01 SES 14 A, Lessons from Professional Learning in a Time of Pandemic
Due to the COVID-19-crisis Distance Learning was everyday school life for most of the pupils in Europe and around the world. In Austria school-age children were taught in Homeschooling in three longer periods so far. The first cycle of Distance Learning for school-age children in Austria lasted from 16 March until 15 May 2020, the second cycle from 17 November until 7 December 2020 and the third cycle began on 7 January 2021 and is still going on. These times are characterized by unexpected challenges, rapid changes and uncertainties for teachers and pupils. Nevertheless, it is also an opportunity to learn and gain deeper insight in one’s own professionalism. Reflection is one of the key competencies for a teacher’s professional attitude and critical thinking in and about professional lives.
“Donald Schön, who created the concept of the “Reflective Practitioner” understood “practice” not as an area of concrete, consistent problems and unambiguously clear goals, but rather as a complex, unique area marked by instability and uncertainty and subject to a variety of conflicts of interest and values” (Turner 2017,62; Schön 1983, 49). This seems in times of the COVID-19-crisis more relevant than ever.
Against this theoretical background, the authors like to emphasize the importance of reflection in professional development concerning the challenges and change in the teacher-student-relationship in the current COVID-19 situation.
However, the challenges are very complex. In the course of the literature search it was noticeable that recent studies mainly focus on the technical implementation of digitalisation in the classroom. In regard to interaction one can take a closer look on Kerres’ assumptions. Through new forms of representation and interaction it is possible to simplify teaching and learning through new methods which overall leads to more effective learning outcomes (Kerres 2003, 2). Focus is on the change of teaching and learning through new media and not intensively on the relationship between the individuals in a classroom. With regard to interaction in the field of digital media in the classroom recent studies mainly focused on the interaction based on learning programmes. Here, in this study we focus on the changes, challenges and learnings for the educational relationship through Distance Learning.
One of the central questions is: “To which extend were teachers aware of what was going on in students emotionally in times of Distance Learning and how did this affect the way of teaching and interaction with the pupils?” (Kreuzer & Turner 2020; Turner 2018). We would like to discuss this research question against the background of Schön’s concept of the “Reflective Practitioner” and the context of emotional closeness and distance (Dörr & Müller 2007). One of the hypotheses of the research team was that through the distance in Homeschooling, the relationship of students and teachers got weaker.
In context of the research project “Digi4Learners” (Turner & Scherde 2019) interviews were conducted with teachers of secondary schools in Austria. These schools are referred to as “Mittelschule” (secondary school) and include children from the age of 10 until 14.
In this paper the authors try to connect the personal relationship between students and teachers in Distance Learning to Professional Development. Further, one can say that the focus will be on changes in teaching that were made because of Distance Learning based on reflective processes of teachers. The goal is that the results of this study are also used in teacher training and education.
In order to answer the research question, a qualitative interview study of 20 interviews was conducted with teachers whose focus is on teaching languages at Austrian secondary schools. In order to compare the answers of the participants the interviews were guided, hence everybody had to answer the same questions. The interviews were conducted from December 2020 until May 2021 in form of guided interviews. The focus was on the three cycles of Distance Learning that took part in Austria so far. In a next step the interviews were analysed according to the Qualitative Content Analysis of Mayring. The central goal of this analysis is to classify the outcomes of interviews into categories. These categories are then defined and assigned with a coding rule (Mayring 2014). Overall, it can be said that the case group includes teachers that just started their teaching career in the school year 2019/2020, as well as teachers who are teaching at schools for almost 20 years. Concerning the location of schools, it can be said that the focus was on Austrian secondary schools, located in cities, as well as schools in rural areas. The overall focus of the questions was as already mentioned on the emotional relationship of students and teachers and the capacity of reflection towards a professional attitude of the teachers. Furthermore, it was also connected to aspects such as how to stay in touch with pupils and in which way this can be achieved successfully in Distance Learning or which challenges teachers were confronted with when it comes to stay in touch with school-age children in an online setting. The intend was also to compare the first, the second and the third cycle of Distance Learning and in this case, questions focused on whether teachers have changed something in their strategy in order to stay in touch with pupils. Another aspect was as already mentioned in the introduction, emotional closeness and distance. In this part of the interview it was the goal to find out if teachers think that more emotional distance or more emotional closeness was emerged through Distance Learning. Further, teachers should explain what exactly has changed in this relationship. Another intend was to find out how students felt during the time of Distance Learning and if the interviewed teachers had this in mind.
This research will discuss the findings of the interview study in Austria and will formulate suggestions for teacher development and educational training. Interestingly enough, contrary to the assumption that the relationship was weakening in general, so far it becomes apparent that the emotional relationship to individual pupils can even grow closer even though of physical distance. Although, this does not seem to be the case for entire classes, however teachers made clear that it has changed to individual students. More closeness to the pupils was built due to the increased private insights in videoconferences for example but also because of the students who are in need of personal consultations with teachers during this time. Further, it can be argued that because of Distance Learning it is possible for a teacher to find out more about a student’s personal life and get a differentiated idea of her/him. Therefore, videoconferences seem to be a central instrument to maintain the personal relationship between the pupil and the teacher during Distance Learning. Still, there are a couple of challenges in Distance Learning: the interviewed teachers mentioned the lack of personal contact to the students because it is not possible to keep an eye on a whole group of students. Teachers cannot see the pupils and it is not possible to interpret misunderstanding for example in a student’s facial expression. Most of the interviewed teachers have reflected the first period of Distance Learning and have changed certain things in their teaching for the second period of Distance Learning. They emphasized that the Distance Learning phase also showed learning effects and that they will continue personalized interaction in the form of mentoring, for example. The challenge of working with whole groups in Distance Learning is seen as a further learning process.
Dörr, M., & Müller, B. (2007). Nähe und Distanz. Ein Spannungsfeld pädagogischer Professionalität. Weinheim: Juventa. Kerres, Michael. (2003). Wirkungen und Wirksamkeit neuer Medien in der Bildung. In: Keill-Slawik, Reinhard (Ed.): Wirkungen und Wirksamkeit neuer Medien in Bildung. Münster: Waxmann Verlag. Kreuzer, T. F., & Turner, A. (2020). Max, der Rabauke. Mentalisieren von Beziehungsdynamik im Unterricht. In: S. Gingelmaier, A. Ramberg & H. Kirsch (Hrsg.), Handbuch mentalisierungsbasierte Pädagogik, Bd. II (S. 136-149). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Mayring, P. (2014). Qualitative Content Analysis. Theoretical Foundation, Basic Procedures and Software Solution. Online: https://www.ssoar.info/ssoar/bitstream/handle/document/39517/ssoar-2014-mayring-Qualitative_content_analysis_theoretical_foundation.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y&lnkname=ssoar-2014-mayring-Qualitative_content_analysis_theoretical_foundation.pdf (Accessed: 17 December 2020). Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books. Turner, A. (2017). Different Layers of Reflection: Work Discussion as a Trigger for “Reflection in and on Emotion” in Educational Action Research. In P. Ramalingam & B. Hanfstingl (Eds.), Action Research in Educational Systems: Austrian Models in Indian Contexts. (pp. 61-72) Delhi: International Publishing House. Turner, A. (2018). Mentalisieren in der schulpädagogischen Praxis: Mentalisierung von Lehrenden und Lernenden. In: S. Gingelmaier, S. Taubner & A. Ramberg (Hrsg.), Mentalisierungsbasierte Pädagogik (S. 188-199). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Turner, A., & Scherde, T. (2019). Digi4Learners. Studie zur Digitalisierung an Kärntner Schulen in der Sekundarstufe I + II. Forschungsexposé. Forschungsrat der AAU Klagenfurt
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