From resistance to renewal: Re-invigorating experienced teachers through collaborative professional development

Year: 2017

Author: Gore, Jenny, Rickards, Bernadette, Taggart, Wendy

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Improving the quality of teaching remains a key policy goal considered fundamental to improving student outcomes. Investment in professional development (PD) as a key mechanism for improving teaching, is based on the understanding that learning to teach continues throughout teachers' careers. Teachers express concern about growing stale in the profession (Margolis, 2008), with limited enthusiasm for instructional innovations (Ghaith & Yaghi, 1997) until they have seen them work in their classrooms (Guskey, 2002). This general resistance to change has been posited as a key reason for the limited impact of much PD (Elmore, 2007).

In this paper, we explore the effects on experienced teachers of a particular approach to PD, known as Quality Teaching Rounds (QTR). Drawing on before-and-after interviews with 16 experienced teachers (7 to 20+ years) who participated in QTR, we analyse how these teachers moved from a mild form of resistance to a remarkable sense of renewal. Before participation, they admitted to: general scepticism about the relevance of most PD to classroom practice; feeling already overburdened; being concerned about de-privatising their practice through QTR; and, believing that Quality Teaching is 'what good teachers already do'. After participation, teachers reported that they valued being 'given' quarantined time (space and permission) to re-focus on their core business of teaching and learning, with opportunities to observe colleagues teach and engage in professional dialogue. The relevance of QTR to the 'proving ground' of the classroom ensured its acceptability to these experienced teachers who reported feelings of affirmation and validation. Most importantly, they said that they: were motivated to 'lift their game'; experienced a renewal of energy and perspective; and, produced re-invigorated, better quality teaching.

We use these data to re-think the 'problem' of teacher development as it is constructed in policies for ongoing professional learning (Bacchi, 2009, 2010). Rather than teachers needing more knowledge or new knowledge as the primary 'problem' to be addressed through PD, teachers who participated in QTR reinforced our view (Bowe & Gore, 2017) that the 'problem' lies more with dominant conceptualisations of teaching and teacher development. We argue that if teachers are to continue to improve throughout their careers, then the mix of staleness and stress that often befalls them requires counterbalancing opportunities for growth, renewal and challenge (Margolis, 2008). The transition from resistance to renewal offers a powerful counter-narrative to the prevailing discourse that experienced teachers tend to be uninterested in, or incapable of, substantial change.