A teacher-in-residence approach to in-service.
Current approaches to professional learning for teachers seek to harmonize development activities with the demands of classroom practice and system-wide efforts to improve. The need for high quality learning experiences, on-site, which make the links between theory (aspiration) and practice (performance) relevant and real presents a challenge for in-service providers. Teacher-in-residence is a promising approach that engages teachers in a critical examination of new methods of teaching focused on the integration of health with academic study.
The gap in professional learning
The education community knows enough about what constitutes good pedagogy to ensure almost all children grasp almost all the material deemed worth knowing to graduate (Marzano, 2003). Our challenge or gap is to ensure all children enjoy the benefits of this knowledge and skill. The gap is not just between schools and countries, it is our gap in finding ways to equitably disseminate our knowledge of effective practice such that teachers can access and use this knowledge appropriately.
What we know, with some confidence, is that improvements in teaching are more likely to occur when learning is embedded in teachers' current practices (Hawley and Valli, 1999; Smylie, Allensworth, Greenberg, Harris, Luppescu, 2001). Teachers want to make sense of what they are doing, how their children respond to their practice and in light of these insights, and to then consider the implications their actions have for lesson design, class management, routines, student-to-student-to-teacher interactions. Accordingly, changes are be interpreted in relation to the culture in which they are expected to function.
Showers and Joyce, (1995) noted that teacher efficacy is enhanced when teachers have opportunities to see new approaches modeled, practice them, engage in peer coaching, acclimate students to new ways of learning, and use new teaching and learning strategies regularly and appropriately. Being successful with new practices brings about a sense of confidence and willingness to participate in other change efforts (Guskey, 1995; Smylie, 1995). Smylie, et al, (2001) identified core elements that describe effective teacher development as:
a) Experiential, engaging teachers in concrete tasks of teaching, assessment and observation.
b) Grounded in participants' questions, inquiry, and experimentation as well as research on effective practice.
c) Collaboration, involving sharing of knowledge among educators.
d) Connected to and derived from teachers' work with their students as well as connected to examination of subject matter and teaching methods.
e) Connected to other aspects of school improvement in a coherent manner.
The advent of professional learning communities promoted by Senge (1990) and Fullan, (2005) these core elements. Senge (1990) defined the learning organization as a place where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are matured, where collective aspiration is set free and where people continually learn how to learn together. In a professional learning community (PLC) teachers learn about a new idea, try it in their classrooms, reflect on it, talk about the results with their colleagues, and then fine-tune it and try it again. The PLC makes evident the importance of teachers being open to new ideas, sharing their work and supporting school-wide efforts to improve teaching as a fundamental part of school improvement and student achievement.
Professional development focused on teacher learning points to a shift from the notion of teaching as service delivery to knowledge-building; from central-authority driven reform to localized explorations of reform needs and interests; from teaching in isolation to teaching as a community of learners. The theories of teaching acclaimed by Shulman (1986) for his delineation of teachers as knowledge workers (the application of certain bodies of knowledge such as subject matter knowledge, knowledge of curriculum, knowledge of management techniques, pedagogical content knowledge, knowledge of students to the complex and diverse problems of day-to-day practice) lead inspired approaches to professional development which cast teachers in roles of inquiry that inform both theory and practice. The formation of professional learning communities has encouraged teachers to not only open their minds to an array of possibilities for how they might think about their work, but as importantly, to open their classroom doors to other teachers. Attending to each others' practice as a laboratory for new ideas honours the work of teachers as the host to creativity.
Teacher in Residence Defined
The Teacher in Residence concept portrayed in this study reflects many of the core principles of teacher learning presented above. Additionally, we learned that the intimacy of working collaboratively with new ideas brings to light a number of critical issues that are at the heart of effective teaching and school effectiveness. The TIR process underlines the significance of teacher learning as an integral part of educational reform and the wide-spread impact instructional changes might have on students, teachers, the way schools operate and beliefs about the overall purpose of schools.
We defined Teacher-in-Residence (TIR) as a highly qualified, experienced teacher thoroughly prepared to demonstrate the progressive methods of instruction proposed in the Caribbean Health and Family Life Education curriculum guidelines. Integral to these demonstration activities, the TIR served as a mentor and coach to other teachers throughout the school to encourage and support their efforts to incorporate alternative teaching methods into their existing academic programs. The term teacher in residence is not found in the literature (although conceptually close terms such as artist in residence, doctors in residence are familiar terms). Reviewers are more likely to find words such as mentor, coach, trainer, consultant, and peer teacher to describe the various ways collegial support might be organized to promote improvements. In this project, we tried to identify a role an experienced and accomplished teacher might play to support change but also have the flexibility and credibility to work with Ministry officials, educational administrators and teachers to inspire and activate change.
The idea of a Teacher in Residence is constructed around the belief that excellence in teaching is learned in context, in the company of other professionals, as part of ongoing efforts within a professional learning community to ensure all students get the most out their educational experience at school. More specifically, the Teacher in Residence approach was designed to help teachers:
a) Relate learning about health (care for self and others) to the overall improvements in students' ability to think critically and apply knowledge and skills to the realities of day-to-day living.
b) Relate academic knowledge to health issues (e.g., writing poetry to speak-out against unsafe environments).
c) Learn new methods of teaching health, on site.
The study was located in a primary school (K-8) in St. John's, the capital of Antigua, for a period of six weeks--April/May 2005. This school has approximately 300 children and is located in a working-class community. Classrooms lack teaching materials such as paper and textbooks, library books, and adequate furniture. Often the roofs leak. Teachers' salaries are so low, a second job is needed to make ends meet. Professional development for teachers is almost non-existent, fragmented and determined by the Ministry of Education.
The TIR, engaged in this project, is a newly retired teacher who has taught in Canada for 30 years. He was born and raised in Antigua and is deeply committed to working with educators and young people.
The Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) program, developed by CARICOM countries and the Pan American Health Organization, proposes the adoption of progressive methods of teaching which promote interactive learning. HFLE project is a life skills based program that focuses on the development of the whole, resilient person. These life skills include problem-solving, decision-making, critical and creative thinking, self-awareness, developing empathy, coping with emotions, and refusal skills.
Teacher in Residence Methods
The TIR focused on the use of methods that encouraged the intertwining of subject matter knowledge from a variety of sources--disciplinary, experiential and cultural knowledge. Health education became a 'place' where mathematics, science, music, social studies and the language arts--drama, reading, writing, listening, speaking, came together. Students examined health topics in relation to academic concepts, real life situations, and the values that underpin them.
The TIR was careful to present new approaches in a way that made the 'gap' between tradition and these new methods seem within reach. The TIR used the resources the teachers had already, but in a different way. For example, the syllabus was used to identify the topic but the in-class activities were designed with the learners' interests and backgrounds in mind. In the TIR's words, "I try to find out the questions the children have about the topic which then serves as a starting point and pathway to understanding more, to revealing the overlap with other subjects and especially health?"
Students focused on the meaningfulness of learning and making connections between knowing, feeling, and doing. Combining fields of knowledge--language, social studies, science, and of course health allowed the TIR to embed learning in real world events and the children's daily lives.
A closer look at the work of the TIR
The TIR's scheduled visits to classes centered around a simple strategy--Let's Talk. Each topic was introduced with a question, "What do numbers do?" "What are wishes?" "When I say.... what comes to your mind?" "What would you use this....". His purpose was to prompt students to not only think about the question, but to become familiar with these types of questions and to adopt the use of these questions themselves as they further explore topics of interest or subject study or as part of active learning in their daily lives. The thinking he wanted to elicit was beyond recall. He wanted students to apply, synthesize, imagine, anticipate, elaborate, and in the process to question their own assumptions and understandings thereby prompting a more sophisticated understanding of the material.
Drawing on children's life experiences as a starting point for learning, they were encouraged to explain their reasoning, to give examples of how their ideas related to real life, and to build on other children's ideas. "Tell me more about that idea" "What made you think that was true" "Can someone convince me that....". These methods were in sharp contrast to the traditional chalk and talk methods used throughout the island.
Data Collection Procedures
The collection procedures were designed to yield qualitative insights about the relationship the TIR had with teachers who are working in classrooms where resources (support for teacher learning, school materials) are in short supply. Reported here are teachers' descriptions and responses to semi-structured interview questions about the experience of working with a TIR. Eight teachers at the host school, who were actively engaged in developmental activities with the TIR, were interviewed individually at the school to learn more about their reactions to seeing their children in different learning situations, their feelings about whether they could adopt the use of these interactive methods, and their concerns about the 'ripple effects of teaching in new ways. The school headmaster was also interviewed to learn more about the efficacy and implications of a TIR approach to professional learning. Videotaped observations of the TIR-in-action along with ongoing reflective journal entries by the TIR comprised a comprehensive and detailed account of (a) planned and unplanned TIR activity in classrooms, with students and teachers; (b) teachers' responses to the TIR in their classroom; and (c) an administrator's perceptions of the TIR as professional development.
Findings about the TIR experience
Four thematic issues emerged from our analysis of the responses, observations, and ongoing discussions with participants and the TIR.
Time for learning--The teachers noted the lengths the TIR went to, to 'stage the learning' around a problem. Sometimes he read a story or a poem, put a puzzle on the board or simply asked the students to teach him what they were learning. "It was often several minutes before the students knew whether they were doing social studies or health or some other subject." One teacher noted that she allowed the class to go beyond the normal time period to allow the TIR and the children to more fully work through the lesson. She did this because as she says, "what was happening was so wonderful, I was amazed at what the children were doing, it was too good to stop." Time for learning does not always neatly fit the timetable.
System demands--Teachers felt compelled to follow timetables rigidly. The TIRs use of integrated learning methods blurred the lines between subjects to the extent they didn't know when language class ended and science began, with concerns about health in the middle of it all. Teachers agreed the methods he demonstrated had benefits, but, at the same time they felt the system would not allow them this sort of flexibility. "We have to hand in lesson plans to the headmaster to show him we are following the syllabus, covering the material and getting ready for the tests". The headmaster affirmed this during his interview when he cautioned, "these methods are very good but they have to be channeled towards the expectations set out by the ministry". System demands may be a barrier to innovation.
Teachers learning together--About half the staff (8 teachers) embraced the opportunity to work collaboratively with the TIR to try different techniques for questioning, group work, integrating health and literacy, assessment, and class management strategies that emphasized relationships where ideas and opinions are respected. Others eavesdropped, looked in on classes, or participated in discussions in the corridors and preparation areas. The idea of 'listening in' on other teachers and openly talking about new methods was uncommon. Typically, teachers protect their classrooms, as the methods residence teachers used were highly personalized and subjective. "This is the way I do it, I wasn't taught or shown how, nobody told me to do it this way, I just do it this way." The TIR enjoyed the professional discourse that ensued around techniques such as the use of drama to introduce a story; blending social studies, health and science; inviting students to work together to solve a problem. The phrase, "lets talk" suited teachers also. What is important to note is that the teachers recognized 'closed' learning environments for both students and teachers was not conducive to optimal learning. Learning to work and learn together as an integral part of the school culture could be one of the keys to educational reform in Antigua.
Integration as a gateway to reform--The methods the TIR presented stand in contrast to the traditional methods of instruction and beliefs about learning that have dominated schooling in Antigua for decades. Integrating health across the curriculum "opened teachers' eyes" to the possibilities for how teaching and learning using leading-edge methods might operate in their schools and how a transition to new methods might unfold and be supported locally and internationally. Alternative methods opened teachers' minds to the possibilities that lie within them as educators and the potential that lies beyond "old fashion" methods.
A new teacher spoke candidly about her initiation to teaching: "The day after I was hired, I was in the classroom. A syllabus was the only guideline presented. Other teachers and the headmaster had little to offer in the way of direction or support. I was lost for weeks, trying to figure out how to teach." She admitted she is on the verge of resigning after a few months of teaching. The TIR program has given her "new hope". In her words, "these are the kind of methods I wanted to learn, it makes teaching more rewarding for the children and the teacher".
Exposure to integrative teaching methods made evident 'gaps' in children's understanding of the material. In language classes for example, preoccupation with the mechanics of language failed to prepare students for the artistic and interpretive qualities of language. Students struggled to write beyond awkward, simplistic sentences. Basic storywriting and poetry compositions exposed their inexperience and lack of preparation for these tasks. Students were often ashamed to show their early attempts at poetry writing, but as the weeks progressed, students' skills and pride grew.
The TIR approach was situated in the context, culture and community in which it was to be realized. Under these circumstances, existing structures and their limitations become apparent. Teachers began to question timetable rigidity, the use of the syllabus as the only curriculum guide, routines, questioning techniques, methods of assessment and their reliance on chalk and talk methods. That said, situated learning appears to hold considerable promise for not only the effective deployment of new methods, but for on-going creation of innovative ideas through collective and joint initiatives within schools and school communities.
This project begins an exploration of the benefits, processes, and opportunities for professional development made possible when a highly qualified, experienced teacher thoroughly prepared to demonstrate progressive methods of instruction works in residence--at host schools along side other educators who are learning new methods of instruction. Although this Teacher in Residence initiative is a small project, there do appear to be important opportunities to engage teachers in a form of professional development that respects the realities of their classrooms--their students and their resources. For the teachers involved in this study, working with a trusted, proficient colleague heightened their sense of community and support; thereby reducing some of isolation that typifies many teachers' work environments. It also provided teachers with a professional relationship for discussions about the cultural challenges within schools (e.g., timetable gridlock, reliance on textbooks), and a chance to more closely analyze the implications of new methods in light of existing practices.
This research has been funded by the International Development and Research Center of Canada
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Andy Anderson, University of Toronto, Canada
Vasil Henry, Avon-Maitland School Board--Ontario, Canada
Andy Anderson, Ph.D. is Associate Professor in the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. Vasi Henry, M.Ed.--teacher (retired) Avon-Maitland School Board