Teacher learning and development in primary schools: a view gained through the National Education Monitoring project
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Today's teachers work in exhausting times. Curriculum and assessment change has been unrelenting and even the most conscientious teachers often feel overwhelmed. At national and local levels, professional development programmes have assisted teachers to address these changes and a number of approaches have been adopted. However, while teachers have engaged in professional development programmes, the actual benefits to classroom teaching and learning have been less certain. The quantity and frantic pace of these changes have worked against the achievement of quality outcomes. This thesis makes an important contribution to existing knowledge about professional development practice because it investigates teachers' experiences of educational change and school improvement processes to show what is both helping and hindering teachers as learners. The findings suggest that currently many schools are not effective learning organisations. This research uses the example of the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) reports to explore teacher learning processes in action. It is argued that the impact of the NEMP reports and their assessment information is being compromised because classroom teachers are already fully committed to curriculum document developments mandated by the Ministry of Education. In fact all professional development projects are faced with the same dilemma that schools are working with multiple projects at the same time. While this continues to happen the potential benefits of the NEMP reports as assessment exemplars for effective assessment practice remain unrealised because teachers' time is drawn to so many other competing priorities. It is this reality which now makes answers to key questions about teacher learning especially important. These questions concern who makes the decisions about what it is that teachers should be learning and how this learning might be presented to them. It is a matter of concern that teachers are cast as 'victims of change' and decisions about their learning largely determined by others. Rather than helping schools to help themselves and become 'agents' of change, this practice increases teachers' dependence on others for learning. A three stage approach to data collection is used in order to suggest improvements to current practice in professional development for teachers. This begins with questionnaire surveys to establish baseline data on the impact of the NEMP reports on classroom teachers in the Canterbury region. From this information an intervention is introduced to eight teachers who share a quality learning circle experience in order to learn more about the NEMP reports. Then observations and interviews of teachers in case study schools show teacher learning in action and reveal the strengths and weaknesses of current professional development experiences within schools. It is argued that the future effectiveness of schools will depend upon their capacity to determine their own learning needs and then find ways of addressing them. Schools will therefore need to acquire a more extensive repertoire of data gathering and analysis skills if they are to know how they can make significant improvements and not just duplicate what others find suitable for other settings. It is argued that improvements to teacher learning and development must address the focus of how teachers learn and will require a major review of how schools are structured and organised for teacher learning. Different arrangements will be required to allow 'learner centred' practice and the emergence of teacher learning communities from within schools. Schools will stand a better chance of being learning organisations when steps are taken to remedy the current structural arrangements which at the moment work against quality learning for teachers.