A New Focus on Professional
Teachers are using
their classrooms as labs to better understand their
By Judith Millen and Jill Bell
A growing number of teachers are
asking how professional learning can be improved and
expanded to be more sensitive to teachers
needs, especially in this era of change. Educators
believe both professional and personal growth should
be considered when contemplating additional
Teachers Federation and its affiliates, and
some universities offering AQs, have gone back to the
drawing board to see if there are ways that
professional learning can be reconsidered and made
more relevant to teachers. At the University of Western Ontario, for example, a
different structure is being tested where teachers
have the option of taking a series of shorter modules
for professional enrichment.
College of Teachers has a legislated mandate to
address the issue of ongoing professional learning.
Part of this mandate will involve the development of
a professional learning framework.
Still, much of
the new thinking about professional learning
no matter what structure the alternatives take
must assume these few basic considerations:
professional learning should actively involve
teachers as partners in their own learning. Active
involvement makes teachers responsible for what they
learn and is exemplified by the Adult Learning Model.
This recognizes the vast experience and knowledge of
all the people involved
should set the stage for teachers to work
collaboratively on many levels. In this way teachers
and academics are able to share their expertise
inside and outside schools and to learn from each
should be reflective if it is to become instrumental
in shaping positive change for teachers working
lives. Teachers need time to look at the ways that
their work is constructed for them and how they
construct it. These moments of understanding make
Approach to Professional Development
program based on this new model for professional
learning is the one offered by three co-operatives
that link York Universitys faculty of education
with school boards in the Greater Toronto Area. This
model for AQs offers a dynamic and integrated
structure for professional learning that has two key
differences from other models in the province:
are asked to be actively involved in their learning.
In this alternative approach, teachers engage in
"teacher research" or "teacher
inquiry" for approximately half of the 125
mandated hours of AQ study
model is offered over an extended timeline to allow
for critical reflection.
research is not new. It has been discussed in
academic circles and education faculties since the
early 1980s. However, the way these co-operatives
actively practise teacher research on such a large
scale is new.
The model is
based on teacher inquiry and reflection. Teachers are
asked to use their classrooms as their labs in order
to expand their understanding of how and why they do
what they do. It is a practice-based model that
brings together the theory of good teaching with the
actual practices of the teachers in the program.
The inquiry is
generally initiated with a question that sets the
focus for the teachers research and that is
centred in the teachers classroom or schooling
environment. For example, a teacher might choose to
examine the structure and impact of her questioning
for girls and for boys. Another might choose to work
collaboratively with a secondary school colleague to
look at reading with senior student assistants.
collected for such inquiry is the every day data of
teachers lives and is complemented with
secondary sources in pedagogical theory. The
revelations of the research, then, set up the
conditions for change and transformation as
necessary. The research allows for focus and insight.
Any change that
results comes as a self-reflective response to
investigating some features of teachers own
work habits rather than a top down directive. For
instance, teachers might have the insight that they
have to modify their questioning to include more
girls or they might see how much more work on
bridging between school panels is necessary for the
sake of their students. Teachers become the agents of
their own professional growth in an interactive and
dynamic way and are, as they should be, the authors
of the insights into their own professional
become partners with the instructional leaders of
their programs rather than empty vessels into which
information is poured.
With all of
these new expectations in place, the co-operatives
were quick to realize that if the program was to have
integrity, the process would take time. Teachers
cannot absorb and integrate, reflect and share, with
an eye to real improvement of their teaching
practices if they dont give themselves enough
time to focus on the material.
lasting professional change cannot be a quick fix.
Consequently, the co-operative fashioned a timeline
that usually begins with a one-week intensive session
in August five days, seven hours a day
and then reconvenes in the fall/winter for weeknight
sessions every second week until February.
During the fall
and winter, teachers are compiling their data and
producing findings for presentation at the conclusion
of the program. This structure does several things.
It allows teachers to:
vital questions and to work with them without undue
haste. There is time for false starts and
reconsideration. There is time for people to change
their minds and start again
their data in a comfortable manner and in real
settings, that is, school
significant connections with their peers in the
together a presentation of their findings based on
extended collaboration with their peers
time to use the Adult Learning Model to share their
expertise in a congenial environment of trust
the current theory and practices introduced as they
become relevant to the issues at hand.
has been positive. Teachers are busy people and
sometimes feel afraid that this new timeline will be
too difficult. For many, however, their fears are
allayed as they become interested in a critical
analysis of their own classroom experiences as a
result of the research.
that the habit of reflection stays with them even
after the program is over. Some have commented that
this is the best kind of example of life long
not for everyone, this new program is definitely
enhancing the lives of teachers in positive ways.
Judith Millen taught high
school English in Nipissing and Toronto and is now a
researcher/consultant in teachers professional
learning specializing in additional qualifications.
Jill Bell is associate dean of York
faculty of education. She can be reached at email@example.com