Factors that support productive facilitation in teacher professional learning

Year: 2012

Author: Bowe, Julie, Gore, Jennifer, Miller, Wendy

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Facilitation of learning, whether for students in the classroom or teachers in the staff room, is core to the educational enterprise. Somewhat surprisingly, however, given substantial government and systems investment in teacher professional development, relatively little research has been conducted into the role of the facilitator. Where facilitation has been addressed in empirical studies, it has primarily focused on the introduction of facilitation strategies and tools, such as protocols, for supporting teacher inquiry processes using what have been called 'data-driven cycles of collaboration' (Jenlink & Kinnucan-Welsch, 2001; Schnellert et al, 2008) or on the facilitator's skill in managing relationships and nurturing self-efficacy (Borko, 2004).

The analysis presented in this paper relates to our investigation of Quality Teaching Rounds (Bowe, et al., 2010) in four schools in one educational jurisdiction in New South Wales and directly involved 28 teachers and two facilitators.  The QT Rounds approach involves facilitator- led discussions of professional reading and observations of lessons taught by members of school based Professional Learning Communities. These lessons are followed by collaborative analysis of the lesson, led by the facilitator, using Quality Teaching: A Guide to Classroom Practice (NSW DET, 2003) to support professional dialogue and learning. In order to test the sustainability and capacity building aims of this form of professional development, the external facilitator was gradually withdrawn from rounds days during the second and third years of its implementation.

 In this paper, we draw on data sources that include: field notes written by the participant observer facilitators, audio recordings of teacher analysis sessions, reflective journals, and interviews. In addition to outlining the different approaches taken by the external facilitators, our focus is on identifying those facilitation strategies which according to the teachers, impacted on their learning, as evident in improvements in the quality of their conversations and analysis of practice. Most striking were teachers' accounts of how the concepts, language and coding processes associated with Quality Teaching did the 'heavy lifting' of negotiating agreement and meaning making across diverse groups of teachers  and, in so doing, challenges the need for serious investment in external facilitation (McWilliam, 2008) that has dominated literature on facilitation.