01 SES 11 B, Lessons for Leaders of Professional Learning in Further Education
One major concern for education globally, which has rendered a lot of attention in the form of interventions and developmental projects, is school failure and school drop-out. Studies show that school drop-out can lead to lifelong alienation, which has enormous costs for both individuals and societies (Ekstrand, 2015; Lehr, Hansen, Sinclair & Christenson, 2003). Therefore, it is a great concern for individuals, families, schools and societiets to prevent pupils from leaving compulsory school without qualifications for further studies. Efforts have been made to increase attendance and reduce school drop-out, in particular for students in upper secondary school (Ekstrand, 2015). In Sweden, one example of such efforts is the project Plug In. Research from the project demonstrated that in order to be able to reduce school failure and drop-out rates, preventive efforts need to be implemented earlier, when the pupils are younger (Pluginovation, n.d), hence more pupils could have greater opportunities to succeed in school.
However, these projects are often focusing on students and not on the role of the professionals within schools. Research have demonstrated that educators and professionals in schools have an unquestionable importance for how pupils succeed in school (Ekstrand, 2015) and the importance of professional competence for children’s’ school success is also well established in research (Timperley et.al., 2020). Hence, a key aspect for successful educational practices is the possibility for educators within schools to participate in professional development (PD) (Timperley, 2020). This implies that there should be ample opportunities for professionals in the field of education to develop throughout their professional career. However, little attention has been given to how different interventions and developmental projects, aiming to reduce school failure, best can support and enhance PD in the daily practice (OECD, 2013).
Another issue in relation to PD is that there are often limited opportunies for PD in the everyday practice (OECD, 2013). As a result of an increased focus on PD, governments worldwide spend billions in PD programs and projects annually, justified by its potential to secure improvement in student achievement over time (OECD, 2013). Nevertheless, the translation of research into effective schools has been less than successful indicating that most PD research consistently point out the ineffectiveness of such programs (Bowe & Gore, 2017; Timpeley & Parr, 2015, Walsh, 2020). It has been indicated that the majority of such interventions fail to take into account: 1) what motivates professionals to engage in PD, and 2) what motivates educators to change their practice (Guskey, 2002).
Thus, the guiding question is not whether or not PD is important, but rather how this best can be accomplished in each situation and practice, given different aspects and factors that influence them. The focus in this study concerns the opportunities created for PD for the educators when a project aimed at reducing school dropout and school failure is implemented in the daily practice (project X). Even though the study is located in Sweden it is a global and international concern how to increase goal attendance and reduce dropout in all levels of education. Hence, the aim of project X is focusing on pupils at risk of not reaching the national goals and therefore not qualify to a national program at upper secondary school when leaving compulsory schooling, grade level 9. In particular, this study aims to investigate Which opportunities for professional development can occure in relation to the implementation and the daily practice of project X?
This study was conducted in three compulsory schools located in mid-west Sweden, grade 1 – 9. In the schools 9 educators were interviewed. The interviews were semi-structured. The schools differ with respect to: geographical location, number of pupils and educators, and profile. An application to the Swedish Ethical Review Authority (EPM) was approved before the data-collection began. The structure of the interviews was designed to investigate the following topics: (a) What and how are project X organized and affecting their daily work in practice, (b) student participation and contextual environment, (c) PD opportunities, and (d) collaboration and cooperation in practice. Each interview lasted for approximately 45 – 90 minutes. The interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim on an on-going basis, coded and analyzed. The data were analyzed using thematic analysis developed by Braun and Clarke (2006). According to Braun and Clark’s (2006) method there are six different phases when you analyze your data; familiarizing with the data, generating initial codes, searching for themes, reviewing themes, defining and naming themes and finally producing the report (Braun & Clarke, 2006). The coding was data-driven, and started off with an inductive approach to the empirical data. Initial codes were derived from the raw data and was assessed in a meaningful way in relation to the research question. The analysis is also inspired by theoretical sampling, that is, theoretical ideas that arises during the analysis, and was guiding the continued analysis. The theoretical framework was the work of Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1999) that are categorized in three distinct conceptions: knowledge-for-practice, knowledge-in-practice, and knowledge-of-practice. This theoretical frame is applied to describe and provide insight to the opportunities for PD that educators communicated within project X.
The findings indicate that those who have closeness to the developmental project X are frequently given opportunities for PD while the teachers who are not as involved are not given the same opportunities. Those involved, the assigned project-group are provided with access to formally organized activities outside the schools. These initiatives are offering theoretical knowledge and access to external networks and arenas that can support PD. However, in the schools, internally, few formal structures was established. Therefore, for the educators that are not involved limited opportunities in their daily practice to reflect and learn upon their practice and to enhance their PD are given to them. Without opportunities for all educators to discuss, reflect and transform their knowledge and experiences together they miss the opportunity to learn from each other. When organized forms was lacking the educators formed informal structures with collegial, informal groupings and teams. These groupings were stated to be educators main site for PD in their daily practice. The very competent educators with extensive practical experience, those assigned to the project-group, are generally knowledgeable about how to reflect on and learn from their practice, as generators of knowledge. Therefore, the project-group, with responsibility to implement activities and methods to enhance pupils’ attendance and credentials, needs to understand how and in what way they can support the subject-teacher’s in their practice to meet pupils needs. Furthermore, the project group also need to provide opportunities that develop the subject teachers’ professionalism and practice, and for the organization to establish formal occasions to enhance and increase all educators’ PD daily. By enhancing educators’ PD and competences related to pupils at risk they can provide necessary tools, know-hows, formal and informal knowledge to enhance pupils academic results and school success, hence reduce school failure and drop-out rates nationally and internationally.
Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2006) Using thematic analysis in psychology., Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3 (2), p. 77 — 101. Ekstrand, B. (2015). What it takes to keep children in school: A research review. Educational Review 67 (4), p. 459 – 482. Lehr, C.A., Hansen, A., Sinclair, M. F., & Christenson, S. L. (2003). Addressing student engagement and truancy prevention during the elementary school years: A replication study of the Check & Connect model. Journal for Students Placed at Risk (9) p. 279 – 301. OECD (2013). TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning, OECD Publishing. Available: https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264196261-en PlugInovation (n.d.). Available: http://pluginovation.se/att-motverka-studieavbrott and www.pluginovation.se/framgangsfaktorer Timperley, H. (2008). Teacher professional learning and development. Educational Practices Series-19. The International Bureau of Education, France. Timperley, H., Ell, F., LeFevre, D., & Twyford, K. (2020). Leading Professional Learning. Practical strategies for impact in schools. Acer Press, Australia. Timperley, H. & Parr, J.M. (2015). Theory Competition and the Process of Change. Journal of Educational Change 6, p. 227–251. DOI 10.1007/s10833-005-5065-3 Walsh, T. (2020). Promoted widely but not valued: Teachers’ perceptions of team teaching as a form of professional development in post-primary schools in Ireland. Professional Development in Education. DOI: 10.1080/19415257.2020.1725596.
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