Commentary: Conference 2009
This Commentary was provided for our website in advance of the 2009 Annual Conference by Ian Menter. We gratefully appreciate Ian's contribution of extracts from his keynote presentation.
Research, policy and practice in professional education for teachers: a Scottish/UK perspective
Extracts from ESAI keynote presentation given at Kilkenny, 3 April 2009
Ian Menter, Chair of Teacher Education, University of Glasgow
In this presentation I will be considering the relationship between policy, practice and research in the context of teacher development and the professional knowledge of teachers.
As well as drawing on a study carried out for the Teaching and Learning Research Programme on ‘Learning to Teach in post-devolution UK’, I will also be making reference to a number of other TLRP studies that were concerned with teacher learning and development. For an event held last November in London, Martin Jephcote (University of Cardiff) and I were asked to provide an overview of seven TLRP projects that focused on teachers.
These include projects in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland as well as England and covered all sectors, from primary through to FE.
We drew five broad conclusions from our overview:
- TLRP research indicates that levels of commitment and resilience are influenced by many factors, including teachers’ own background, their initial professional education and induction and the learning environment within which they are working.
- The nature of teacher learning varies during their careers, with different needs being identified during different professional life phases. Cognitive learning processes may be less significant than emotional and relational aspects, especially during the early stages.
- The impact of the high priority given to narrowly-focused learning outcomes has been found to be restrictive to teachers’ identities and professionalism.
- The extent to which the values basis of teaching is addressed varies across different contexts, but teacher identity is more positive where such matters are a common subject for professional discussion.
- It is important for teachers to be provided with opportunities to undertake reflective, collaborative, classroom-focused inquiry in order to develop a well-informed approach to their own learning journey or trajectory. Approaches to initial teacher education and continuing professional development across the UK should aim to support teachers in this way.
These are in essence research findings, so we might ask is there any evidence of them impacting on policy and/or practice? There is certainly some evidence, at least in Scotland, that the possibility for enhanced teacher professionalism is re-emerging. Examples to be cited will include the teacher induction scheme, the Chartered Teacher programme and the major curriculum reform that is currently under way.
The presentation will conclude by reflecting on the continuing role of teachers in this rapidly changing world where so much social development is influenced by global economics. How can we develop a sense of what reasonable expectations of teachers might be and how does that connect with the questions of teacher identity and professionalism?
To the extent that we do now experience an ‘information society’ and a ‘knowledge-based economy’, then the roles and responsibilities of teachers would seem to be as great, if not greater, than ever. But given that the learning of young people, while being a predominantly social process, involving language and interaction, is associated with the individual destiny of each and every young person, then a standards-based, technicised approach is unlikely to be responsive either to social contexts or to individual needs.
In this light it is more important than ever that teachers are seen to be workers whose judgements and actions are of great social significance. Teachers will need skills of enquiry and evaluation, skills of analysis, synthesis and action. They will need to be able to contribute significantly to the development of education policy and practice, through networks of professional discourse, research and development. Few, if any, would question the principle of accountability in teaching, but accountability can take many forms other than simplistic inspection systems or regimes of performativity. Accountability within democratic societies must start from a shared commitment to challenging assumptions and asking critical questions, questions based on the values of a democratic society, including social justice, and the valuing and sustaining of human life.
Such a call does not make teaching an easy occupation, indeed quite the reverse. The challenges for all stakeholders, including teacher unions, teaching councils, governments (local, national and transnational), communities and teacher education institutions, are considerable. And the challenges for teacher educators and for teachers themselves are also greater than ever. If during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, teaching could be seen as playing a key role in the project of modernity that emerged with industrialisation, then teaching in the 21st century, a century characterised (so far) by uncertainty and change and instability, must be seen as a complex, multi-layered and multi-faceted occupation where responsiveness and flexibility, the ability to make informed judgements and to apply imagination, are all essential requirements.