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In the field of school reform, traditional standard intervention studies are based on a reduction to a linear causality,wherein teachers are regarded, from the top-down view, as entirely passive agents of policies, while policymakers and researchers create a grand design that is then applied or revised by teachers, resulting in more positive change for students. Formative intervention studies based on cultural-historical activity theory, conversely, take as a basic principle that teachers themselves will gain agency to control the intervention and take charge of the process. Thus, they will become change agents. Activity theory studies how agents collaboratively redesign, change, and transform their own collective activity systems that have been culturally and historically constructed (Engeström, 1987/2015, 2008, 2016, 2018; Leont’ev, 1978, 1981; Sannino, Daniels, & Gutiérrez, 2009; Sannino & Ellis, 2013; Yamazumi, 2021). Here, the focus is on triggering and sustaining an expansive transformation process led and owned by teachers.
In Japanese schools, especially elementary ones, “Lesson Study” sessions held by teachers as typical on-the-job training in schools represent a traditional intervention method for developing teacher learning and expertise. However, a “Lesson Study” that has become obsolete provides limited orientation in terms of how teaching methods and techniques are intended to achieve predefined discrete objectives and convey fragmentary content of classroom lessons. This kind of in-school training is built on traditional and standardized technical notions of professional development. To go beyond such in-school training, activity-theoretical formative interventions in teacher learning and development attempt to engage teachers in collaborative interventions to facilitate their expansive learning—that is, expanding the object of their learning to change the broader structure of an entire school as a collective activity system. This is the transformation of teacher learning and development in schools toward shared inquiry into desired objects, forms, and patterns of practice, which results in the redesign of schools.
In this presentation, I describe findings from a formative intervention study of teacher learning and development in in-service training at Jōetsu Municipal Ōmachi Elementary School, Jōetsu City, Japan, by analyzing the process of teachers’ expansive learning in sessions that bring together classroom newsletters and activity reports. In the sessions, teachers gained awareness of what they valued as significant in education as they listened to children’s ways of living and episodes from activities with children. In the 2020 school year, 33 in-service training sessions in school were held at Ōmachi Elementary School and were attended by all its teachers. At each in-service training in school, participating teachers would write individual reflective essays following the end of a session, to be read by all members. Individual reflection takes the form of reflective descriptions after the sessions, and these are shared and accumulated among everyone. This enables individuals to revisit their ideas of what are self-evident or accepted routines (their assumptions when it comes to interpretative frameworks, their traditional and unconscious styles and ways of doing things, rules of thumb, etc.), constructing a new vision of the school through dialogue and collaboration. The significance, value, and purposeful meaning of the school for modern-day children, teachers, guardians, communities, and societies is contemplated under this process.
This presentation focuses on the textual descriptions of teachers’ reflections on in-service training sessions in school as its primary source of raw data alongside transcripts of teachers’ remarks and discussions in the sessions as another source. It analyzes the dialogue between teachers at these sessions over a one-year period to capture the nature of what teachers learn. Analyzing focal data, based on the activity-theoretical framework, it illuminates teachers’ collaborative concept formation and future-making toward a new vision of the school. Standard “Lesson Study” limits teachers’ collaborative concept to the dimension of “how?” while this directionality of constructing a new vision of school through dialogue and collaboration can be said to be an attempt to form a concept in the dimension of “why?” and “where to?” and thus shape future school activities. In this way, the concept that the teachers at Ōmachi Elementary School were trying to form through collaboration is something complex and of a higher epistemological order, serving as an instrument for transforming the collective activity system of their own school. This activity-theoretical formative intervention study at the school focuses on the role of teachers, who hold the key to sustainable school reform. By intervening in the teachers’ own organizational learning as they attempt to overcome actual problems at their schools, we seek out new notions for these teachers, who are leading agents in collectively creating change in school organizations. After conceptualizing this, we aim to shed some light on the development of the expertise of the teacher who is able to collaborate and create change—a requirement of today’s teachers.
To transform the dominant methodology of traditional designer-led organizational studies into user-driven democratic perspectives, this presentation concludes that expanding on-site practitioners’ agency by collectively redesigning organizations based on dialogue and negotiation that is self-led and self-owned should be a methodological principle. It is essential that teachers have a common concept concerning views of children and education if they are to perceive, recognize, and expand the learning and development of children in the entire school inclusively. Teachers’ in-service training in school can be characterized as expansive learning to collaboratively form concepts and future-making toward a new vision of the school. Such concept formation and future-making do not take place in the dimension related to the method or technique of teaching but in the dimension of asking “why?” and “where to?” Such useful concepts as living instruments are learned through questioning, dialogue, mutual negotiation, and re-making the learners’ own life activities. In this sense, the high-level complex concept that is being attempted through collaboration is not yet available. Such concept formation can surely be understood as expansive learning by teachers. Therefore, teachers’ in-service in-school training sessions are also about shaping the future of the school. This presentation also contributes to empirical research on teacher professional learning for teachers’ own collaborative concept formation and agentive future-making, which, usually, in the context of traditional standard intervention studies in teacher education, is poorly promoted and supported.
Engeström, Y. (1987/2015). Learning by expanding: An activity-theoretical approach to developmental research (Second Edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Engeström, Y. (2008). From teams to knots: Activity-theoretical studies of collaboration and learning at work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Engeström, Y. (2016). Studies in expansive learning: Learning what is not yet there. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Engeström, Y. (2018). Expertise in transition: Expansive learning in medical work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Leont’ev, A. N. (1978). Activity, consciousness, and personality. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall. Leont’ev, A. N. (1981). Problems of the development of the mind. Moscow: Progress. Sannino, A., Daniels, H., & Gutiérrez, K. D. (Eds.). (2009). Learning and expanding with activity theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sannino, A., & Ellis, V. (Eds.). (2013). Learning and collective creativity: Activity-theoretical and sociocultural studies. New York: Routledge. Yamazumi, K. (2021). Activity theory and collaborative intervention in education: Expanding learning in Japanese schools and communities. London: Routledge.
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