01 SES 15 A, Research: Evidence and Emancipation
This paper reports from an ongoing study about teachers’ actions and strategies in action research (AR) when dealing with work life in change. The purpose is to examine how societal motives are materialized in teachers’ AR and to illustrate how teachers’ use AR with concerns to professional development and working conditions.
The political or societal interest in teachers’ professional development has increased (Avalos, 2011; Day & Sachs, 2005; Stoll et.al, 2006). International and national policy put forward teachers’ engagement in school based professional learning, as essential for students’ success and for reducing the gap between policy and practice (OECD, 2010; Swedish National Agency for Education, 2013, 2020). In Sweden, teachers’ are encouraged to participate in school based professional development for their ongoing professionalization (SOU 2008:52; SOU 2018:19). In addition, the Swedish Education Act, since 2010, states that teachers’ work and students’ education should be based on scientific knowledge (SFS 2010:800). In this context, the Swedish National Agency of Education put forward AR, as a model for teachers’ professional development (Swedish National Agency of Education, 2013, 2020).
AR itself is multifaceted, but educational AR is often described as a practice oriented approach enabling the professions possibility to make own decisions and to gain autonomy in their work (Carr & Kemmis, 1986; Reason & Bradbury, 2001; Rönnerman, 2012). However, in the last decades, the educational system and teachers’ work has gone through massive changes in terms of restructuring (Ball, 2003; Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012; Lindblad & Goodson, 2011). In educational research, there are different positions to understand these professional changes (Lindblad & Goodson, 2011). Restructuring can for example be understood as innovation and professionalization (e.g. Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012) or as dissolution and deprofessionalization (e.g. Ball, 2003; Stenlås, 2011).
The scope of this paper is to reveal how teachers’ AR is materialized in teachers’ work today and what implications it has for their work. The purpose is to examine how societal motives are materialized in teachers’ AR and to illustrate how teachers’ use AR with concerns to professional development and working conditions. The objective is to contribute to a better understanding of the consequences of AR as a method especially with regards to teachers’ professional development.How is teachers’ AR changing their everyday work? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
The study is designed from a Cultural Historical Activity Theoretical Approach (CHAT) (Leontiev 1978/2000; Engeström, 1987/2014, 2001, 2009). The analyses focus teachers’ AR reported in a number of teachers’ Master Thesis within the Nordic Master’s in Education with orientation towards Action Research. It means in this case, the historically evolving activity system involves two systems, teachers’ AR produced in their daily practice and teachers’ AR produced in their master program. The activity systems are driven by societal motives that often are taken for granted and difficult for participants to articulate. The analysis follows five principles (Engeström, 2001:136; 2009:56):
- The activity system is the prime unit of analysis,
- an activity system is multi-voicedness,
- an activity system take shape and get transformed over lengthy periods of time and therefore it is necessary to study it historically,
- contradictions are historically accumulated structural tensions within and between activity systems and the driving force of change in activity,
- activity systems move through long cycles of qualitative transformations.
In activity systems contradictions are the driving forces of transformation. Internal contradictions make the object (motive) a moving, motivating and future-generating target. Transformations of activity systems sometimes appear when new objects, like policy or societal changes, occur and challenge the established thoughts, tools, rules, communities and division of labour (Engeström, 2001).
The data is produced out of teachers’ AR reported in their Master Thesis within the last course in a university master program called Nordic Master’s in Education with orientation towards Action Research, 120 credits. This program includes a Nordic Participatory and collaborative AR and an emancipatory or liberatory perspective (Utbildningsplan, Göteborgs universitet, Dnr G 2018/372). The program started 2011 and totally 44 students have completed their master thesis, both Norwegian and Swedish students. The students have had different backgrounds and occupations, but a majority worked as teachers in preschool or in school. Totally, fifteen master students report AR from Swedish schools and it is their stories and reflections about the AR process that are the basis for analysis in this paper. Analysing the AR cycles in the fifteen master thesis through the lens of CHAT attends to both participants’ actions and agency within the immediate context, and at the same time to the social and historical settings within which participants’ activity system develop. Teachers working with AR, with the participatory character are trying to overcome gaps, dualities, and inconsistencies between the desirable and realized. It means AR actions, explained in the master thesis, evolves from historical accumulated contradictions within and between the activity systems under investigation. Therefore, change of the activity, or as Engeström (1987) call it expansive learning, requires articulation and practical engagement with inner contradictions of the learners’ (teachers’) activity system. The intention with such analyses is to reveal how political, societal expectations change teachers’ professional development and everyday work.
The results reveal that all fifteen teachers’ AR is focusing on improvements of two different communities; (i) teacher meetings and (ii) classroom instruction. The teachers use tools learned in the AR course at the university such as journals, observations, interviews, dialog models, etc. However, these tools both enables and constrains their room for actions and their professional autonomy. Some projects do not have a collective and collaborative approach. Instead, single teachers develop classroom instructions alone, or together with their students. Other projects reflects how teachers are using AR to develop teacher meetings, by enabling time for reflection and discussion, starting out from texts produced by researchers or by the Swedish National Agency of Education. Two projects visibly link teachers’ professional learning, mediated in teacher meetings, with teachers’ classroom instructions. Finally, the result shows that many thesis authors struggles with their professional role in relation to division of labour. Together with the AR project and the master program comes both new knowledge and sometimes demands to become a middle leader (e.g. Grootenboer, et.al., 2014). This is in line with policy goals but it is not always an easy transformation. The AR processes support the middle leader teacher in control, to create opportunities for his or her colleagues to consume ideas of others, instead of starting out from their everyday work. From the individual teacher’s perspective, it seems to be more about gaining exchange value, than use value for creating emancipatory collective collaborative learning processes, with other professionals in their daily work. The preliminary conclusion is that the outcomes of the teachers’ AR as a driving force for professional development not can be taken for granted.
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