Teachers’ Voices: In Constant ExplorationDusi, Sità, Tacconi, GirelliVerona University Responsability, Challenge and Support in Teacher Life-Long Professional Development Atee Budapest 2010
Introduction The research began with a basic question: “What does your job consist of?”. Data source: The corpus includes the texts of 35 interviews (research involved 8 pre-school teachers, 11 primary school, 8 from middle school, 8 from high school), with each interview being repeated twice and lasting from 1 up to 3 hours each.
1. Theoretical framework The present study makes use of the experience of research based on narrative methods (Connelly, Clandinin, 1988; 2000; Van Manen, 1995; Shulman, 2004) that focus on documenting knowledge of practice.
2. Epistemological perspective “A pragmatist (…) leans towards concreteness and adaptability, facts and actions, and towards the possibility of acting” (James, 1978: 33). Along with Deweyan pragmatism – which posits human experience in the centre – the phenomenological approach in which it is fundamental to have the experience of the person being spoken of was used (Mortari, 2009).
Phenomenological method The phenomenological method of describing allows for a research of the “essence of lived experiences” (Husserl, 2002:175) of the main actors in teaching, so as to throw light on the essential qualities of the phenomenon under investigation and to understand the meanings that teachers elaborate in the context of the practice of their profession.
Technique The research technique of qualitative conversational interviews was employed. The fundamental guiding criterion during analysis of the data was faithfulness to the descriptions provided by the participants
4. Results: two macro-areas: i. Acting in class and ii. Conditions facilitating teachers’ actions. • i. Practices: • Focusing on experience.. • Nurturing thinking processes. • Seeking sense in learning. • Creating a sense of community: the place of learning relationship.
Results: ii. Conditions • Remaining in dialogue with the situation. • Constant exploration. • Creating pluralistic professionalism. • Creating educational alliances.
Teachers’ Life-Long Professional Development Analysis of the descriptions led to an identification of constituent extended qualities of this essential dimension – being in constant exploration – of the phenomenon under investigation which are: • thinking in order to teach; • cultivating one’s own being; • educating oneself and letting oneself be educated.
Professional Development: Educating oneself and getting oneself be educated i) learn from experience; ii) let themselves be educated and transformed – in their relationships with others (mentors, colleagues, students); iii) become agents of their own training; iv) educating themselves by educating other teachers.
(i) Learning from experience. What makes the difference is trying to see what works, and it is in the field that one truly improves because there are theoretical acquisitions and they are important, … but they are not useful until you let them become part of your mental habit and truly experiment with them. Reflecting on what you have done, you say: “Would you look at that, here it went well for this or some other reason, instead it didn’t work here, but perhaps it should have been done in another way!” So you try, you make changes; it is truly by reflecting that you gain experience, since strategies are all good and well, but it is through reflection that they become professional experience (P4/48).
(ii) Letting oneself be educated and transformed – in relationships with others. The principal of our school knew very well the programme and what a teacher required: putting us together so that we could say out loud what we did, what we thought, the meaning we gave to certain activities, why we did we choose certain projects over others, why did we firmly believe in inter-relationships. Why we have open classes, laboratory work in the afternoon instead of the morning. These encounters helped us a lot to think out our practices, the invitation to speak out loud, to explain the why of what we did … Each choice had to be motivated by everyone through sharing, and this help us to understand what we meant by schooling. This guarantees development for all us teachers, it was a moment of professional growth (I8-175).
(iii) Becoming agents of one’s own training. When there is a problem, you can act in many ways, based on the problem, I asked my colleagues, I looked in the books, I talked with a neuropsychiatrist, I went and reconstructed the facts of a child’s history from past documentation (I6/282).
(iv) Training oneself by training other teachers. Working on the training of teachers has always put me in the position of studying, of reorganizing my own thoughts, of confronting myself with what has already been written (…) Training has also put me in confrontation with others, outside, this has made me more rigorous. It has led me to experiment in class, because I have always had to verify the efficacy of what I propose to others first (M1/76).
Significance Research that investigates phenomena in their specificity certainly does not lead to a general type of knowledge, but rather an “exemplar knowledge” (Mortari, 2010: 12).