Teachers’ professional learning and development
We are at a point of unprecedented opportunity. For teachers, for teacher education, and for schools, reform is a given. And the changes are comprehensive and radical. Will you choose to be part of leading that change? Or will you be a bystander?
The education community in Wales is in the throes of a revolution that, in the words of the Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams MS is ‘unashamedly ambitious’. At the heart of this national reform movement are three stand-out features:
- the overriding concern with learners and learning;
- the coherence of the reforms across schools and ITE; and
- the recognition that the new concept of teacher professionalism embedded in the reforms is the key to the realisation of the blueprint.
For the reforms to succeed, Wales will need teachers who are supremely competent and who are also learners, innovators, curriculum designers and intellectuals who engage in scholarly work. The reforms are changing what it means to be a professional teacher.
At the same time, student teachers on the newly-accredited ITE programmes are being prepared to embrace the educational reforms and to become the agile, adaptive, innovative professionals that the reforms require. And alongside them in schools are teachers who are working to meet the challenges of the new curriculum frameworks. This synergy between school reform and ITE reform fosters collaborative working and knowledge exchange, and means that in both schools and Schools of Education the teaching role is being elevated from operative to strategist.
The foundation for career-long professional learning is established in ITE. Student teachers need not only to acquire the knowledge, skills and understandings that will enable them to enter the profession as competent practitioners, but also the confidence, commitment, analytic expertise and habits necessary for examining their developing practice and pedagogical thinking throughout their careers. One of the many challenges facing university tutors and teachers working with student teachers is to design curricula that meet both of these goals. ITE cannot prepare novice teachers for every challenge they are likely to meet, but it can prepare them to become effective, lifelong professional learners.
The first year of teaching is a unique stage in learning to teach and the importance of professional socialization into the work setting and the profession cannot be underestimated. It is, however, equally important that the induction year, building on the foundations laid in ITE, is seen as part of a broader continuum of learning and development. New teachers have to teach, but they also have to continue learning how to teach. It is critical, therefore, that they are seen and respected by colleagues as learners, but this is unlikely to happen if established teachers do not see themselves as having anything more to learn. For novice teachers to be confident as learners in a school they need to feel that they are entering a community of learners where it is common place for practice to be analysed, for problems to be shared and for teachers to be adept at learning from critical analysis of their own and their colleagues’ practice and thinking. Professional learning cannot thrive in an institution where classroom learning and teaching is seen as a private practice. The opportunity here is for more schools getting more of their teachers actively engaged in ITE and Induction - and removing barriers to open participation and collaborative learning.
Teachers’ engagement in ITE is clearly important because of the distinctive contribution that teachers can make to student teachers’ learning. What is easily overlooked, however, are the many opportunities for their own professional learning that thoughtful, committed involvement in ITE offers established teachers. Mentors and other teachers often find themselves explaining their practices to student teachers – the ‘whys’ as well as the ‘whats’ and the ‘hows’ – which means they have to think about how they go about things in the classroom, which in turn can lead teachers to new understandings of what they do, and provide a real stimulus or platform for professional learning. In education we talk a lot about reflective practice – and for an experienced teacher, knowledge about one’s own assumptions, beliefs and implicit theories is a necessary prerequisite for critical reflection and professional growth. In addition, as full partners in ITE, working closely with the university in the design and delivery of programmes and in collaborative professional inquiry, teachers are encouraged not only critically to examine their existing practices and those of the school, but to consider alternatives.
Encouraging and enabling young people to develop awareness of their learning and thereby be in a position to take responsibility for it, is regarded as beneficial to their development as learners and to the learning itself. In terms of professional learning, I would suggest that at a time when teachers’ development has never been more important, that all teachers – from student teachers through to established practitioners – are given the opportunity to explore and critically discuss ideas drawn from research and practice about the nature, acquisition and development of teaching expertise, that they too might take responsibility for their learning.