How can we improve our effectiveness as teachers of student teachers?

A paper to be presented at the

EARLI Conference SIG Invited symposium Teaching and Teacher Education:

‘Demonstrating accountability through our self-study practices as teacher educators’

Nicosia 2005

Jane Renowden, Charlotte Carr, Joan Hafenrichter and Jo Richardson

We are a team of four Education and Professional Perspectives (EPP) lecturers at St Mary’s College, Twickenham, London, who have come together to discuss how to improve our practice. Throughout our work, and especially since we began working on this paper, we have considered the generic issues that students need to be able to address in order to be effective classroom practitioners. The courses in our college are integral to the Initial Teacher Training programmes, uniting periods of school experience with college-based work. Last September 2004, we began the interrogation of our practice as a group and started to examine the effectiveness of our practice. As the discussion progressed, it became apparent that our common values underpinned our practice. We identified ‘…..a nexus of issues.’ (Andrews, 2003:15) that led us to ask the question, ‘How can we improve our effectiveness as teachers of student teachers?’

One of our guiding principles is the idea that we are trying to realise our educational values in our practices (Whitehead 1989.) We feel the need to explain how these values come to act as the living standards by which we make judgements about our practice and research (Whitehead, 2004). As professional educators we are constantly striving to improve what we do. We seek to influence the learning of others and in doing so enhance the quality of our own learning as well as theirs. We have come to believe that our values underpin our professional life and that they influence the learning of the learners we work with. Our journey has started with an exploration and clarification of these values. We do this through action research.

Action research is value laden which is one of the reasons why it is our preferred method. It bridges the gap between research and practice. ‘Action research is an intervention in personal practice to encourage improvement for oneself and others. The action is not haphazard or routine, but driven by educational values that need to be explored and defended’ (McNiff, Lomax & Whitehead, 2003:19). One of the strengths of this approach is that it is flexible. It can be used ‘in almost any setting where a problem involving people, tasks and procedures cries out for solution, or where some change in feature results in a more desirable outcome’ (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2000: 226).

We have become practitioners who are reflecting in action. Schon considers ‘…reflection on knowing-in-action goes together with reflection on the stuff at hand. There is some puzzling, or troubling, or interesting phenomenon with which the individual is trying to deal with. As he tries to make sense of it, he also reflects on the understandings which have been implicit in his action, understandings which he surfaces, criticizes, restructures, and embodies in further action’ (Schon,1983: 50). This is the process we have been engaged in together.

As a team we hold common core values and beliefs. We articulated these, as we worked together and although we considered justice, equality, honesty and professionalism to be some of our core values it became clear that we each put a different emphasis on them at certain times. We also discussed the ideas around how securely our values are held. Would it be possible to say we held a value that had not been tested at any given time? We explored the possible need for challenge, to help us know what our core values are. For example, we may say we believe in equality of opportunity in the health service but if this is challenged by the illness of a family member and the opportunity to pay for a better service arises, would we be able to hold onto that value by refusing to pay for the better service?

In education we are sometimes faced with the experiences of ourselves as ‘living contradictions’ (Whitehead, 1989), an experience which challenges our values. Throughout our teaching careers we have considered ourselves to be educators not trainers. We acknowledge the many different understandings of the term education. ‘…there are important differences between people in how the word is applied – albeit within a broad area of agreement about its definition’ (Pring, 2000:11). Our understanding of education is that it is a process that involves the personal engagement of the individual. As educators it has been important to us that we develop and encourage learners who see the educational process as active rather than passive. We hold the view that our own values influence the way we teach and interact with the learners in our classes. ‘….our perspectives and viewpoints influence what we do both inside and outside the classroom’ (Pollard, 1997: 69).

Brophy (1998) says effective teachers promote discourse around powerful ideas. They question and give feedback. As educators we consider there to be a need for the student teacher to be able to observe not just behaviours but to get behind these and analyse and synthesise what they see. As educators, we aim to encourage the students away from the ‘what’ of the role to the ‘why’, from a set of behaviours to a formulation of principles. This move from observation to adaptation and then the incorporation of principles into their own practice is at the heart of the work we do. The class teacher as educator ‘…holds systematic conversations about the action of teaching and shared experiences of understandings about the intellectual act of teaching and for the enhancement and improvement of teachers’ (McCann and Radford, 1993: 29). This enables the trainee to consider and analyse why they do what they do, which can then be better transferred to another classroom, school or learning scenario, with another activity base.

The art of teaching involves the ability to react to a variety of situations at different times. There is no one set of solutions to the dilemmas and challenges faced by teachers, so it is essential our students are not just trained in a set of skills but come to appreciate and reflect on the reasons and purposes of what they are doing.

The term education implies, for us, adopting a Deweyan perspective, a continuous process that is lifelong, reflective and holistic, and involves thinking and reasoning. The student is expected to be an effective learner who questions what they are doing, checks their progress, monitors problems and remains focused. Just as the role of the learner in the teaching and learning situation is clearly defined in our view, so is the role of the teacher. If certain characteristics are being engendered in our students then they can be understood as being educated. They will be prepared for the challenges of teaching in the 21st Century. To be effective at doing this we must have a clear understanding of the part we play in this particular teaching and learning situation. One of our dilemmas as lecturers stems from the socio-political context in which we work. This is the area we are working on at the moment in terms of realising our educational values within a neo-liberal social context that often emphasises the development of skills through training rather than learning through personal enquiry.

We consider we are developing thinking teachers for the changing classrooms of the future. In the knowledge rich age in which we live and work, it is vitally important that teacher educators help students be able to adapt, change and rationalise what they are doing with children. They should have a commitment to professional development and see their role in the classroom as educators, committed to lifelong learning.

‘If, then, we come to see knowledge and competence as products of the individual’s conceptual organisation of the individual’s experience, the teacher’s role will no longer be to dispense “truth” but rather to help and guide the student in the conceptual organisation of certain areas of experience’ (Murphy and Moon, 1989: 56).

 

Our aim is to enable students to develop their own philosophies of education, to develop and clarify personal values and beliefs to underpin their own practice. We want students to understand the complexity of the role of the teacher and to embrace its challenges and diversity. ‘To behave as an educator was to be a mentor who enables students to become an autonomous, self referential teacher capable of objectively analysing their own and others’ professional practice’ (Pollard, 2002: 372).

We see our work as unfinished, as a work in progress. Our discussions and readings have raised as many questions as they have answered and we have much work ahead of us as we seek to work with our students to enable them to become reflective practitioners. As Zeichner (1994) states, the process of learning to teach continues throughout a teacher’s career and our work is part of our own learning journey. We have learnt so much about each other, which has enhanced our work together, and individually we have developed a deeper understanding of the values that underpin our practice.

Bibliography

Andrews, R. (2003) Research Questions. London :Continuum.

Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K. (2000) Research Methods in Education. London : Routledge Falmer

McCann, I & Radford, R (1993) ‘Mentoring for Teachers: The Collaborative Approach’. In B.Caldwell & E. Carter (Eds) The Return of the Mentor London :Falmer Press

McNiff, J., Lomax, P. & Whitehead, J. (2003) You and Your Action Research Project London : RoutledgeFalmer

Murphy, P. and Moon, B. (1989) Developments in Learning and Assessment, Milton Keynes: The Open University, Hodder and Stoughton.

Pollard, A. (1997) Reflective Teaching in the Primary School London : Cassell Education

Pring, R. (2000) Philosophy of Educational Research London : Continuum

Schon, D. 1983 The Reflective Practitioner London : Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Whitehead, J. (1993) The Growth of Educational Knowledge Bournemouth : Hyde Publications.

Zeichner, K. (1994) Research on Teacher Thinking and Different Views of Reflective Practice in Teaching and Teacher Education In Carlgren, I. Handal, G. & Vaage, S. (eds) (1994) Teachers’ Minds and Actions London : The Falmer Press

 

Journals

Brophy, J. Teaching. International Academy of Education Retrieved 3 August 2005 from www.ibe.unesco.org

Whitehead, J. (1989) Creating a living educational theory from questions of the kind, ‘How do I improve my practice?’ in Cambridge Journal of Education, Vol. 19, No1, 1989, pp41-52. Retrieved 3 August 2005 from www.actionresearch.net

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