By Sara Berenguer, Assistant Head of Primary at Regents International School, Pattaya
Professional development in education for many years was organized around a received wisdom model of training – that of the teacher as a ‘cook’ following a recipe. Although teachers continued to be required to produce certificates of courses or workshop attendance as evidence of their professional development, leading edge practice started a shift towards a model of critical reflection in one’s own pedagogy. Evidence points to this shift becoming more and more evident in mainstream educational practice by the early 1990’s with many educational specialists arguing that its increasing popularity and relevance was as a result of the dynamic changes in the world and society at this time. ‘Practitioner Enquiry’, ‘Action Research’ and ‘Lesson Study’ are now familiar terms in international education. Although there are various definitions of what constitutes these models, they all involve research and reflection with the aim of fostering teacher-led approaches to build a culture of critical evaluation determining professional practice. It is considered that they differ from formal research under taken in higher education institutions as teachers themselves undertake them as part of their working hours.
Continuing discussion focuses on whether practitioner enquiry as a professional development model is an effective and worthwhile approach to school improvement. Whilst there are many studies advocating practitioner enquiry as an important factor in school improvement, critiques of its impact are also evident. These counter arguments focus on the limited power of enquiry to effect change in educational practice, the barriers inherent in many schools and the effectiveness of enquiry models themselves. Many other critiques focus on the lack of evidence that the practice of teacher enquiry leads to significantly improved data for pupil attainment.
However, advocates for a professional enquiry model argue that at its most successful, it promotes collaboration, a professional learning community, a climate of trust, pedagogical change, risk taking, interaction with current research and a critical approach to practice. Many consider that the process of enquiry itself can provide a major source of learning when hand in hand with practitioner training in research techniques and data processes to evidence positive outcomes. There is also growing evidence that practitioner enquiry in a collaborative environment can boost a teacher’s belief in their efficacy (or ability to positively effect positive pupil outcomes) leading to improved performance, a happy working climate and a strong sense of job challenge; all contributing factors to increased teacher retention.
At Regents International School, we have found that practitioner enquiry within the right conditions allows an engagement with practice which is critical, creative and context driven – when enquiry is linked with school development need, rather than teacher interest. Time and investment from school leadership has been essential for the success of this model with leaders being highly visible and mentorship from experienced middle leaders offering the most effective support.
For many schools, the practitioner enquiry form of professional development is a model for the inquiry based, risk taking collaborative learning that they strive to facilitate for their students.