intentions for collaboration in their upcoming SP. Sample The target population were full-time, undergraduate STs, studying a post-primary BA PME programme in one third level ITE institution, in the Republic of Ireland. In particular, the study focused on first (n=104) and third year (n=76) STs, who were on SP during Spring 2018. This allowed for comparisons. Purposive sampling was employed for the questionnaire. Of those who completed the questionnaire (n=62 first year STs, n=57 third year STs), an invite was extended to take part in the second phase of the study (i.e. self-selecting sample) after SP. As the sample was purposively chosen, from a population of STs completing a specific ITE programme and also experiencing SP in Spring, 2018, the findings were not generalizable to other groups due to the specific context and nature of the programme. However, the findings may be of interest to other similar groups or ITE programmes. Data Analysis The questionnaires in phase one were analysed using descriptive and inferential analyses, performed using the statistical software package SPSS (IBM SPSS Statistics 24). The thematic analysis of open-ended data followed transcription. These data were managed using NVIVO 10.
Key findings indicated most STs were positive in their reports of collaborative experiences to date, citing their enjoyment of same (96.6%). A wide range of school colleagues were collaborated with to date, in particular the co-operating teacher (95.8%). The purpose of these collaborations varied (i.e. practical class preparation (73%), lesson planning (67%), supporting behavioural management (65%), creation of resources (64%), and setting up for class (61%)). Further analyses showed STs collaborations to date concentrated on the immediate class and/or themselves as ST and less in relation to learning, learners or the wider school. A further unexpected finding, demonstrated some STs placed responsibility for the initiation and continuance of collaboration on others, rather than assuming responsibility themselves. A minority were negative about collaboration generally, claiming they had little training in its relevance to teacher development, with others suggesting colleagues within the school restricted their possible collaborative endeavours. Based on these findings, the researchers discuss some implications for STs. It is envisaged that the findings from the overall study will inform policy and practice with regard to SP in the ITE institution. It is anticipated they will contribute to understanding and awareness of the role of SP in influencing attitudes towards collaboration and in developing STs’ competencies in this regard. The study also forms a basis for ST development and further expansion of school-ITE institution partnerships, in order to enhance SP experiences. The Teaching Council, amongst others, stresses the inclusion and resourcing of such partnerships (Teaching Council, 2013; Zeicher, 2010; Avalos, 2011). Yet, existing research, along with our initial findings, suggest such partnerships are not universal, with ST experiences varying (Coady, 2010). Therefore, the outcomes will be of interest to professionals in the areas of ITE, co-operating teachers, principals, SP tutors, those working in continuing professional development and STs.
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