01 SES 09 B, Connections, Reflections and Complexity in Professional Learning
The past decade has seen a shift in the educational landscape with a focus on school-level curriculum moving from teaching to content to teaching to learning outcomes; a shift which the European Union are advocating for (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP), 2009; CEDEFOP, 2017). In the Irish educational context, there has been monumental curriculum reform at the post-primary schooling level. This research focuses on Senior Cycle (the final two years of post-primary school, aged 16–18 years old) reform which is led by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). Central to this, is a focus on reviewing Leaving Certificate examinations, an exit award after the two-year cycle. Leaving Certificate Physical Education (LCPE) is a new subject (implemented in September 2018) which was designed and constructed in this period of reform. As such, it focuses on teaching to learning outcomes rather than teaching to the content as other Leaving Certificate subjects do. The LCPE specification is made up of 128 learning outcomes that teachers are expected to teach. The Professional Development Services for Teachers (PDST), made up from teachers seconded from schools from a period of time, is a Department of Education and Skills initiative leading the professional development for LCPE teachers. Given the volume of LCPE learning outcomes, the PDST is delivering a non-linear approach to teaching and learning which, in one way, is a different model to that the NCCA are advocating for (a linear approach), adding to the contradictory and complex professional development context. Both have different perspectives on the teacher learning and practice possibilities presented by LCPE.
This paper follows a cluster of teachers through an extensive professional development model, delivered by the PDST, for a new school subject in the Irish post-primary school curriculum. Drawing on the concept of rhizomatics (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987), this paper conceptualises professional development as a complex process (Baird & Clark, 2018; Keay, Carse & Jess, 2019) and explores the non-linear approach to professional development. This qualitative study (Bryman, 2012) explores this context through a novel theoretical framework (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987) and provides an account of five teachers’ professional development journey, whereby they were educated through a non-linear approach to teaching. However, the school context, in which the teachers reside, is more familiar with teaching through a linear approach. The teachers struggled with these conflicting teaching philosophies and the manner in which the learning outcomes should be (or can be) taught. This begs the question if the non-linear approach is best practice given the large amount of learning outcomes or is it the most logical solution to a problem. Considering teacher learning as assemblage encourages considering the various components of professional development – the teacher, the professional development providers, other teachers engaging with the professional development, the content, the students, the classroom or gym etc. – as “working collectively to shape teaching practices [or in this case, teacher learning], rather than viewing them as discrete variables that are independent of one another” (Strom, 2015, p.322). The complexity of, and the multiple interacting variables in, teacher learning assemblage is illustrated through the teachers’ enactment (or not) of a non-linear pedagogy to teaching the LCPE learning outcomes and the influence of various components (noted previously) in that decision.
Participants: A case study design (Bryman, 2012) was adopted to allow for deeper exploration into the context. Five teachers were purposively sampled due to their inclusion in a professional development cluster which the PDST organised. Data collection: Five teachers were each interviewed individually 12 times (after each national professional development session) over two years to explore their professional development experiences. The interviews followed a semi-structured format to allow the researcher to have prepared questions and the flexibility to delve deeper into specific answers (Bryman, 2012). The interview schedule constituted of questions on (i) the national professional development session (exploring the main focus of the sessions, the different tasks, the take home messages, and if it met their learning needs), (ii) the cluster professional development session, (iii) the professional development model being used, (iv) professional development external to the PDST, and (v) preparedness to teach after the professional development sessions. The interviews took place at the teachers’ respective schools. Each interview lasted between 30 minutes and 60 minutes. Data analysis: The data was analysed through a combination of three analytical approaches (Hordvik, MacPhail & Ronglan, 2019) which captured the essences of the theoretical framework (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). This analysis involved a coding process (Charmaz, 2014), rhizomatic mapping (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987) and situational analysis (Clarke, 2003). While this is presented as a linear, step-by-step process, it operated in a non-linear analysis which also involved other analytical processes including data walking and memo writing (Hordvik, MacPhail & Ronglan, 2019; Strom, 2014; Charmaz, 2014). The inductive approach of ‘data walking’ involved (re-)reading the interview transcripts, highlighting lines and incidents of interest and constructing connections between the theoretical literature and the data. The data programme ‘Inspiration’ was used to construct rhizomatic maps to explore the interrelated relationships between the initial codes, presented in ‘data bubbles’ which emphasised the detail and intricacies of the data. Situational analysis (Clarke, 2003) then allowed us to identify the human and non-human aspects to these interrelationships. In a similar manner to how Hordvik, MacPhail and Ronglan (2019) employed analytic memoing (Charmaz, 2014), this analytical approach allowed us to construct individual narratives for the five teachers which were supported by rhizomatic map and situational analysis. These constructed narratives detailed the complexity of enacting a non-linear approach and highlighted the influence of the teachers’ context within that complexity.
Through the theoretical lens of rhizomatics (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987), the context, made up of the interrelated elements which co-constructed the professional development process, is explored. This theoretical framework is helpful in explaining the complexities of enacting a non-linear approach. The complexity of the teachers’ engagement with professional development process, and the enactment of a non-linear approach is highlighted in the frustration experienced by the teachers: “There's a lot there [in terms of learning outcomes]. It's very heavy. It's a ridiculous amount of learning outcomes. And I suppose if they spent less time talking about a linear approach and a non-linear approach [and] put the information together. If I hear linear and a non-linear one more time…” (Sally) The use of the rhizomatics concept, assemblage, encourages us to think differently about the professional development context. We question if this non-linear approach to teaching and learning is only non-linear in name, and highlight the complexity of the teaching context which makes it difficult for the teachers to uphold a non-linear approach in practice. This paper emphasises the complex (and rather opposite to linear) transfer of knowledge and learning from professional development to the classroom (Strom, 2015). There is a long history of a very traditional professional development framework in Ireland and this paper challenges this. This empirical, yet theoretically informed, paper offers a complex account of the realities (not ideals) of teacher learning and development.
Bryman, A. (2012). Social research methods. New York: Oxford University. Baird, J. T., Clark, E. L. (2018). The ‘look-ahead’ professional development model: A professional development model for implementing new curriculum with a focus on instructional strategies. Professional Development in Education, 44(3), 326-341. CEDEFOP. (2017). Defining, Writing and Applying Learning Outcomes: A European Handbook. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing grounded theory. London: Sage. Clarke, A. E. (2003). Situational analyses: Grounded theory mapping after the postmodern turn. Symbolic Interaction 26(4), 553-576. Deleuze, G., & Guattar, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP). (2009). The Shift to Leaning Outcomes: Policies and Practice in Eurpoe. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. Hordvik, M., MacPhail, A., & Ronglan, L. T. (2019). Negotiating the complexity of teaching: A rhizomatics consideration of pre-service teachers’ school placement experiences. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 24(5), 447-462. Keay, J. K., Carse, N., & Jess, M. (2019). Understanding teachers as complex professional learner. Professional Development in Education, 45(1), 125-137. Storm, K. (2014). Becoming-teacher: The negotiation of teaching practice of first-year secondary science teachers prepared in a hybrid urban teacher education programme. Unpublished doctoral thesis. Montclair State University. Montclair, NJ. Strom, K. (2015). Teaching as assemblage: Negotiating learning and practice in the first year of teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 66(4), 321-333
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