Learning about 21st century skills and progressive education through practitioner research (2021)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
Professional development of teachers is fundamental to making changes in classroom practices, yet it is often conducted by outside experts with little understanding of the actual day-to-day context of the school. In order for changes in practice to be long lasting, a shift away from viewing teaching as a technical endeavour toward teaching as a craft is examined in this study. A participatory and collaborative model of practitioner research was used to empower a group of teachers. The school where this research was conducted is a small, independent school that adheres to progressive beliefs and values. Its small classes and responsive curriculum made it possible to implement significant changes to practice. This collaborative approach of practitioner research has come into even greater focus in the 21st Century where the skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and character (the 5Cs) are seen as central to education. Contemporary life requires this diverse set of the 5Cs because citizens will require more than content knowledge to engage with complex and ambiguous problems.
Practitioners at this school where this research was conducted were able identify and implement changes in practice through cyclical reflection and action utilizing Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR). The theoretical framework of social constructivism and interpreted through Constructivist Grounded Theory (CGT) was an effective way to examine and interpret the complex and sometimes elusive teaching outcomes and practices to school communities.
This study connected the practical experiences of teaching and the theories underpinning progressive education to better understand the difficulties of articulating 21st Century skills to a school community in a society heavily influenced by neo- liberalism. The importance of this approach was evident as the group of practitioners first had to take the time to understand collectively their shared views on teaching and learning and then were able to identify problems or issues in their practice that interfered with their goals.
The findings from this study reveal that teachers can make meaningful changes in their practice when given a platform, administrational support, and authentic power to enact the changes they identify. Through the study a framework was developed utilising the three pillars of product, process and power as necessary elements for change, and teacher empowerment in this context.
It appears that unresolvable tensions are important elements of progressive education and although CPAR provides a structure to connect the academic and practical experience of teaching it cannot solve all the tensions that exist. Findings demonstrated how these tensions contributed to the continuation of the cycles of practitioner research. The democratic nature of CPAR empowered the teachers who participated to share their insights and deeper understandings with the wider community. Dialogue and authenticity appear to drive the engagement of participants and were key elements for successful practitioner research in this context.
The fruits of this study included an enhanced capability of teachers to cope with uncertainty in a way that is coherent with the aims of progressive education. Some of the capabilities demonstrated were: a deeper understanding of how to articulate and document the development of 21st Century skills; a shift in the culture; and a building of community in the practitioners who participated. This research contributes to the understanding of teacher learning in the context of 21st Century skills