A Teacher Development Approach to Bridging the Practice‐Research Gap

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  • This article was downloaded by: [ECU Libraries]On: 07 December 2014, At: 18:14Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Journal of Curriculum StudiesPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/tcus20

    A Teacher Development Approach to Bridging thePracticeResearch GapJohn Smyth aa Deakin UniversityPublished online: 29 Sep 2006.

    To cite this article: John Smyth (1982) A Teacher Development Approach to Bridging the PracticeResearch Gap, Journal ofCurriculum Studies, 14:4, 331-342, DOI: 10.1080/0022027820140403

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  • J. CURRICULUM STUDIES, 1982, VOL. 14, NO. 4, 331-342

    A Teacher Development Approach toBridging the Practice-Research Gap

    John SmythDeakin University

    Introduction

    If it is possible to isolate any kind of recognizable theme in education in the 1980s,apart from drastic cuts in funding, it would have to be growing concern anduneasiness about 'qualitative' aspects of schooling. As employment, advancement,and job mobility prospects within the work-place generally (and- teaching moreparticularly) diminish, pressures are mounting to attend to matters of morale and theprofessional development and renewal of those already employed. In the muchheralded (but as yet unarrived) resources boom in this 'lucky country', but scantattention seems to have been given to servicing the human capital needs of the nation.Indeed, the recent dismantling of 30 Australian colleges of advanced education,massive cuts in university expenditures, the abandonment of the EducationalResearch and Development Committee as the only government source of fundingfor educational research, and the scrapping of the national Curriculum DevelopmentCentre, speaks for itself about the political priorities in this country regarding humanresource development in education. Paradoxically, this is happening in an era ofrapid (although largely unacknowledged) transition from a youthful to an ageingteaching force.1 The reality is, therefore, that many teachers who have been teachingfor 1015 years are entering a mid-career phase, ill-equipped to prepare the youngfor life in the 21st century.

    The current situation becomes a little clearer when we look at it against thebackground of earlier developments. While the 1950s and 1960s were characterizedby a concern with the 'numbers game' of getting sufficient teachers into schools, thehallmark of the 1970s was a move to force democratization in schools mainly throughthe mechanism of school-based curriculum development. That this move was onlypartly successful, is now generally acknowledged.2'3 One of the curious enigmasemerging out of the curriculum development era is that it proceeded withcomparatively little concern for the human resource development of the teachersactually involved. It was almost as if the implementation of school-based curriculumdevelopment was a technical process that could be orchestrated from outside ofschools. Sure, there were token gestures in the form of isolated and largely ineffectualin-service days, but it would be hard to argue that these amounted to any kind ofcoherent policy of staff development for teachers. The whole situation becomes evenmore perplexing when we remember that teaching is a profession concernedpredominantly with the management and utilization of knowledge. Yet, at thebureaucratic level as well as among individual teachers, knowledge about pedagogy

    0022-0272/82/1404 0331 S02-00 1982 Taylor & Francis Ltd

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  • 332 JOURNAL OF CURRICULUM STUDIES 1 4 : 4

    and the processes associated with the acquisition and transmission of knowledge, donot seem to be highly prized.

    Before we can expect teachers to be adept at handling the tricky political (andpedagogical) issues associated with developing curricula suited to local circum-stances, we need first to have a body of teachers who are knowledgeable aboutthemselves as professionals. They need to be aware of iheir own 5i.re11gi.hs anuweaknesses as classroom practitioners, and able to be reflective and introspectiveabout their teaching and what transpires in their classrooms. Sadly, teachers withthese qualities are a rarity! As a community we have grown to expect that theresponsibility for ensuring quality teaching and learning experiences is a centralizedbureaucratic function. Teachers generally have not been nurtured to the view thatthey have an important professional responsibility to continuously monitor theirown teaching, and to assist colleagues to do the same in a non-judgemental andinformative context.4 As applied to schooling, the comments of Nobel prizewinnerSaul Bellow are germane: 'It is a long time since the knees were bent in piety'.Goodlad expressed the same sentiment when he said: 'In education it is a long timesince we paid homage to the essence of our profession'.5

    In the remainder of this paper I want to deal with one of the more pressing andtroublesome problems confronting school administrators at the momenthow bestto provide for the professional growth and renewal of large numbers of teachers whohave little chance of gaining promotions and who are likely to remain in the sameschool for several decades. In particular, I will expand on the virtues of a clinicalmethod of teacher development and how it might be used to inform teachers abouttheir daily practices, and obviate the disparity between what teachers intend to do andwhat they actually do in their classroom teaching.6 I will conclude by suggesting thatthis clinical methodology may have utility, not only as a form of assisted self-analysisof teaching, but as a mechanism of experimenting with the implementation of'research' findings in teachers' own classrooms.

    My overall purpose, therefore, is to flesh out the important point made by Ryanand Hickcox about the increasing need to forge viable and meaningful linkagesbetween the hitherto unrelated fields of teacher evaluation, professional develop-ment, instructional supervision, and research on teaching. In their words: 'Suchlinkages could serve to merge procedural and substantive advances and to reduce thedependence of [those involved in the professional development of teachers] uponunsubstantiated beliefs about teaching effectiveness and upon unsatisfactory [and]subjective processes'.7

    Emerging themes from research on professional development

    The prevailing norm in the in-service education of teachers tends to favour sporadicin-service 'days'. There are a number of problems associated with this approach thatare not always understood or acknowledged. As Rubin has noted:

    Throughout the long history of schools, provisions for the improvementof the in-service of teachers have rarely been adequate . . . A majority ofprograms were either so prescriptive that they insulted the teacher'sintelligence, ignoring the need to fit teaching to one's own style and to thepecularities of the particular classroom, or they were too vague to beuseful.8

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  • A TEACHER-DEVELOPMENT APPROACH TO BRIDGING THE RESEARCH-PRACTICE GAP 3 3 3

    Periodically requiring teachers to desert their classrooms to attend a conferenceor seminar where they receive information from self-styled 'experts', is founded on abelief about some kind of deficit model. The implicit presumption is that teachershave weaknesses in their teaching, or gaps in their knowledge, that requirecorrection. In most cases there has been no real attempt to ascertain where teachersare at in their personal and professional development, what are their real concernsand problems, and indeed how information they have gained can be effectivelytranslated into classroom practice and monitored.9

    Dawson has argued, rather forcefully, that:

    A one-shot, one-time only in-service day... will not suffice, and con-stitutes a waste of time and money. As a first step in a continuing processof in-service, such one day sessions can be of value as a means of initiatingthe dialogue. But in training sessions as with love affairs, one nightencounters do not bring lasting fulfilment, and are essentially degradingand dehumanizing for all participants; and a series of one-night standsonly multiplies the degradation and dehumanization. Yet in-serviceactivities in the past have too often had the essential character of one nightstands (p. 52).10

    Dawson also points out that any form of in-service education which 'views teachersas docile, passive recipients of reality (someone else's reality), will be rejected byteachers' (p. 52). He argues that they may attend, they may even get involved to someextent, 'but if the activities do not deal directly with teachers' perceived reality, theactivities will have little permanent effect on the teachers' (p. 50). A far morepowerful method of enhancing the professional renewal of teachers involves a humanresource development approach with teachers and staff development personnelworking towards a shared psychological sense of commitment and ownership basedon dialogue and a long-term view of development.11

    Questions about how educational research might usefully inform practice aredifficult, if not impossible, to answer. Notwithstanding this problem, there are some consistent pointers that emerge across a number of studies that have enquired intoeffective methods of staff development. This is not to suggest that research on thistopic has been without its problems. As Mazzarella has noted:

    A majority of publications are evaluation reports rather than realresearch. In many of them, administrators or teachers write up a programused in their school. It is almost always a successful program since no onelikes to publish failures.12

    The RAND13 and I/D/E/A14 studies in the USA, reached very similarconclusions on what seems to work best. Both studies emphasized five major points:

    (a) The individual school site, and classrooms in particular, should be the focusof staff development activities.

    (b) Actual staff development activities should be identified by the individualteachers and administrators concerned.

    (c) Individual teachers and administrators within schools represent a reservoirof untapped expertise in respect of their own professional development.

    (d) To facilitate the release of this potential through problem identification andsolution, teachers and administrators should be provided with the timerelease needed.

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  • 334 JOURNAL OF CURRICULUM STUDIES 1 4 : 4

    (e) To assist in this, modest support will be necessary from agencies outside ofthe school, to assist in skill development.15

    Coupled with these findings are a number of facts that are beginning to become self-evident about the way adults learn. Withall and Wood,16 and Wood andThompson,17 argue that effective staff development for teachers will only occurwhere the goais and objectives are interpreted as being 'reaiistic' and of immediateimportance to the job of teaching. They argue, furthermore, that 'adults need to seethe results of their efforts and have accurate feedback about progress towards theirgoals' (Wood and Thompson,17 p. 377). Given teachers' natural fears aboutevaluation and assessment of performance, adult learning as it relates to the processof teaching, has to acknowledge the importance also of a certain degree of 'egoinvolvement'. It is important, therefore, to identify and build upon strengths as wellas searching out areas of weaknesses. This suggests a strong need to acknowledgewhere individuals are at in their personal and professional development and thediversity of their prior knowledge and experience, while providing teachers withconsiderable discretion in their continuing development as professionals.

    Joyce and Showers's18 review of 200 studies of effective staff developmentproduced essentially the same conclusions. They found five major componentswhich, when orchestrated, characterize effective staff development:

    (i) A theoretical component which provides a rationale for the proposedactivity,

    (ii) A demonstration aspect of how the activity works in practice (either live, orthrough visual-recorded means),

    (iii) An opportunity to practice new skills and strategies under real or simulatedclassroom conditions,

    (iv) Regular, consistent and focused feedback of a constructive nature aboutclassroom behaviour and occurrences,

    (v) Actual assistance in the form of 'coaching' so that teachers are assisted in theapplication phase of trialling a new strategy or skill in the classroom.

    Joyce and Showers (p. 385) argue that although we clearly need further researchdata on each cell within this matrix, there is nevertheless clear evidence that a'coaching to application' approach combined with a 'problem-solving strategy',using a variety of people within schools, does work. Likewise, these suggestions areconsistent with the findings of McNergney et al}9 They found that effective staffdevelopment was 'personalized' (recognizing the needs and abilities of individualteachers), 'interactive' (acknowledging the reciprocal effects of learners, teachers,tasks and context), 'contemporaneous' (and of immediate practical significance toteachers), and 'developmental' (or occurrin...

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