Supporting new teacher development using narrative-based professional learning

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Chicago Library]On: 31 August 2013, At: 13:37Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Reflective Practice: International andMultidisciplinary PerspectivesPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/crep20

    Supporting new teacher developmentusing narrative-based professionallearningDirdre Smith aa Standards of Practice and Education Unit, Ontario College ofTeachers, Toronto, CanadaPublished online: 18 Oct 2011.

    To cite this article: Dirdre Smith (2012) Supporting new teacher development using narrative-basedprofessional learning, Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 13:1,149-165, DOI: 10.1080/14623943.2011.626020

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14623943.2011.626020

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  • Supporting new teacher development using narrative-basedprofessional learning

    Dirdre Smith*

    Standards of Practice and Education Unit, Ontario College of Teachers, Toronto, Canada

    (Received 22 January 2011; nal version received 20 September 2011)

    Narrative-based professional learning processes were employed within a collabo-rative partnership involving eight educational institutions to support teacherinduction. Methodologies and pedagogies that honour the lived experience ofbeginning teachers and mentor teachers were selected and created for use withinthis inquiry. Various narrative-based approaches were created and implementedwith beginning and mentor teachers to enhance the practices and professionalinsights of these educators. A provincial resource kit was created using the writ-ten narratives of the beginning and mentor teachers involved in this project.These educative resources are being used within teacher education and profes-sional practice to support beginning teachers.

    Keywords: induction; narative; professional learning; beginning teacher; men-tor; inquiry

    Narrative-based writing approaches validate, connect and empower beginning teach-ers. They help move teachers from feelings of disillusionment and isolation to feel-ings of hope, condence and a sense of connectedness to a meaningful profession.A collaborative inquiry project involving beginning and mentor teachers revealedthe cognitive frames, feelings and reections of these educators as they participatedin a two-year narrative-based professional learning experience. The following reec-tions from two beginning teachers illuminate the impact of employing cases, vign-ettes and commentaries as narrative professional learning processes to supportteacher induction:

    I have been empowered. The afrmation I received tells me I am on the right track. Ihave made connections and support networks that did not exist prior to these sessions.The most useful component was reecting in writing and discussing my experience.

    And:

    How much more liberating it is to see the shackles removed, to learn from ourmistakes, to see out limitations as opportunities towards future success!

    Mentor teachers also recognized and identied the benets of these forms ofprofessional learning. Professional learning experiences employing narrative writing

    *Email: dsmith@oct.ca

    Reective PracticeVol. 13, No. 1, February 2012, 149165

    ISSN 1462-3943 print/ISSN 1470-1103 online 2012 Taylor & Francishttp://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14623943.2011.626020http://www.tandfonline.com

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  • and dialogue inform, afrm and extend the perspectives of mentor teachers. Asteacher leaders they valued the narrative processes because they methods werebenecial and empowering for both beginning teachers and mentors. Written narra-tives processes also revealed the thinking and experiences of the mentor teachers.The power of narrative for mentor teachers is highlighted in the following reectionby one mentor:

    The most useful component of the session was to read and write responses to thevignettes written by beginning teachers. I liked listening to my colleagues opinionand interpretation of the different cases and commentaries. Its nice to look at thingsfrom a different perspective and also have my own ideas validated.

    I. A collaborative professional learning project

    This professional learning project focuses on the collaborative processes employedby a self-regulatory body for the teaching profession in Ontario, a faculty of educa-tion and six district school boards to support teacher induction. Methodologies andpedagogies that honour the lived experience (Dilthey, 1985; Van Manen, 1990) ofbeginning teachers and mentor teachers were selected and created for use withinthis inquiry. Various narrative approaches were used with beginning teachers andmentor teachers to enhance the practices and professional insights of these educa-tors. Case writing, case discussion, vignette writing, vignette commentary writingand vignette discussion were the narrative- based processes used to inquire into andexplore the experiences of 12 beginning teachers and twelve mentor teachers fromsix district school boards in Ontario. This project began when the eight differentorganizations decided to partner together to support teacher induction using narra-tive-based professional learning processes.

    The participants in this project included educators new to the profession, experi-enced mentor teachers and staff from the partnership organizations. Participantswere recruited through their respective school boards. Participation in the profes-sional learning project was voluntary. Only those who met the following selectioncriteria were eligible: one to three years of teaching experience (for beginning tea-cher participants) and more than three years serving as a mentor teacher (for mentorparticipants). All the beginning teachers were paired with a mentor within their dis-trict school board. These mentors were not involved in the project as we wantedthe beginning teachers to feel free to openly discuss their transition into the profes-sion without feeling inuenced by the presence of their own individual mentor col-league. Participants were from the three elementary school divisions (primary,junior and intermediate) and from diverse school contexts. All participating schoolboards in this project offered provincially supported induction programs as man-dated by the Ministry of Education and Training.

    The collaborative construction of an inquiry-based induction resource was a keyfocus of this provincial project. The core elements of this resource would be basedon the actual lived experiences of both the beginning teachers and mentors. Thestory of this professional learning project will be told through each of the inquiryprocesses employed with the beginning and mentor teachers.

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  • Writing about practice

    Inquiry-based institutes were facilitated with beginning teachers and mentors. Thebeginning teachers were invited to discuss and reect on the dilemmas, issues andtensions that they encountered during their rst year of teaching within the structureof a written case and vignette. Mentor teachers engaged in reective discussionsrelated to the cases and vignettes written by the beginning teacher. These teacher lead-ers also reected on the written records of experience through responding to the casesand vignettes written by beginning teachers by writing commentaries. The commen-taries served as a process of making meaning of the beginning teachers experience.The mentors own wisdom of practice emerged through their writing. These writtenreections offered alternative perspectives, suggestions and insights into teaching.

    Beginning teachers were also provided with an opportunity to respond in writingboth to the vignettes and commentaries during the joint institute. The beginningteachers participated in a two-day institute, the mentor teachers participated in aone-day institute, and then a joint one-day institute was facilitated for both begin-ning teachers and mentor teachers.

    Discussing and critiquing practice

    As the teachers wrote and shared the cases, vignettes and commentaries theybecame aware of the many challenges and tensions associated with being a begin-ning teacher and mentor teacher. At the joint institute, the beginning and experi-enced educators collaboratively discussed and analyzed the dilemmas, issues andexperiences that were encountered during initiation into the teaching profession.They also wrote, discussed and critiqued the complex processes involved insupporting colleagues through a mentoring role.

    The mentor teachers drew upon their own beliefs, philosophies and experiences asthey reected upon and responded to the cases and vignettes written by the beginningteachers. The cases, vignettes and commentaries privileged the voices, wisdom andleadership embodied by these educators as they negotiated their roles as beginning ormentor teachers. The guided reection and narrative-based professional learning pro-cesses used in this professional learning project enabled these educators to engage incollaborative teacher development processes using their own lived experiences as thecatalyst for shared inquiry. These processes afrmed the value of using educatorslived experiences as pedagogical, professional learning and educative resources.

    Creating an induction resource

    An inquiry-based professional learning resource was developed from the cases,commentaries and reections written by both the beginning teachers and mentors.The resources mirror the narrative writing and discussion processes used in this pro-ject. This provincial resource supports teacher education and induction practiceswithin district school boards and teacher education programs. The implementationof this resource within these professional educational contexts illustrates the poten-tial power of narrative-based professional learning and the value of partnershipapproaches for connecting teacher education, induction and professional learning.

    Reective Practice 151

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  • Exploring the signicance of the project

    Reective dialogue and narrative writing enabled the voices, perspectives,experiences and wisdom of both beginning teachers and mentors to be illuminated.The beginning teachers and mentors were invited to reect on, discuss and identify,in writing, the signicance or relevance of the professional learning project and thenarrative processes for their professional learning. All the educators identied thesignicant value of the narrative processes for their own individual learning and forteacher education and induction.

    The reective writing and dialogue sessions provided an opportunity for thepractitioners to explore professional practice both individually and collectivelywhile simultaneously contributing to the creation of a professional learning resourcedesigned to support teacher induction in the province of Ontario. This resource wasbased on the lived experiences and written reections of the practitioners.

    These teachers were invited to reect on the signicance of the professionallearning experiences in which they engaged within the institutes through writtenfeedback forms, group reective charts and journal notes. They also participated inan online focus group regarding the impact of the experience for their own profes-sional practice and ongoing learning.

    II. A foundation for professional learning

    The conceptualization for this joint work was informed by a shared belief thatteachers lived practice and experience (Dilthey, 1985; Van Manen, 1990) is a valu-able source of wisdom and knowledge that can be mined to improve individual,collective and institutional professional practice (Smith, 2008a, 2008b). This beliefalso underpinned a great deal of the educative work that had recently been engagedin by the institutions involved in this induction partnership (Ciuffetelli Parker,Smith, & Goldblatt, 2009; Ontario College of Teachers, 2003, 2009). To supportthis belief, the theoretical framework for this inquiry was rooted in the traditions ofnarrative (Bruner, 1986; Clandinin, 2007; Connelly & Clandinin, 1990; Witherell &Noddings 1991;) and case work (Goldblatt & Smith, 2005; Shulman, 1992; Shul-man & Colbert, 1988; Shulman, Whittaker, & Lew, 2002; Smith & Goldblatt, 2006,2009). These traditions honour the lived experience of teachers as valuable sourcesfor understanding professional practice.

    Narrative

    Teacher knowledge is both personal and professional (Cole & Knowles, 2000;Connelly & Clandinin, 1988). Teachers store their knowledge in narratives (Doyle,1990) and appear to feel comfortable sharing those stories (Jenlink &Kinnucan-Welsch, 2001). The inquiry team for this project was comprised staff rep-resenting each of the institutes involved in the partnership. This team believed thatthe facilitation of dialogic interchanges (Bakhtin, 1981) would support the identi-cation and construction of collective knowledge regarding essential elements ofeffective induction practices. Educators in this project were invited to reect on,write about and enter into collegial dialogues about their own induction into theprofession and the dilemmas they encountered in practice, and to identify their ownindividual professional learning needs. This dialogue and sharing of teaching storiesinformed understanding regarding the lived experiences of beginning teachers and

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  • mentor teachers. It als...

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