Probing for Change: Can Teacher Networks Promote Ideas Spread in a Complex Education Community?
The world is changing in complex and unpredictable ways. Our education system, set up to meet 20th century needs, needs to change to meet the needs of 21st century learners. In particular, we need to re-think how best to build students’ intellectual capacities in ways that allow them to thrive in networks that can build social futures for their communities. If we are to do this, teachers need new kinds of professional learning and development. They need opportunities to engage in the kind of critical reflection and debate that can support transformational learning for them as adults.
The New Zealand Ministry of Education has initiated policies designed to produce this kind of change, but they are not enough. A focus on transformational learning for teachers is required: however, it is not yet clear exactly what this might look like. This thesis is a small pilot study designed to explore this. It describes a study of the experiences of a small group of teachers who were exposed to a “disorienting dilemma”. This dilemma was set up as a learning experience for students, observed by the study teachers. However, its purpose was to disrupt the teachers’ meaning-making, and to prompt them to engage in critical discourse with others: that is, it was designed as a teacher professional learning experience.
The teachers’ responses to this experience and the discussion they had with colleagues and friends were studied (via interviews). The findings have interesting implications for the future development of teacher learning experiences that are designed to support the current policy focus on teacher collaboration and innovation within schools. For the teachers involved in this study, it was clear that, for educationally deep conversation to occur, a high level of relational trust is necessary, as is the capacity to notice⎯and reflect on⎯their own thinking about issues raised in the conversations, and to recognise shared background knowledge or experience. The teachers in this study found it difficult to think about their own learning as adults, as distinct from their perceptions of the student learning they observed in the study experience.
This research identifies a gap in current teacher professional learning offerings. The study teachers benefited from the opportunity to discuss their own learning experiences as adults, but more in-depth work is needed to establish how this can be supported in an on-going way.