A cross-cultural and collaborative exploration of the role of teacher: navigating meaning during a momentary step outside politics

Year: 2017

Author: Greenwood, Janinka

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Learning that occurs in a learning community is evolutionary in nature, multi-facetted and often beyond the explicit plans of individual participants. This paper reports the inquiry and findings of a cross-cultural learning community that developed in the course of a project that took place in early 2017.
The project involved groups of educators from Bangladesh who came to New Zealand for professional development. Bangladesh has an extensive agenda of increasing access to education and improving its quality. Its policy (Ministry of Education, 2010) and its development projects acknowledge the prevalence and limitations of authoritarian teacher-centred and reductive approaches to teaching as well as the dominance of an examination that rewards rote-learning (Alam 2016; Salahuddin 2016; UNESCO 2011).
This paper reports how a learning community evolved involving the Bangladeshi educators and their New Zealand teaching team and how it incrementally identified and deconstructed received academic ideas, examined layers of local and global teacher discourse, navigated between knowledge systems, and tested out shifting constructions of the role of teacher. To some extent all the participants came to see themselves as potential change agents.
The methodological approach was one of qualitative case study. As Flyvberg (2011) highlights, context-situated case knowledge offers insights into human interactions in ways that avoid unjustifiable universals yet allows more speculative processes of context-variable generalisation. Thus the approach in this account is that of a critically reflective narrative (Sch?n, 1983) that seeks to examine the case of the evolving learning community, with focus on the evolving understandings of course participants and the ways that those understandings talked back to exiting concepts of the role of teacher. The inquiry draws on observations of interactions, critical reflections of practice and extended dialogues within the community.

Analysis of the project is still in progress, but some themes are already becoming evident, including aspects of participants' acquisition of knowledge and shifts in awareness and understanding that have the potential to be translated into changes of practice in the home context. There is less quantifiable learning that comes through sustained and committed cross-cultural negotiation, exploring backgrounds, constraints and expectations.
There are also research outcomes that involve deeper understandings of the processes of managing educational change, especially in terms of the professional agency of teachers, and of the complex interplay of contextual pressures, constraints and affordances, extending my earlier work examining the concept of fair academic trade in teacher education (Greenwood et al, 2016; 2014).