A model for teacher professional learning: An investigation into the characteristics that contribute to sustained improvement in teaching practices

Year: 2018

Author: Thompson, Pauline

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Effective professional learning is widely accepted as a key mechanism to strengthen teacher quality leading to improvement in student learning.  This ethnographic case study sought to identify specific characteristics that sustains improvements in teaching practice in response to an on-going professional learning program. This research was conducted at one secondary school in metropolitan Melbourne, Australia. The seven volunteer participants in this study were secondary teachers from a diverse range of learning areas, with 7–30 years of teaching experience.  This research sought to describe, understand and make meaning of the events from the perspective of the teachers as they participated in an on-going professional learning program. A series of four workshops were planned and conducted over one, ten-week school term. The aim of these workshops was to develop a theoretical understanding and practical application of the Principles of Dialogic Teaching (Alexander, R. J. 2008, Towards dialogic teaching: Rethinking classroom talk. Cambridge: Dialogos). Following the workshops, the teaching practice of the teachers was tracked over the 12 months of the study. Video of classes and recorded and transcribed semi-structured interviews were the key data gathering tools which led to the formation of a narrative of each participant’s individual professional learning experience.
Positioning Theory (Langenhove, L. V., & Harré, R. 1999, Introducing positioning theory. Positioning theory 14-31) was used as the conceptual framework to understand any changes in teaching in response to the professional learning program. Positioning Theory proposes that when people engage and interact that they do so from a social, cultural and historical ‘position’. The collated narratives for each participant was closely analysed using positioning theory to track, interpret, understand the behaviour and attitudes of teachers over 12 months. The use of positioning theory as an analytical tool can provide an indication of the sense of empowerment that individuals have to change and learn.
This research identified five key characteristics of effective professional learning.  An iterative model of professional learning has been developed based on these characteristics. This model can be used as a fundamental tool that can be used by teachers, school leaders and leaders of Professional Learning. It can be used as reference point when planning and evaluating programs to maximise the impact of any activity.