01 SES 01 B, Researching Professional Learning
Collaborative learning amongst educators is often encouraged as a means to improve teaching practice and student outcomes (Butler and Schnellert, 2012; Pollard, 2005; Schleicher, 2012; Sebba et al, 2012). A factor considered key to enabling such learning is Reflective Professional Inquiry (RPI); seen as vital if practitioners are to engage effectively with new knowledge and ideas, including those from research evidence (Doğan, and Adams, 2018). Yet RPI in education is under-conceptualised and little is known about how to facilitate RPI, such that it leads to changes in practice and student learning (Doğan, and Adams, 2018).
With this study we engaged in a meta narrative literature review, covering a range of disciplines (including education, medicine, and psychology), in an attempt to fill key knowledge gaps related to facilitating RPI. These include: 1) understanding how RPI is conceptualised; 2) the concepts/programmes designed to support RPI; 3) how to assess whether approaches to fostering RPI have made a difference to students and teachers; and 4) the impact of concepts/programmes for facilitating RPI.
To take into account the methodological and theoretical differences that exist between the various disciplines considered, we employed the ‘Meta-Narrative Approach’ to conducting literature reviews (Wong et al., 2013). The Meta-Narrative Approach is one that seeks ‘to illuminate a heterogeneous topic area by highlighting the contrasting and complementary ways in which researchers [from different academic disciplines] have studied the same or a similar topic’ (Wong et al., 2013: 2). The key stages in Meta-Narrative reviews are (Greenhalgh et al. 2005; Wong et al. 2013): i.) A stepwise search strategy: an initial scoping of the literature ‘led by intuition, informal networking and ‘browsing’, with a goal of mapping the diversity of perspectives and approaches’; this is followed by citation tracking for seminar conceptual papers; and finally, searching for empirical papers by electronic searching of key databases, hand searching of key journals and ‘snowballing’ (references of references or electronic citation tracking). ii) An appraisal phase for judging the relevance of each study to the review questions, as well as the quality of the evidence that exists. iii) A synthesis phase that identifies and presents the most important dimensions associated with RPI. This should present key concepts, theories, interventions, key actors, enablers and barriers and identified impacts associated with types of RPI: for example, what RPI is and how it affects, and has been shown to affect, teaching practice and student outcomes. iv) A discussion and recommendations phase that draws out key insights for practice. Following the searching and appraisal stages, a total of 62 studies were included in the review
Our review illustrates that there is still much to understand about how to successfully facilitate RPI. For instance, our findings indicate that there are no existing interventions designed to foster RPI that have been rigorously evaluated, e.g. via Randomised Control Trials or quasi-experimental methods. This means there are currently no approaches that we could confidently employ as part of Professional Learning Networks (or indeed other forms of professional inquiry) with the expectation that practice or student outcomes will improve as a result. At the same time, in seeking we have found that more effective approaches associated with measuring RPI need to be established. First because measuring how practitioners have engaged in RPI tend to be problematic since they either use subjective measurement tools, such as self-report, or involve the labour-intensive approach of recording and analysing teacher discourse (meaning they have been small scale in nature). There is also little detail on what impact any improved capacity for RPI might have on teaching practice and student outcomes; itself made difficult because of these methodological problems (Daly and Stoll, 2018). These issues thus need to addressed in conjunction with the development of approaches to facilitating RPI, to ensure that these new RPI interventions can be evaluated meaningfully.
Butler, D. L., and Schnellert, L. (2012) Collaborative inquiry in teacher professional development, Teaching and Teacher Education, 28, 8, pp. 1206-1220. Daly, A. and Stoll, L. (2018), Looking back and moving forward: where next for networks of learning, in: Brown, C. and Poortman, C. (Eds) Networks for learning: effective collaboration for teacher, school and system improvement, (London, Routledge) (pp. 205-214). Doğan, S., & Adams, A. (2018). Effect of professional learning communities on teachers and students: reporting updated results and raising questions about research design, School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 29, 4, pp. 634-659. Greenhalgh T, Robert G, Macfarlane F, Bate P, Kyriakidou O, and Peacock R. (2005) Storylines of research in diffusion of innovation: a meta-narrative approach to systematic review, Social Science & Medicine, 61, 2, pp. 417-430. Pollard, A. (2005) Reflective teaching (2nd edition) (London, Continuum Publishing). Schleicher, A. (2012). Preparing teachers and developing school leaders for the 21st century: Lessons from around the world, (Paris, OECD Publishing). Sebba, J., Tregenza, J. and Kent, P. (2012) Powerful Professional Learning: A school leader’s guide to joint practice development, (Nottingham: National College for School Leadership). Wong, G., Greenhalgh, T., Westhorp, G., Buckingham, J. and Pawson, R. (2013) RAMESES publication standards: meta-narrative reviews, BMC Medicine, 11, 20, pp. 1-15.
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