Area of professional learning
I teach in a primary school in the interior part of western Kenya. The school has a population of about seven hundred pupils with seventeen teachers- all certificate holders. Nine of the teachers are members of the English panel who have been in the profession for over ten years but have not undergone any professional learning. These teachers continue to implement traditional methods of teaching they have utilized since the start of their career. Adding to this is the highly individualistic nature of teaching in my station resulting in limited access to new ideas. There are currently no programs that exist to bring together experienced teachers to study effective teaching practices. This paper describes a plan of action for continuous teacher learning through collaborative reflective practice as away through which English teachers in my station can systematically improve instruction and decrease teacher isolation.
Area of professional learning
Collaborative reflective practice is a means by which practitioners interrogate their practice, identify their own bias and become more open and accepting of new perspectives about their practice(Peters & Gray, 2007). Collaborative reflective practice skills prompt teachers to deconstruct classroom experiences and reconstruct a new meaning in the way that transforms understandings to change practice (Chitpin, 2006).This promotes teacher learning since it develops a greater level of self-awareness about the nature and impact of their performance. Further, it provides teachers with maximum opportunities and focused time to dialogue about instructional delivery which in turn fosters teacher ownership in relation to school improvement (Wadhwa, 2008).
As Hoban (2002) argues, instructional practices can only be changed through examination of teaching practice and its impact on student learning. In order for this to occur, teachers systematically study teaching strategies through regular time together to talk, and cooperatively compare ideas with each other. This helps them to develop a more critical view of their own approach and apply these reflections on their future plans and actions. When collaborative reflection is practiced, classrooms become an open and safe non-judgmental place where teachers’ work can be positively critiqued. This eventually deals with the extreme levels of professional isolation which are inherent in the culture of teaching hence substantive gains in student achievement.
Collaborative reflective approach draws on works which explore experiential learning. Theorists, including Dewey, maintain that learning is most effective and likely to lead to behavioral change, when it begins with a problematic experience and critical inquiry into the experience. This view has been supported by Loughran (2002)who contends that reflections involve an inner mental scrutiny which seeks a fuller, more reliable view of the nature of reality through critical inquiry as an approach to classroom instruction which prompt teachers to construct, deconstruct and reconstruct their instructional methods (Chitpin 2006).
One of the fundamental assumptions that reflective teaching builds is that professional development is something done by teachers, not done to them (Hargreaves, 2005). Therefore, a key characteristic of reflective teachers is that they take responsibility for their own professional development. Speck (2008) observes that change in practice cannot be implemented top down, but must emanate from within those for whom the change is intended. Therefore, collaborative reflections imply a cognitive renewal where newperception enables teachers to move beyond existing thinking and construct deeper understanding. This creates the essential conditions for a constructive spiral of professional development that does not stop during a teacher’s career (Keay, 2007).
For long-term change efforts, there is need for collaboration between teachers in the reflective practice who eventually form a community of learners who meet regularly and share ideas about their teaching practice. Elmore (2004) supports such social nature of learning. He argues that when teachers share their ideas with colleagues and listen to different perspectives, they gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of their own personal experiences. The implication is that when these ideas are put into action, it gives teachers more meaning because of understanding the consequences of the action. This social condition for learning views the notion of community as ‘sharing in each other’s activities and experiences because they have a common objective which is school improvement. Reflective practitioners use the knowledge they gain through continued collective inquiry and analysis to refine instruction. However, individual reflection produces less effective practitioners whereas collective reflection produces practitioners who engage in community discussions hence making sense of their own teaching (Kuit, Reay, & Freeman, 2001).Thus, looked in this light, it can be argued that the success of such professional development lies not just in any reflection, but a critically collaborative reflective approach.
Raber (2008) challenges the view of sharing ideas and putting these ideas into practice by teachers as a community. He argues that although this may help teachers gain a deeper understanding of what they do; their thinking is limited to the experiences of the group and their actions within their own setting. Therefore, to move beyond their experiences, they need new alternative ideas to extend their understanding of practice. Hargreaves (2005) called these alternatives ‘conceptual inputs’ which enrich community discussions by introducing ideas beyond the way participants usually frame their practice. This input of new ideas helps teachers to think outside the context they teach in. Examples of conceptual inputs include knowledge sources such as, research articles or books, the views of teacher educators, information from professional journals, radio and television programs and action research.
For effective collaborative reflective practice to occur, feedback of a change effort is important (Wadhwa, 2008). A major source of feedback for teachers is data from their own students which determine the success or failure of their effort. Consequently this feedback is likely to drive teacher learning. Hoban (2002) asserts that to be critically reflective teachers, means to identify and scrutinize the assumptions that undergird how teachers work. One way to do this is to seek feedback from students encouraging them to use students’ portfolios, questionnaires and by actively seeking their honest comments.
Although Davis (2003) acknowledges reflective practice as the route to deeper understanding of the teaching practice, he points out that potential challenges are bound to be a barrier to effective reflective practice. Such challenges include lack of resources, lack of appreciation and overwork. Knowledge of these barriers should help an initiator of reflective practice to look for ways to address these challenges before implementing collaborative reflective practice.
As the English panel head in my school, I will initiate the program by sensitizing the head teacher about the new teacher learning program for English teachers and how it is going to benefit the school. The head teacher will disseminate the information to the entire staff since it requires coordinated effort for its success. Supportive resources for the program include time, a free class for our meetings, and diaries for journaling and our mobile phones for video-recording. A small team of nine teachers from the English panel will champion the program. We shall schedule meetings through which we shall discuss the content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge required for an effective English teacher. Subsequent meetings will involve discussions and demonstrations with teachers before involving learners. In turns, each teacher will demonstrate a class lesson while others will reflect and offer constructive criticisms. Structured feedback will be discussed and documenting in journals will be demonstrated. These should happen twice a week for two months.
In the next five months, a series of lessons will take place where the first lesson will be used for improvement in the proceeding lessons. Panel members will team up in groups of three’s and collaboratively identify learning goals for different skills to be taught then design a lesson which will be implemented in a regular classroom time. As one teacher implements the lesson, another will be observing the level of student engagement whereas the third teacher will capture the proceedings of the lesson using a mobile phone. After the lesson, the teachers will use focused questioning strategy with learners to serve as feedback to determine the effectiveness of the lesson.
Thereafter, the group will convene a formal debrief session. Teachers will use these meetings to critically analyze the data collected from classroom observations and to identify areas of improvement for future lessons. They will also review instructional strategies that increase student understanding to inform the next steps in their continued collaborative reflective work. Specifically, there will be listening, observing and assessing the performance from video –taped lessons. This being the first time to video-record our lessons, it will be an exciting moment for teachers to watch what went on in different classes using the mobile phone technology. At this point, we may invite the head teacher and the deputy to our meetings to see our progress. Teachers who may not be making progress will watch some successful video lessons and be advised accordingly by panel members as an intervention strategy.
There will be regular monitoring and evaluation through panel meetings. We shall listen to journal articles written by teachers; observe video-recorded lessons and sample information from questionnaires to serve as feedback. Improved instructional methods culminating in improved learner outcome from student feedback will be important to determine the success of the program.
Finally, if the program is successful, we shall institutionalize the plan and request to change the program from a project of English teachers to involve all staff members. This should be done in the last four months because in my context, primary teachers do not specialize in any subject. Besides teaching English, they teach any other subject allocated to them. The events of the English panel will form a basis for adoption in other subjects. The skills learnt could be integrated in the other subjects they teach hence making it our school culture.
Although reflective practice has been considered challenging because of the many activities required, I consider implementing it as a teacher learning strategy because of the growing evidence of its success in other contexts.
Chitpin, S. (2006).The use of reflective journal keeping in a teacher education program : a Popperian analysis. Reflective practice, 7 (1), 73.86
Davis, M. (2003). Barriers to Reflective Practice: The Changing Nature of Higher Education. Active Learning in Higher Education, 4 (3), 243–255. doi:10.1177/14697874030043004
Elmore, R. F. (2004). School reform from the inside out: policy, practice, and performance. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Education Press.
Hargreaves, A. (2005). Collaboration: Critical Teacher development in postmodern age. London: Cassel.
Hoban, G. F. (2002). Teacher learning for educational change: a systems thinking approach. Buckingham [England] ; Philadelphia: Open University Press.
Keay, J. (2007). Learning from other teachers: Gender influences. European Physical Education Review, 13 (2), 209–227. doi:10.1177/1356336X07076879
Kuit, J. A., Reay, G., & Freeman, R. (2001). Experiences of Reflective Teaching. Active Learning in Higher Education, 2 (2), 128–142. doi:10.1177/1469787401002002004
Loughran, J. J. (2002). Effective Reflective Practice: In Search of Meaning in Learning about Teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53 (1), 33–43. doi:10.1177/0022487102053001004
Peters, J. M., & Gray, A. (2007). Teaching and learning in a model-based action research course. Action Research, 5 (3), 319–331. doi:10.1177/1476750307081021
Raber Hedberg, P. (2008). Learning Through Reflective Classroom Practice: Applications to Educate the Reflective Manager. Journal of Management Education, 33 (1), 10–36. doi:10.1177/1052562908316714
Speck, B. W. (2008). Collaborative writing: an annotated bibliography. [S.l.]: Information Age Pub Inc.
Wadhwa, S. (2008). A handbook of teaching and learning. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons.