When teachers reflect...how does learning happen?

Year: 2019

Author: Allen, Janette, Guebala, Mary

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The teachers and leaders in Victorian state schools are required to participate in annual performance and development reviews. Within this construct they must provide evidence that they have successfully improved student outcomes. Key elements of this process, set out in “The Performance and Development Guidelines for the Teacher Class”, (DET, 2018, p. 11), are “reflection and goal-setting” and “reflect on practice”. In an earlier study of teacher perceptions of the process, (Allen, 2016, Ticking boxes, kicking goals) an unlooked for outcome was that teachers reported their participation in the research process itself had facilitated deeper reflection on their performance and development goals. The current research investigated the ensuing question: “How can teacher reflection be better supported?”

This study was conducted between May 2018, and February 2019 in a semi-rural primary school, with all five teachers, three ancillary staff and the principal participating. The researchers were two experienced primary teachers, unknown to the participants, working with ethics approval from the University of Melbourne. Narrative inquiry was used as both a means of reflection and a research methodology. The aim was to understand whether narrative inquiry as a process could enable reflection in ways that the participants valued, and whether this empowered their learning within the Performance and Development review process.

Positioning Theory was used to trace and analyse the emerging themes across the narratives. Positioning Theory builds understanding of the factors that enhanced or constrained the participants’ agency. One key finding was that the individual opportunity to reflect with unknown outsiders enabled and empowered participants to identify and work on their problems of practice. However, they generally did not find it made the Performance and Development process more meaningful. There were pressures from school-wide goal setting that limited capacity to individualise, and a lack of time to build trusting relationships constrained evidence-gathering to functional ‘tick-boxing’ rather than meaningful feedback exchange.

Overall, individual agency to create opportunities for reflection was shaped by participants’ perceptions of their rights and duties within, and beyond, the school. One implication of this finding is that building stronger relationships between all levels of the system may have potential to empower leaders and teachers to enrich local learning conditions. Further research is needed to understand the relationship between this form of reflection and other collegial settings for reflection, define the connection to improved student learning, and explore supportive policy possibilities.